Mistakes everyone makes when ordering fast food

Is fast food the most nutritionally sound means of sustenance available at any given moment? Probably not. But it is often the most convenient? You betcha. Whether you're on a road trip, heading into work on a busy commuter morning, or just have a killer craving for french fries, fast-food eateries have your back. And while most of us think we have the whole fast-food-ordering thing down pat — like, how hard can it be, right? — we all have the power to make the experience even better.

That's right, we. As in, you and me. And everyone else who hits the drive-thru or pops into a fast food eatery for a quick bite on occasion. Yes, your experience will also be shaped by the customer service at the establishment you visit. However, the simple act of ordering also has the power to make (or break) your meal.

So, before your next trip to McDonald's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, or whatever quick-service restaurant your stomach desires, take a minute to commit these fast food ordering mistakes to memory. 

Ordering without saying this

"I'd like that fresh, please." That's right — it's that easy to get your food hot and fresh. In a Reddit thread on fast food hacks, workers andor former workers from several different fast food chains confirmed as much. "The Wendy's I worked at always would give fresh anything if it was requested," wrote one Redditor. Added another, "I work at McDonald's, and people ask for food fresh, which we honor. That may just mean you have to pull up and wait extra time for your food, but it doesn't matter much to us either way."

There are a few other ways to score your fast food as fresh as possible, too. For starters, time your trip right. According to one former fast-food worker, the most reliable way to get fresh food is to go to fast food restaurants that stay busy. "The more orders, the more often they have to make things fresh," the Redditor shared.

You can also try rephrasing how you order. Twitter user @HLewis116 suggested, "McDonald's hack: ask for no salt on your fries and they have to make you a fresh batch. Then if you want just add your own salt." @LocurtoMatt recommended a Chick-fil-A hack, which should translate to any restaurant that offers sandwiches that come with pickles. "Chick fil a hack: order a chicken sandwich without pickles for a fresh sandwich every time," he said.  

Settling for a weird mystery egg on breakfast sandwiches

Are you a big fan of Bojangles' egg and cheese biscuit? How about Carl Jr.'s breakfast burger? Basically, if your fast food order ever includes something with eggs, you're going to want to hear this. You know how it goes — your order is handed to you and, for a brief moment before you stuff your face with delicious greasy goodness, you wonder why your egg is shaped so oddly. At many fast food eateries, the egg (eggs?) come out as a spongy pale-yellow rectangle folded upon itself. 

If you play your cards right, though, you can get an egg that looks like an egg. Here's what you have to do in order to snag one of these poached-style eggs, per Serious Eats contributor J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: "All you've got to do is tell the cashier that you'd like your sandwich made with a 'round egg' and they'll replace your folded egg patty with a real egg, free of charge." 

If you consider yourself an egg purist, you may have to be a bit more picky about where you place your order. "Brands can say they offer an egg sandwich, but sell an egg product that contains multiple additives," said Sara Burnett, Panera's director of wellness and food policy, in a 2018 news release (Panera claims to use only freshly cracked eggs or egg whites with no additives). If you're at a place that serves real eggs with at least one menu item, this should be a possible hack.

Not asking for freebies/extras

Know what's better than cheap food? Free food. If your personal mantra is "Iit's free, it's me," then you better believe you've been making a crucial fast food ordering mistake. It's painfully simple, too — just figure out your favorite fast food eatery's free fixings, and ask for extras. 

In one Reddit thread, a Wendy's worker weighed in with a little-known fact about Wendy's drinks. If your Wendy's doesn't have a self-serve drink station, you can still get free refills. "All you need to do is go up to the counter and ask for a refill. No need to go large when you can go value and get it filled again," said the Redditor. On that same thread, a Subway worker stressed there is no limit placed on free veggies.

A former Chipotle employee told Reader's Digest in 2017 that employees are required to give "one non-heaping spoonful of each food" in an order — but that doesn't mean you can't ask for more. "I used to work there. Everything extra except for meat and guac is free as long as it fills the bowl/burrito," one former employee revealed on Reddit's LifeProTips thread. "The employees will hate you if there's a long line and you keep asking for more, but it won't cost you anything more than the regular price." 

Forgetting to use your rewards app or program

Nobody wants to leave money on the table, so to speak. You want it in your wallet, right where you can see it (and use it to order fast food at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night when you can't stop craving a burger and fries — uh, hypothetically). But if you aren't using the app or rewards program from your favorite fast food eatery, you're walking away from potential money savings. 

