American fast food chains in the UK

I lived in the US for 30+ years before moving to the UK around 27 years ago. In the US my go-to fast food place was Wendy’s. They have started popping up in the UK and I tried one over the weekend and was disappointed. In the US every burger was prepped to order so I’d go to the counter and ask for “single, cheese, pickle, onion, mustard” and get exactly that. But in the UK version there was no customization option, it was just a “Dave’s Original” that you could just add bacon or cheese to. Can you still do customization at Wendy’s in the US?

For KFC in the US 25 years ago there was Original Recipe and Extra Crispy. On a visit about 10 years ago I saw a commercial that advertised a skinless option. What are the options there today? In the UK it’s just Original Recipe.

Taco Bell has also started appearing here and just seems meh. The 7 layer burrito seemed smaller than I remember. McDonald’s and Burger King have been here a long time and are as I remember from the US, except maybe smaller burgers. I see that a Popeye’s will be opening about a half hour from here so I’ll give that a go.

I have a rant about the burritos here. They all seem to be the California style with rice inside the burrito. I lived in Houston for a couple years and those burritos had just meat, beans, and cheese inside with rice as a side dish.

The first place my wife and I stopped to eat upon arriving in Auckland, New Zealand in 2013 was a Wendy’s. The menu only had about 20 items and they had none of the Wendy’s staples like Frostys and Chili. The hamburger patties were round, not square too.

Absolutely. I can’t think of a major fast-food chain in the US that doesn’t allow a customer to customize the toppings on a sandwich, ingredients in a taco, etc.

Speaking as a fussy eater, who won’t eat half of the “standard” things that fast-food places put on their hamburgers, if there were such a place, I’d definitely want to know, so I could avoid it. :smiley:

US Taco Bell doesn’t have the 7 layer burrito anymore. Part of the 2020 menu purge. Some of those items have since been reinstated, like the Mexican Pizza, but looking at the TB UK site, it doesn’t look like you got that one back.

I haven’t had a Wendy’s burger in years. If I’m going there, I’m getting a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, or a spicy Asiago Bacon Ranch Chicken Club, but they don’t appear to offer that over there.

There’s one near me. “Deeply disappointing” is my verdict; I’ve gone three times and ordered three different things (just to check); in each case the chicken was overcooked and tough, and the “spicy” decidedly tepid. Perhaps that’s just this branch, but then the quality of KFCs in London is also uniformly terrible. You can get better chicken at McDonald’s.

In Popeyes’ favor, at least they actually have biscuits and mashed potatoes unlike KFCs here, which offer gravy but neither of those things to put the gravy on. Apparently they think the gravy is for pouring over the sandwiches, which is just weird.

In the US, the standard varieties are Original, Extra Crispy, and Grilled.

KFC does proper mash & gravy now. Another odd thing is that both KFC and Taco Bell offer fries/chips.

Do they? That’s new since I last bothered to frequent them.

In the US, KFC has offered fries for years. They used to be “potato wedges,” but they switched to more typical fries (though apparently coated with their “herbs and spices”) a couple of years ago.

US Taco Bells have been offering “Nacho Fries” (French fries with a spice coating, served with a cup of nacho cheese sauce) as a promotional item several times a year, for the last three or four years.

KFC’s old potato wedges:

KFC’s new fries:

Taco Bell Nacho Fries:

As a Canuck, it’s oddly disheartening for me to stumble across Tim Hortons all over the U.K. I’ve seen 'em in Belfast, Glasgow and Cardiff so far, and I know they’re elsewhere. Usually less than a block away from a Greggs, which I personally think blows Timmies out of the water. I’ve never eaten at one, though I did eat at a Tim Hortons in Buffalo once.

As a UK resident who’s had about 15 visits to the US in the last few decades, I’ve considered eating at US fast food chains but only really when forced to, or they don’t exist in the UK (*), so I don’t have a lot of comparisons. I’d never really considered the chances that they might be different. MacDonalds seemed as bad as the UK one when I forced to eat one on late Christmas Eve in Vegas because nothing else was open at 1am. I skipped the Taco Bell (which I didn’t really see much in the centre of cities in the US) to go to a good burger place in SF. In and out in SF also had a big queue so they got skipped, but I can’t imagine they’d be that good.

