Lately I’ve been seeing TV commercials for fish fillet sandwiches at Wendy’s. I checked the menu selections at Wendy’s corporate website and, sure enough, select Wendy’s locations are now selling a “premium fish fillet sandwich” of “hand-cut fillets of North Pacific cod in a crisp Panko crumb breading.” I don’t know what “Panko” is, but I’ve never liked fillet o’ fish sandwiches, and I’m not about to start now — Panko crumb coating or no. To me, what is notable about this fishy development is that it shows just how far Wendy’s has strayed from its original business model.
The original Wendy’s had a simple premise and simple menu. (I became very familiar with it because my high school girlfriend worked at one of the first few Wendy’s restaurants, on King Avenue in Grandview, and I often went to pick her up from work.) In those days, it was advertised as “Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hambergers” and featured old-fashioned lettering and tables covered in turn of the century ads. It sold tasty, fresh, square-shaped burgers — “singles,” “doubles,” and “triples,” depending on how many patties you wanted on your burger — chili, fries, soft drinks, and a dessert concoction called a “Frosty.” The business model, as I understand it, was that the unused burger meat from one day was put into the chili the next day.
With the introduction of the fish fillet sandwich and the rest of Wendy’s now extensive menu, the business has come very far from its early days, or even the early ’80s, when Clara Peller famously asked “Where’s the beef?” in Wendy’s TV ads. It just shows how fast food places seem to move, relentlessly and inexorably, to the yellow stripe in the middle of the road, offering the same products and the same kinds of food. Pretty much every fast-food place now sells meat on a bun or in “wraps.” Is there really much difference any more between the menus at Wendy’s and McDonald’s, or for that matter the menus at Taco Bell and KFC?