The untold truth of Wendy's breakfast

What comes to mind when you think of your favorite fast food breakfast place? The one that seems to always pull your car like a magnet into its drive-thru. We're going to go out on a limb and take a wild guess that it's probably not Wendy's. Look, it's not that Wendy's breakfast is bad, some people really enjoy it. The issue is that it has come and gone so many times that some people question its existence, and rightfully so. Wendy's has had a fickle breakfast history that has seen the meal emerge, only to vanish for a decade before coming back and leaving again, and again. 

Wendy's has always been about its hamburgers and becoming a success on a national scale in the fast food breakfast market is no small task. The chain might be better known for Frostys than biscuits, but that doesn't mean it's given up on giving its patrons a fresh meal in the morning. From the various breakfast menu items that vanished, to where Wendy's breakfast is today, here's the 411 on the fast food chain's rocky breakfast history.

The breakfast menu is a mix of healthy and very unhealthy

We're fairly certain nobody ever lost weight on a diet of biscuits and pancakes. That said, Wendy's doesn't totally ignore those who want a healthy breakfast and offers options that shouldn't result in dirty looks from your nutritionist. 

Oatmeal may not be the most exciting breakfast but its merits for improving cholesterol have been touted for years. Wendy's serves up plain jane oatmeal with a bowl of the stuff coming in at 160 calories, 6 grams of protein, and absolutely zero grams of sugar. It's also kinda difficult to find fault with its incredibly simple ingredients: oats, water, cinnamon. If you want some flavor you can upgrade your oats with cranberry pecans, but that does carry with it 28 grams of sugar. Oatmeal not your thing? Try apple bites with only six grams of sugar or... um, well, that's about it for healthy Wendy's breakfast eating.  

On the opposite end of the health spectrum are breakfast foods like the 600 calorie sausage, egg, and cheese croissant. It might only have 7 grams of sugar, but it makes up for that with 1,060 milligrams of sodium. The big boy of Wendy's breakfast though is the Breakfast Baconator — spoiler alert, something called the "Baconator" is never healthy. This burger masquerading as a breakfast sandwich is 770 calories of bacon, cheese, egg, sausage, "(deep breath) more cheese," bacon, and cheese sauce. It's 1,870 milligrams of tasty sodium to start your day!  

Wendy's used to have a breakfast value menu

Wendy's has some tasty looking sandwiches and burgers on their value menu like the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger and Crispy Chicken BLT. What's lacking from their value menu though is a single breakfast offering. (Eating a grilled chicken wrap before noon from the value menu doesn't count as breakfast.) There was once a time in Wendy's spotty breakfast history though when its breakfast offerings did get some value menu love.

At one point, Wendy's was running commercials advertising its breakfast value menu options like sausage biscuits and egg and sausage burritos. At just 99 cents it's no wonder the people in the ad appeared so incredibly happy. When Wendy's announced that the value menu would finally be getting some breakfast offerings in a 2010 trial run it had been nearly a year since the chain pulled back on breakfast foods. Perhaps the "fresh-cracked eggs" and bacon cooked in-store were a little much for the chain to handle, because the value menu of today doesn't have an egg or biscuit in anywhere in sight.  

Wendy's first tried breakfast in the 1980s

Wendy's has been around since 1969, but during the 1970s it was all square patty burgers and fries for founder Dave Thomas' growing fast food chain. It was in 1985 though that Wendy's decided to take a chance and start nationally offering its customers a fast and hot breakfast. Commercials touted Wendy's as the "fresh" option to more lackluster fast food breakfast competitors. The chain spent almost a year testing out its breakfast offerings, and seemed poised to be a serious competitor to other chains serving breakfast at the time, such as Burger King and McDonald's.

Its new breakfast venture should have been a hit for the company. After all, they were riding high off the popularity of their viral "Where's the beef?" ad campaign. Those breakfast aspirations dwindled rather quickly though and after just nine months, Wendy's pulled breakfast from most of its 3,450 locations at the time. If franchise owners wanted to serve breakfast they could — though only about 800 locations decided to continue on with the breakfast menu. "At that time, we had a breakfast that really wasn't very portable," company spokesperson Bob Bertini said in 2006. "It didn't really deliver. ... Plus, 20 years ago, people weren't used to eating breakfast out, and that's certainly changed."

