In many ways, things aren’t all that different today than they were 20 years ago. Sure, all of us now have handheld smart devices that connect us to the world at all times, electric cars have gone mainstream, and we’re ordering online and getting fast food delivered more than ever before. But when it comes to our favorite restaurant chains, more things are surprisingly similar than they are different compared to 20 years ago.
For instance, Big Macs and Whoppers are still big on McDonald’s and Burger King’s menus, respectively, and fries will always be important. But many things have changed at fast-food restaurants and quite a few unusual and old-school menu items have disappeared.
After all, at McDonald’s in 2002, you could still Supersize an order, because no one had yet said out loud that massive servings of fries and buckets of soda are a bad idea. Arby’s was popular and not in an ironic way, either. And Shake Shack? It was still two years from even being founded.
Another thing that has changed in 20 years is some of the menu items you could get then, that are distant memories today. Now let’s look at ten unusual things you could order at a fast-food restaurant two decades ago.
Sometime in 2002, someone at Burger King got the idea to incorporate the kind of dehydrated cheese powder you use in instant mac and cheese with BK fries. Per Mashed, the method was this: customers dump fries into a bag, then pour in the cheese powder, then shake the bag to coat the fries, creating cheesy fries. The results, however, were pretty gross. And the sales spoke to that. The commercial was fun though.
From the mid-1990s up until 2003, you could get a pretty spicy chicken wing at McDonald’s. As in a regular bone-in chicken wing. The problem was that not too many McD’s customers could handle the level of spice, thus the removal of these wings. Per Business Insider, 10 years later, in 2013, the chain tried to revive Mighty Wings only to again see them fail.
This hybrid pizza-calzone creation was born at The Hut in 2002. It made a brief return to menus in 2019 but was dropped again in 2021. Word is that they just didn’t sell very well despite the hype surrounding them. Also, some critics said that Pizza Hut was trying to reinvent the calzone which, of course, had existed in neighborhood pizza restaurants for years.
Introduced in the late 1990s, Wendy’s Fresh Stuffed Pitas found many fans. They came in flavors like Classic Greek, Garden Veggie, and Chicken Caesar, per Mashed, and were essentially a salad tucked into soft, warm pita bread. Popular though these sandwiches were with many, they just weren’t profitable, so the chain axed them by the early 2000s.
The bizarre thing about the McDonald’s Dollar Menu was that, when it debuted in the year 2002, the items on said menu actually did cost one dollar. You could get fries, a pair of pies, a burger, a chicken sandwich, a drink, or a few other items for just one buck. It proved a hit with customers but cost the company financially, so within a few short years, the Dollar Menu had been edged out by things like the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu or the Dollar Menu & More, which basically meant more money.
20 years ago, you could walk into a Sonic (or drive up to one or use the drive-thru, of course) and order some Pickle-O’s, a sack filled with breaded, deep-fried pickle slices. While that particular side has been off the menu for years, you can still get fried pickles at many Sonic Drive-Ins, you just need to ask specifically and have them prepared fresh.
Yes, that’s right, back in the year 2002, McDonald’s briefly offered miniature corn dogs. As in hotdog bits coated in a corn batter and then deep-fried to perfection. They lasted a very short period of time and it was no surprise there, back then or now.
Introduced in 1998 and discontinued by the early 2000s, these warm, sweet, gooey little spirals of dough were a huge hit with many Burger King fans. So much so, in fact, that the chain brought them back for a very limited run in 2018. Why the double discontinuation? Because BK Cini Minis never managed to catch on broadly beyond that small but dedicated customer core.
The strangest thing about the McSalad Shakers from McDonald’s is how quickly they disappeared given that they were an on-brand alternative to burgers and chicken sandwiches and fries. Highly portable and affordable, these shaken salads appeared on the menu in the year 2000 but by 2003, they were gone again, and for good. In 2022, as we know, there are no salads at all at McD’s anymore.
Chicken Selects were grown-up chicken nuggets. They were unusual for the time because they were all-white meat chicken with the crunch of good chicken fingers. These beauties debuted in 2002 as a limited-time offering and were a permanent menu item for over ten years. But, while they were popular, they didn’t sell as well as the chicken nuggets because of the price point. After a few attempts to bring them back, as Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, they have disappeared from U.S. menus.