Yesterday, it was announced that for the first time in 43 years, Wendy's had bested Burger King to become the No. 2 burger chain in America (behind perennial No. 1, McDonald's) based on sales alone.
The Wall Street Journal reported that "Wendy's had sales of $8.5 billion in 2011, compared with $8.4 billion for Burger King." McDonald's, the paper said, blew both out of the water with $34.2 billion in sales in the same time period. This is unsurprising, as the Golden Arches have maintained a growth of 26 percent in the last five years compared to the 9 percent at Wendy's. Burger King flatlined in this area, showing no sales growth at all since 2006.
And although that last figure is difficult to defend, Houston Press assistant music editor Craig Hlavaty was adamant yesterday that Burger King had been swindled out of its No. 2 title. I was just as adamant that it was a long time coming (due in part to my steadfast belief that the Burger King King is the creepiest mascot ever, including the Quizno's rats), and that my own beloved Wendy's was finally enjoying a well-deserved moment in the sun.
Hlavaty and I share a cubicle and argue about a lot of things, including the green fashion shorts I wore to work yesterday and his tendency to interrupt nearly every article I'm writing to show me semi-NSFW photos of Christina Hendricks on the roughly 4,000 Christina Hendricks Tumblrs that he monitors all day long.
But this Burger King vs. Wendy's argument brought out a far more vicious side in us than previously seen. I've transcribed the debate below.
Katharine: How can you possibly like Burger King? It "flame broils" everything, which I'm fairly certain is some kind of fast food industry code for "marinate in grease trap scrapings and grill until rubbery and blackened."
Craig: Wendy's tastes like someone cooked all their food by putting it under a heat lamp at an old folks' home. In fact, I think that Wendy's is the old folks' home of fast food chains. The only thing a Frosty is good for is satisfying the hunger pangs of a pregnant woman. What can you say about a place whose fries need to be dipped in chocolate ice cream to be palatable, for a woman that is going through a monstrous metamorphosis of building a woman inside her belly, and would eat a sneaker if she had the craving?
Katharine: I'm beginning to think that you've never had the fries at Wendy's. They're second only to Jack In The Box curly fries as the best fast food fries around (yes, that includes the over-salted sticks at McDonald's). They require nothing other than a light dusting of salt and Wendy's ketchup -- a ketchup that can hold its ground with Whataburger's fancy ketchup, I might add.
Craig: The number one fast food chain is McDonald's, and the true and righteous number two is Burger King. Think of McD's as the Beatles, and Burger King as the Stones. Flames building, hot, cheesed beef, and that onion ring sauce, which is good on everything. I could eat the onion ring sauce by itself. If I was hungry on the side of the road and Wendy's was giving out free, homely, tasteless burgers, I would rather eat that onion ring sauce.
Katharine: It sounds like the only thing BK has going for it -- according to you -- is onion ring sauce. What kind of fast food restaurant builds its empire on a single condiment? BK's fries are gnarly, its patties remarkably tough and its toppings consistently lackluster. And the one in Montrose remains the only fast food restaurant that's a relic of the neighborhood's rougher days, and not in that charming, nostalgic way. It's just plain scary.
Over at Wendy's, its square beef patty is so big and juicy that a round bun can't contain it. Its bacon tastes like real bacon. It uses fancy red onions on its burgers. (You have to pay extra for "good" toppings like that at BK, as with its ridiculously named "Chef's Choice" burgers.) Its 99-cent value menu contains items I actually want to eat, like baked potatoes and a Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe that's really too big to be called a "junior" anything. And even though its chili has beans, it's damn tasty -- especially on top of one of those $1 potatoes.
Craig: BK just tastes right, like when you know that you love someone and will do anything to protect them. BK reminds me of the first time I saw my little brother just after he was born. Mainly because I was six years old and I had just eaten a Whopper on my own since no one was watching me in the waiting room. Husky jeans ahoy.
BK has tons going for it, besides that ring sauce. I celebrate all of their burgers, especially anything involving barbecue sauce, cheese, or any mixture of the two. There is something about that flame-grilled taste that puts me in a land of contentment. At Wendy's they use too much bread and I get a headache. Some of their smaller burgers remind me of glorified store-bought frozen White Castles.
Katharine: First of all, White Castle is fantastic. So fantastic they made movies about it. Movies starring Neil Patrick Harris and the new Hot Sulu from Star Trek and Kal Penn, three actors that are almost too fucking awesome for words. So I will take that comparison to White Castle as a compliment, unlike the time you looked askance at my skinny jeans a few months ago and told me to put a little more effort into myself.
Craig: I meant the frozen White Castles in the freezer section at the grocery store. Real White Castles are proof God loves us.
One thing that has always bothered me about Wendy's is that they got rid of that salad bar option they once had. They could have changed the tide of America's waistline, but no, they said "Fuck off" to us and doomed us all.
Katharine: Wendy's could no more have changed the fattening tides of America's pant sizes than Souper Salad has (or, rather more pointedly, hasn't) done. But instead of doing away with salad altogether, it instead came up with four salads that range in nutritional quality but all taste terrific. And not even "for fast food salads." They just taste good. Especially the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, which -- sure -- has 27 grams of fat in it. But that's because it's topped with blue cheese. BLUE CHEESE. And delicious dried cranberries and fresh apples.
Do they even know what blue cheese is at BK, where its grasp of food trends seem to have died back in the mid '80s? I mean, BK barely even offers salads. All you can get there is a shitty "garden salad" that's topped with lethargic slices of rubbery grilled chicken (or fried, in case you really want to fuck a salad all the way up).
Craig: I think my issue with Wendy's is that...you know what? Here is my beef with Wendy's: My dad eats it maybe three times a week, and when I lived at home he would always get a few items, enough for maybe two bags, and then stuff Wendy's plastic silverware and napkins in the other bag. Their silverware really is better than every other fast food joint, and I will concede that their nuggets and barbecue sauce are decent.
It's not like I am without great Wendy's stories. I once spent $50 with some buddies in Austin on their Baconators because that was the only thing open on that side of town. Why would four guys in Austin feel the need to spend $50 at Wendy's on a Friday night? You do the math.
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While Wendy's may be better crafted and even made with more love, I will still run for a Whopper over a....whatever it is that Wendy's does. It's funny though, because next to Whataburger, both Burger King and Wendy's are like awful night terrors. If anything, we should both be proud that Whataburger even exists to act as an option against BK and Wendy's.
Katharine: Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. That's what Wendy's does. But they don't have taquitos, so you're right; Whataburger wins this round by default.