The experiment of course wouldn't be the last time Wendy's would venture into the morning fast food market.

Breakfast offerings used to include made-to-order omelettes

Wendy's 1980s breakfast experiment may not have been a huge success for the chain, but they certainly deserve some credit for thinking outside the box. While other fast food chains may have been content with biscuits and frozen pancakes, Wendy's wanted to stand out. The secret weapon was omelettes, or that's at least what Wendy's hoped. 

Fresh, made-to-order omelettes are typically things one finds at a diner or better than average hotel breakfast buffet. Omelettes may not require as much time as say a quiche, but they're also not exactly a food that lends itself well to a fast food drive-thru. Nevertheless, Wendy's tried offering omelettes and quickly found out that they slowed operations way down.

"We made every omelet to order... Omelets are more complicated," founder Dave Thomas told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "Our competitors make things up and put them under a heat lamp... We just couldn't compete with that. It was a brand-new procedure... I think we made a mistake."

Hey, trying to compete on the level of a competent Denny's is a noble move, but the key word in fast food is "fast."

It failed a few more times

Being a fan of Wendy's breakfast — there's gotta be a least a few out there — has to be frustrating. The chain has had a love/hate relationship with the breakfast racket for decades and its botched 1980s effort would hardly be its last. 

Wendy's seemed to generally sit out the 1990s when it came to making a real stab at breakfast, but by the mid-2000s they were ready once again. In 2005, Wendy's then-Chief Executive Jack Schuessler hinted that the company was ready for breakfast again, because they already had fruit in some stores and adding yogurt and granola would be the next logical step. Uhhh, whatever you say, Jack.

The chain began testing breakfast in 2006, but then pulled back on the breakfast reins a few years later, explaining that its products "weren't high quality and didn't meet the consumer's expectations."

Not one to bow out for good, Wendy's began toying with the breakfast idea again in 2012, but then stopped offering its breakfast items at all but around 400 of its 5,800 stores by 2013. This time around Wendy's worried that its breakfast menu may have been stealing some effort away from its burger offerings.

At this point, when Wendy's announces another go at the breakfast wars it's kinda hard not to think "Aww, that's cute."

Competing with other chains has been tough

"It is a war," then- CEO Emil Brolick said in 2014 when asked about why Wendy's wasn't active in fast food breakfast. Wendy's knew from the very beginning of its breakfast efforts that it was going to be up against some tough competition and the marketplace has proven that time and again. When Wendy's initially launched its breakfast menu, McDonald's already dominated the fast food morning market with one out of four Americans who ate breakfast outside the home choosing the Golden Arches. At the time, fast food accounted for over 40 percent of breakfast sales and McDonalds — and to a lesser extent, Burger King — nudged Wendy's out.

Since the 1980s, the competition has only gotten more cut-throat with Wendy's having to compete with other national chains like Starbucks and the breakfast behemoth that is Dunkin Donuts. Even Taco Bell, a chain that a decade ago seemed an unlikely competitor in the fast food breakfast game is killing it out there when compared with Wendy's. Apparently, people really enjoy a tortilla with a hash brown stuffed inside.

To Taco Bell's credit, the marketing for their breakfast was a huge campaign, and Wendy's just hasn't been able to match that strategy. "It's very difficult to enter that space today and commit the kind of marketing resources that we feel would be necessary to really entrench ourselves successfully," Brolick said. Translation: Wendy's can't run with the breakfast big dogs.

They tried copying the McGriddle

If you can't be an originator, be an imitator. That seems to have been Wendy's approach to one of its short-lived breakfast sandwiches. In 2007, Wendy's hoped to grab some of the fast food breakfast market with a new sandwich that they dubbed *drumroll*... the Frescuit.

