Why Wendy’s Is One of the the Few Fast-Food Chains with Baked Potatoes
Wendy's baked potatoes are a huge part of the chain's business. So why haven't any other fast-food restaurants started selling them?
When you go to a fast-food burger chain, the one side dish you can absolutely count on is fries. But for all the chopped and fried taters in fas-food restaurants, one side is conspicuously missing from all but one. Enter the Wendy’s baked potato.
Wendy’s baked potatoes might be even more famous than the chain’s fries. Customers load tubers up with chili, broccoli and cheese, sour cream and chives, and more. The “side” can get hefty enough to count as a meal of its own. You don’t even need a Frosty or their iconic square burger. Each potato is about 11.5 ounces before adding toppings, according to Thrillist. Here’s a fun food fact: Wendy’s sells a whopping 1 million baked potatoes every week, making it a pretty major revenue-builder for the company. So why haven’t more chains gotten on board?
When did Wendy’s start selling baked potatoes?
Wendy’s opened in 1969, but the baked potato didn’t hit their menu until 1983. In 1985, Wendy’s added a reduced-calorie menu that also included a tuna-stuffed tomato and a cottage cheese and pineapple salad. Neither of these items made it to today’s menu, but the baked potato is still holding strong.
Why did Wendy’s start selling baked potatoes?
First of all, let’s go back to why Wendy’s started selling spuds in the first place. In the ’80s and ’90s, low-fat diets were all the rage. but there was a definite appeal to replacing oil-drenched fries with a fat-free potato. Low-carb diets rose and fell, but the modest baked potato kept standing.
We now know that that all fat is not bad, but the baked potatoes are still a virtuous choice compared to other fried fast-food options. A regular baked potato has 270 calories, seven grams each of protein and fiber, and no fat to speak of. Ordering one with broccoli can add some green to your plate, too. Even when you load a potato with cheese and bacon bits, it becomes a full-on meal at only 480-calories—not much more than the 420 calories in a medium order of fries, which have just five grams of fiber and six grams of protein.
Why don’t other fast-food restaurants serve baked potatoes?
As health-conscious customers have pushed fast-food chains to serve more nutritious choices—most have side salads and apple slices—you’d think a plain baked potato would be a no-brainer. But for chains emphasizing the “fast” in “fast-food,” it’s not that simple.
“If you’ve ever cooked baked potatoes at home, you know it takes a while,” Lori Estrada, Wendy’s vice president of culinary innovation, tells Thrillist. “And we cook them from a raw state, in an oven, wrapped in foil, baked for an hour, just like you would at home.”
Naturally, the cooking itself would take a lot of planning. But there’s also the matter of equipment. Fast-food restaurants don’t typically have convection ovens, like the ones Wendy’s uses for its famous potatoes. Adding one in every location would be a major expense, and most chains just aren’t willing to make the move—especially if Wendy’s already has its grip on the fast-food potato market.
A few chains have tried to make the jump. Carl Jr. used to sell baked potatoes, and as did Burger King during its early-’90s attempt to create a classier environment with table-service Dinner Baskets. Canadian Arby’s and select U.S. locations have them on the menu, as does the Mid-Atlantic chain, Roy Rogers. Unless anyone else decides to make push for potatoes, though, you’ll have to head to Wendy’s for your fast-food non-fry fix if you’re in another part of the country.
Does Wendy’s still serve baked potatoes?
Yes, Wendy’s still serves baked potatoes! They currently have five different types of potatoes on their menu with varying prices—but more on that in a little bit.
What kind of baked potatoes does Wendy’s sell?
The Wendy’s menu currently lists five different baked potato options: plain, sour cream and chive, cheese, bacon cheese, and chili cheese. Canadian Wendy’s have fewer options as they don’t have chili or plain cheese, but they do have poutine! You also won’t find baked potatoes at all on the menu in Mexico, but they have loaded fries—and who has ever said no to those?
How much are baked potatoes at Wendy’s?
Here are the current prices for Wendy’s baked potatoes in 2022:
- Plain baked potato: $2.69
- Sour cream and chive: $3.09
- Bacon cheese: $3.69
- Chili cheese: $3.69
- Plain cheese: $3.39
Next, read about the secrets your fast-food worker is keeping from you.
Additional reporting by Emma Taubenfeld.