Vintage Fast Food Menus That Look Way Better Than Today's
Believe it or not, vintage fast food menus are pretty fascinating to look at. Check out these often forgotten blasts from the past.
Fast food menus have become insane these days, with many people associating the entire industry with American-style excess. A typical fast food menu today will have dozens of items on it, most of which will be over 1,000 calories in total.
Believe it or not, fast food didn't actually start out as a symbol of decadence. In fact, you probably wouldn't recognize fast food restaurants from 40 years ago as fast food.
You can tell a lot about America's culture by taking a look at fast food restaurant menus from times gone by. They are reflections of what we ate, how we enjoyed ourselves, as well as our economy at the time.
Want to see what fast food used to be like? Take a look at these vintage fast food menus from way back in the day to find out.
Sonic's First Menu (1959)
Sonic, the very same drive-in that's known for insane slushies and milkshakes today, had a way more modest menu in 1959. There are no crazy triple-stacked burgers, but true to form, Sonic still seemed to love serving up hot dogs.
Other notable differences include the inclusion of a BBQ beef sandwich, a Frito chili pie, and "home made fried pies." Man, that sounds like a pretty delicious meal, doesn't it?
As far as vintage fast food menus goes, this one has a very interesting little detail that you might have noticed already—it seems that Burger King wasn't the original home of the Whopper!
An article featuring vintage fast food menus wouldn't be complete without at least one menu from McDonald's. This simple grouping of five items was the majority of what the Golden Arches offered back in the 1960s. This means no McChicken, no dubious-species McRib, no fried fish...
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this? French fries only coming in a size small. That's almost un-American now!
Believe it or not, A&W root beer actually came from a restaurant chain by the same name—and while this is technically a restaurant chain at risk of becoming extinct, it's still easy enough to find vintage fast food menus from its heyday on the net.
This menu is allegedly from the 1960s, though some sources claimed it's an original from the first A&W stand that was erected in the 1920s. It's hard to tell what's more surprising to modern diners: the porkchop basket, or the fact that they sell party ice, too.
Also, what was A&W thinking when they decided to call a menu item the "Awful Awful?"
F.W Woolworth Co. (1950)
This is one of those restaurant chains that no longer exists, but there's a twist here that might surprise you. Woolworth's wasn't mostly known for selling food.
F.W Woolworth was actually very similar to Macy's or J.C. Penny back in the day. Their food court was fast food, much like the Starbucks you find inside Macy's in New York. Either way, we're adding them to this list of cool vintage fast food menus because they fit the bill.
Woolworth's menu actually looks fairly standard for the fare of the times—except for the way they were hamming it up. Seriously, look at how much ham they sold. It's kinda gross, isn't it?
Vintage fast food menus from KFC are pretty hard to track down in terms of history, but it can be done. What you might find surprising about this menu, aside from the surprisingly straight-laced looking colonel cartoon, is the menu's offering of a chicken gizzard dinner.
Apparently, once palates changed, gizzards got taken off the menu—but the original fried chicken recipe calling for 11 herbs and spices was kept. Another interesting thing worth noting? A nine-piece chicken bucket was allegedly enough for five people!
Burger Chef (1963)
You might not recognize this name, but Burger Chef was once the biggest competitor to McDonald's and Burger King—and at one point, it was poised to take over the country. Now, it's an extinct restaurant chain because of poor management and over expansion.
Many vintage fast food menus from this old chain circulate the net. This one is from the early 60s, and shows the old Burger Chef mascot offering up some classic American fare.
Fun Fact: Burger Chef became famous for its fast service because it fully automated its production—leaving no need for fast food workers to man the grill. During peak hours, they'd just crank the machine up a notch more and keep pace with customers.
T.G.I. Friday's (1976)
You would never guess from the looks of this photo, but what you're looking at is one of the first print menus from none other than T.G.I Friday's. Yes, that Friday's; one of the worst fast-casual restaurant chains in the country.
The original concept of Friday's was to be a bar that would make women feel like they were sipping cocktails at home—also known as a fern bar.
Part of their early marketing concept was to create menus that looked like sketchbooks. Prior to the 70s, Friday's would write their menus in chalk, and that was actually okay since their menu only had 19 items on it.
This notebook snap was found on Flickr, from a former employee. Had they kept it to themselves, one of the most fascinating vintage fast food menus on this list would have vanished from sight.
Burger King (1953)
This is one of the very first menus Burger King ever had, and to be honest, it's kind of nice. The King actually looks cute, rather than creepy-funny. The burgers are broiled, and the fact that they actually had to tell people "no tipping" is pretty shocking, too.
Pizza Hut (1958)
What you're looking at is one of the first Pizza Hut menus ever made—and as far as vintage fast food menus go, this one's a head-scratcher. Pizza Hut had a hamburger pizza? They served milk with pizza?
The Pizza Hut mascot's a bit odd too. I'm not sure what they were going for. A guy wearing a bandana, cowboy hat, Mario mustache, and apron really doesn't really suggest anything pizza-like, does he?
Seriously, man, what the hell?
If we're talking seriously vintage fast food menus, you might be surprised to find out that Walgreen's pharmacy was once also known for having a fast food aspect to it, too. When people wanted lunch in a hurry, they'd go to Walgreen's.
Technically, this makes Walgreen's one of the first fast food restaurants in history. Don't believe it? Take a look at this colorized menu from the 50s below!
Incidentally, this menu might explain why Walgreen's no longer serves food. The stuffed tomato dish and the jello-y salad look pretty gross.
Taco Bell (1973)
Today, Taco Bell's menu involves a lot of pretty crazy food combos. (Looking at you, Dorito Taco Supreme.) In 1973, the menu at Taco Bell was way more limited—and vintage fast food menus from this chain were even smaller back during the first years of this chain's operation.
Taco, burrito, tostada... Yeah, that's basically all you could order back then. Surprising to see such a big restaurant chain come from such humble beginnings, eh?
An interesting fact here is that Taco Bell used to sell Bell Burgers alongside their Mexican-ish fare. Somehow, we're really not surprised the burgers ended up falling by the wayside. It just didn't seem to mesh well.
Admittedly, this is just a franchise, but it has a lot of interesting similarities to other vintage fast food menus on this list. The most obvious thing that's worth pointing out is that the menu is way smaller, and way more Americanized than what we know Benihana's to be today.
Most people today would be totally baffled to see "chilled tomato cocktail" or "onion au gratin soup" being passed off as Japanese fare. Ah, times were different back then.
White Castle (1952)
Last on our list is White Castle, which still manages to be one of the cheapest fast food restaurants today. However, in the 50s, they took affordability to the next level with burgers that only cost five cents apiece.
That's impressive, and to a point, shows why vintage fast food menus are so fun to look at.