How Wendy's Changed Value Menus Forever

When you're eating fast food, you're most likely thinking about eating on the cheap. You want a burger, fries, and a drink paid for with nothing but some spare cash from the cupholder in your car. For those who want the most bang for their buck, they turn to the classic value menu. The combo meal is a staple of all fast food restaurants, from McDonald's to Burger King, but it wasn't Ronald McDonald or The King who reinvented the value meal.

Wendy's, believe it or not, has some pretty historic accolades to boast about. For example, LoveFood credits Wendy's for being one of the first restaurants to help pioneer the modern-day drive-thru, alongside the modern pick-up window. According to USA Today, the chain was one of the first national fast food chains to put a salad bar in their restaurants, known as "Superbar." And who can forget the beloved twist between soft-serve and a milkshake known as the Frosty? For a restaurant that bills itself as selling "old-fashioned" burgers, Wendy's has been a key player in making modern-day fast food as we come to know it.

In the case of value meals, some sources credit Wendy's for helping to launch the first value meal in the history of fast food. 

Wendy's used value meals to compete with other chains

Picture this: It's the 1980s and a war is brewing on American soil. It's fought not with weapons, but instead with flame grills and TV advertisements. The Burger Wars of the 1980s and early '90s were a struggle between America's biggest burger joints as they attempted to gain the upper hand on the other.

Denny Lynch, senior vice president of communications at Wendy's international, explained to QSR Web the dire situation of the Burger Wars. You could easily find Big Macs and Whoppers for 99 cents — something that would be great for the consumer but bad for those burger companies trying to keep their profit margins afloat. How could Wendy's compete without having to sell its food at unprofitable prices?

The answer, explains Lynch, was to create a menu filled with items that were 99 cents. In 1989, the company launched the first value menu, complete with Junior Cheeseburgers and fries, all for 99 cents — a radical idea in a time of heavy coupons and deep discounts. This would not only give the people the ability to make a full meal relatively more affordable, but it also laid the groundwork for restaurants to be able to sell products at a price cut without gutting their profits.

Burger King would later launch their own value menu in 1998 (via Wide Open Eats), although they were beaten out yet again by McDonald's Dollar Menu, which began in 1989.