In 2017, Insider contributor Madeline Diamond detailed how these programs can be super-beneficial to fast food fans. "If you regularly eat at fast food chains, you could save some serious cash by joining their rewards program," she wrote. She then described a few possible byproducts of using said apps at popular fast food joints. If you download the McDonald's app, for example, you'll have access to coupons you wouldn't otherwise get. You can also snag a free McCafe beverage after you purchase five at regular price. At Chick-fil-A, ordering through the app earns you points, which in turn accumulate to earn you free food items. And, just FYI, in a 2019 study of the best restaurant apps for fast food deals, Clark.com ranked Chick-fil-A's number one. 

What are you waiting for? Get to Googling to see if your favorite fast food eatery offers an app or rewards program, because — more likely than not — there's free food in it for you.

Waiting until you get there to order

Given the nature of fast food, most of us order it on the fly. This means we typically roll through the drive-thru or walk inside and order it on the spot. Of course, this also means that you're subject to a wait. That doesn't have to be the case, though — if you want really fast food, it might be time to do a little snooping to find out whether your favorite fast food restaurant offers alternative ordering methods.

Wondering what the heck that means? Take it from Twitter user @gwalkamoly, who claims to have found a speedier way to place your order. "Pro tip. Or life hack. Stop wasting time in Chick-fil-A drive thru and just order on phone. Go in. It's ready maybe a minute later," he said. Turns out, many fast food restaurants will let you order-ahead using their online app. To find out if your local store allows ordering by phone, just give them a call! Be careful though — many places won't actually start your order until you confirm on the app that you've arrived, meaning you may still have a wait (but it'll still be a shorter one). 

Overlooking smart substitutions

Have you ever heard the urban legend of the Poor Man's Big Mac? Well, it's one of those rare urban legends that is true. The gist is this: Instead of paying nearly $5 for a Big Mac, you ask instead for a $1 McDouble off the dollar menu. Only, as Twitter user @LandenCantWeld pointed out, you ask for a few specific changes. "McDonalds Hack: Get a McDouble, but substitute the ketchup & mustard for Big Mac sauce and lettuce. You will NOT regret it," he said. Fans of this simple substitution swear the modified McDouble tastes exactly like a regular Big Mac for around a quarter of the cost. (Serious Eats has a run-down of exactly how these two stack up, if you're curious.)

If you're willing to do your research, you'll find there are easy swaps like this at most fast food restaurants. At Chick-fil-A, instead of getting any of their regular chicken sandwiches, you can ask for just a bun with American cheese on it. Voila! You've got yourself a 49-cents grilled cheese. And at Taco Bell, you can substitute beans or, if you prefer, substitute potatoes for meat. Both of which are — to borrow the words of Twitter user @hhoneybbee — a "damn blessing" for vegetarians. 

Tossing the receipt without looking at it

We're all guilty of this, right? You go to a fast food joint, place your order, get your receipt, and immediately proceed to toss the receipt in the trash without so much as a second glance. This is especially true if you're going through the drive-thru and the employee at the window hands you a receipt with a survey at the bottom. You nod politely, grab your receipt, and shove it into the cupholder or center console where it will likely remain until the next time you decide to clean out your car. In a 2016 study, Ttag Systems found that 45.9 percent of people polled didn't even notice their receipts had offers on them.

As it turns out, this could be a costly mistake. Consider these two pieces of anecdotal advice. First, Twitter user @HeOfTheName suggested, "Here's a life hack go to Chick-fil-A buy a burger, fill out the survey get another burger, buy a cookie, finish the survey again, another one." So, basically, if you ignore your receipt, you might miss a survey and, subsequently, free goodies.

Another reason to pay attention to your receipt? According to Quora poster Kamran Adnan, asking for a receipt could make McDonald's employees think you are a secret shopper — and they'll be particularly mindful of treating you well. "It is easy to spot a gapbuster because they always ask for a receipt," he explained in a Quora thread devoted to McDonald's hacks. 

Being too timid to be creative

By now, you've undoubtedly heard that most fast food restaurants offer a secret menu. And while that's all well and good, you don't have to memorize said secret menus to partake of tasty food that isn't part of the restaurant's typical fare. You just have to be bold enough to get creative — and ask your favorite fast-food eatery to indulge you a little.

