How Wendy's Changed Fast Food Restaurant Menus Forever

The world has been lucky enough to be graced with many important redheads down through the generations. Grace O'Malley, pirate queen of Ireland, Ginger Spice, the entire Weasley family, the list goes on and on. But perhaps one of the great ginger pioneers of our time was Wendy, of Wendy's, who invented that glorious smorgasbord of reasonably priced culinary delights: the value menu.

Okay, it's a little more complicated than that. As you probably know, Dave Thomas was the founder of Wendy's, and father of Melinda "Wendy" Thomas, for whom the restaurant was named (via Wendy's). Thomas was destined for fast-food, opening his first Wendy's restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969, after some time spent under the tutelage of Colonel Sanders (gasp!) working for KFC. Not content with chicken while there were fresh, square hamburgers to be made, Thomas grew the Wendy's brand one Frosty at a time, opening more than a 1,000 restaurants in the company's first 100 months, according to the company website, and changing the game when it comes to fast food menus.

Wendy's: A conscientious objector to the Burger Wars

From the beginning, Wendy's was innovative, especially when it came to its menu selection. The restaurant chain perfected the "Pick-Up Window," a precursor to today's drive-thru, and was the first to add salad and baked potatoes to their menu. But arguably the best invention of them all was born from a need to avoid being collateral damage in the Burger Wars of the '80s and '90s. Rather than slashing prices on their bestsellers — like McDonald's and Burger King did by bringing Whoppers and Big Macs down to 99 cents, at one stage — Wendy's took a different, more sustainable approach (via QSRweb).

"We had the idea of rather than selling one of our big items at 99 cents, creating a whole menu with 99-cent items," Denny Lynch, senior vice president of communications at Wendy's International, told QSRweb in 2010. "We wanted our customers to be able to make a full meal with these lower-priced items," Lynch said. So, in 1989, Wendy's put nine items on a menu, and matched them all with a pair of nines. People went mad, building their entire meal for under five bucks, and Wendy's was still patting itself on the back when competitors in the Burger Wars had to put their prices back up. 

An iteration of that original value menu still exists today at Wendy's everywhere, even as value menus get harder to come by. So next time you get a square burger for just the change you found in your car, raise a Frosty to that brilliant redhead.