The Frescuit was essentially the outcome of a Wendy's food scientist ruining a biscuit by forcing it to become something else. In this case, a ciabatta roll. The real copycat of the McGriddle was the Wendy's Maple Baked Frescuit. The McDonald's McGriddle — a pancake infused with syrup to be used as a breakfast sandwich  – was introduced in 2003 and has remained on Micky D's menu ever since. With the Maple Baked Frescuit, Wendy's simply optioned to bake syrup into its Frescuit and presto — an almost original breakfast sandwich!

While an early review in in the Houston Chronicle gushed over the Frescuit calling it a "new and improved old-fashioned buttermilk biscuit" other reviews weren't so excited about it. Serious Eats called it a "better idea than it was a sandwich" that was "cracker-tough, and difficult to bite through."

Regardless of how good or poor the Frescuit might have been, like most of Wendy's breakfast items, it was eventually tossed out like yesterday's coffee.

Its breakfast offerings have been inconsistent

Because Wendy's has been so off and on with their breakfast over the decades, the menu that it offers has also been rather inconsistent. A company trying to get its breakfast program off the ground is understandably going to be trying out new items. So far though, Wendy's has yet to find a long-standing signature breakfast item that it can call its own.

Wendy's early breakfast menu included items such as French toast and toasted breakfast sandwiches. Neither item made the cut when Wendy's brought back its breakfast menu in the mid-2000s. Beside the Frescuit, Wendy's introduced a breakfast burrito and cinnamon rolls. Wendy's then-Chief Executive Kerrii Anderson said the new menu was receiving "positive feedback from customers" but the the next version of the Wendy's breakfast menu would again look very different.

One reason that Wendy's breakfast menu seems to morph into something different every time is the chain's effort to capitalize on a competitor's success. When Wendy's launched a new breakfast menu in 2010, it was labeled "Panera light" for its items like the The Artisan Egg Sandwich and Morning Melt Panini. Even with good reviews, neither sandwich stood the test of time and both remain absent from the menu today.

Its breakfast sandwiches have been improving

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a successful Wendy's breakfast program. Wendy's breakfast menu might always be changing, but they do seem to be improving their breakfast sandwiches with each try — even if the sandwich doesn't last more than a few years.

When Wendy's launched the Artisan Egg Sandwich in 2010 it was still going strong six years later with one review praising its hollandaise sauce for keeping the sandwich moist. The sandwich didn't last, but Wendy's came back swinging with another well-received item — the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit. Eater dubbed it "the best breakfast sandwich of all time" and while some on the internet obviously disagreed, the biscuit sandwich is still hanging around on Wendy's breakfast menu.

Wendy's might not yet be winning the breakfast wars, but they do seem to be putting out valiant efforts that are getting noticed. Who knows, maybe their own McGriddle or Croissan'wich is not far off on the fast food horizon.  

Not all locations serve breakfast

Maybe Wendy's is your favorite fast food joint for breakfast. (It's only because there's not a McDonald's in your town, right?) If that's the case, then you know finding a Wendy's that actually serves breakfast can be a real challenge. Wendy's is in a market all its own, simply because it's the largest fast food chain that doesn't serve breakfast nationally.

The primary reason that Wendy's doesn't sell breakfast at all of its locations boils down to the competition of convenience. If an item isn't portable, it's difficult to sell in the fast food breakfast market. That's not to say that Wendy's current offerings aren't portable, but wedging itself into a commuter's morning routine is difficult. "Once you get embedded into that routine, it gets a lot harder to change people from that," then-CEO Emil Brolick said.

Those Wendy's locations that do serve breakfast are often in places where there's guaranteed foot traffic and people may be more likely to break their usual routine, such as airports. While some franchisees have decided that breakfast is right for their particular market, only two percent of Wendy's sales come from breakfast.

Just because you might think that Wendy's has ditched breakfast altogether, that's of course not the case. If you're really craving a Breakfast Baconator, you can track down the nearest Wendy's that does serve breakfast via their website. Just be prepared to take a road trip.