For example, one Redditor revealed a super-scrumptious Taco Bell hack. "Okay so you know you like the Cheesy Gordita Crunch. You also like the Dorito taco," they said. "But did you know that for just 30 cents you can replace your plain Gordita crunch shell with a Dorito shell?" Interjected another Redditor, "I work at Taco Bell... a lot of people don't realize that you can literally add or subtract anything you want in almost all of the combos and in all of the individual items. For example, adding lava sauce to anything."

Instagram user @jmbergerson pointed out a potential McDonald's mash-up to add to your next order. "Chicken Parm sandwich = Plain Buttermilk Crispy Chicken sandwich add 3 Mozzarella Cheese sticks and a container of [marinara] sauce on top... enjoy!"

So, yeah, you're only bound by your imagination. Most fast food eateries aim to please — all you need to do is muster up the courage to ask. 

Hitting the drive-thru every time

Whenever you're craving fast food, there's quite possibly an internal struggle going on as you pull into the eatery's parking lot. Do you go through the drive-thru, or do you walk inside to place your order? Many of us prefer to just make our way through the drive-thru for convenience sake — but that might not be the best bet for getting food in the most efficient manner. 

In a study of 23 fast food chains performed by QSR magazine, drive-thru times were found to have slowed down significantly (down some 23 seconds from the previous year's average order-up time). This slowdown seems to be backed up by Quora commenter Matt Decuir, who worked at a McDonald's in Texas for two years and stressed you should "ALWAYS" go inside. "It's usually faster," he explained, "because everyone decides to go through the drive-thru. 

In fact, there's a separate Quora thread devoted entirely to the topic of whether it's faster to hit the drive-thru or just go inside. "Here's the key point," said Quora commenter Clay Nicolsen, former Senior Director of US I/T at McDonald's, "A restaurant may be famous for its fast drive-thru service, so almost all customers go through the drive-thru. Because of this, if you go inside, there is no wait, and the service is faster." 

Lingering at the drive-thru window

Apparently, we've all been making a cardinal fast-food ordering sin, and most of us probably had absolutely no idea. Curious? Okay, here goes: If you go through a drive-thru, you should not check your order at the window before you pull away. Explained one Redditor in a thread on the subject, "What a lot of people DON'T realize is that there are timers installed in the drive thru, and once those times get up to about 60 seconds, the boss starts flipping out on the crew because they aren't working fast/hard enough."

Granted, it sounds like that Redditor suffers from sucky-boss-syndrome. However, another Redditor confirmed that — even at fast food restaurants where the managers don't flip out — drive-thru workers are held to specific time standards. "But it is true that we were given numbers about how quick we were, but we were already doing the best we could, not like being told that we didn't do 2 percent of orders under 60 seconds changed anything," they elaborated.

Quora commenter Christie Combs, a former certified training general manager at Papa John's Pizza, also corroborated the timer in a 2017 thread. Her suggestion? Know what you want before you pull in, don't start eating while still in the drive-thru, have your money and change ready and, if you must, check your order super-quickly. You can also pull up a little bit to do so, though. 

Always buying in bulk

Between BOGO deals and other clever marketing campaigns, we the people have been indoctrinated to believe that you always get more bang for your buck if you buy in bulk. And sometimes the math really does work in our favor so that we get more for less. When it comes to fast food, though, that isn't always the case. 

On a Reddit thread devoted to secret intel on fast food franchises, a McDonald's foodie advised against going for larger quantities of a specific menu item — and the reason is borderline brilliant. "McBurger's advice is that a 4-piece nuggets is $1, whereas a 6-piece is $2.49. Increasing quantities (10, 20-piece) of nuggets do not get a bulk discount," said the Redditor. "Always order multiple 4 pieces for best value (ex. 8 nuggets for $2 instead of 6 nuggets for $2.49.) You'll also get more sauces this way." 

It merits mentioning that the Redditor's math works best if you live in a state that offers nuggets on the value menu. As other Redditors pointed out, some franchises now offer a 20-piece nugget at a discounted bulk rate. However, it's worth crunching the numbers the next time you visit to see if multiple small orders is priced in the same ball park. Heck, if it is, it's worth a try just for the fact that you get so much extra sauce for free.