Anyway, Wendys don’t really exist in the UK. If you’ve found one that’s changed, I think they pulled from London in mid 90s. Pretty much everything comes with fries and I do find it surprising to find that KFCs in the US don’t (though less surprised that Taco Bell doesn’t, makes sense and its a new chain, so not been selling fries for decades). BK really came in the back of buying out the excellent but unfashionable Wimpy chain in the early 90s. But apart from the deluge of Subways about 2000, there wasn’t much in the way of US chains which penerated the country for a while.

There was a Quiznos in Birmingham about a decade ago, but it went bust. So it has been hit and miss, and I think if you’re coming into the UK, you have to do it big otherwise nobody really notices.

Dunkin Donuts is another corpse at the side of the road in failed UK expansions, so its a tough business to crack. Brits don’t really normally eat that much doughnuts (our spelling), it might have helped if they’d marketed the coffee better (I believe that DD was the US’s biggest coffee seller), and got that spot pre starbucks (it was the 90s), but that didn’t happen.

Even franchises which have thrived before, have faded. Burger King has become mostly something you buy at a railways station or a motorway service station. I guess the battle was which toys to sell to your children rather than burger quality in the end.

Tim Hortons does appear to be quite wipespread now, more as a chain at out of town cinema complexes (there tends to be a few similar chains over here which are probably owned by the cinemas, Chiquitos, Frankie and Bennies, Ask Italian, Prezzo, I think Tim Hortons sits in with these). We went to one in Vancouver, BC and it struck me as “I guess Dunkin Doughnuts didn’t make it here because of Tim Hortons”, had a cup of coffee and that was that. They are probably riding the back of the successful overpriced doughnuts of Krispy Kreme, which niched into small franchises in stores like Debenhams. Whatever, if you want to pay three quid for a doughnut, go ahead, its not for me. Five Guys seems to have worked quite well, with quite a few around, in the overpriced burger market, but I believe their fries are supposed to be vile, I don’t buy fries normally, so someone has to explain this to poor brits who are eating them and thinking “this is supposed to be good?”

Taco Bell has made inroads much faster in recent times, though I can say there is probably not one within fifty miles of me in the blackspot of West Midlands. I did go out of my way to have one in Nottingham, one of the early ones which opened, and now I might consider eating them in the US… No. No, I won’t. I came out of the Nottingham one with the thoughts “could they actually make that worse?”. So even if they make it three times better, it would still be bad. I guess my bar was too high, based on US mexican food which I’d had which was universally excellent, and I had forgotten about Del Taco once, but even at that, those weren’t THAT bad.

The UK has it’s own quirks (such as the ones which are near cinemas) and chains (Nandos, Pret, Costa) and differences (Indian food is widespread, there are even some chains), and I don’t think it has quite the tastes for fifteen different burger chains, like in the US, so I think you might get one main type of food succeeding but not the variation.

Quality and consistency, even at that, can fail too. My last KFC was so bad, and cold, that I’ve never been back. Burger King was good once, often its dry and thin burgers now, overcooked. Taco Bell. Well, it seems it is worse. Mexican food is pretty awful in the UK, and yes, Burritos tend to be overpriced rice stuffed wraps, mostly. So perhaps its catering to a taste for the type of people who don’t like that food. Perhaps the culinary slate is wiped clean when you enter a new market.

(*) I’ve only ever sought out a fast food chain in the US. And I guess that was because I walked past it in New York, a lot of chains are somewhere you need a car to get to. It was White Castle. I really didn’t get the fact it was stoner food. I apologised to my o/h for years whenever that name is mentioned. It was also full of drunks and homeless people. About 5pm on a Friday. Yes, it was because of Harold and Kumar, but I didn’t make the connection (Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was called …get the Munchies in the UK). (**)

(**) Taco Bell was on my list because I watched a rental version of Demolition Man in the UK when it came out. It referred to Taco Bell which sounded like actual mexican food at the time (I’d not been to the US). Later versions of the film substituted KFC for Taco Bell.

I’ve tried American fast food chains overseas at least a dozen times and except for a Subway in Berlin they were all sad aberrations of the US version.

See my post earlier; KFC does, indeed, offer fries in the U.S., and has for years.

What, even McDonald’s? Except in markets like India that don’t serve beef, I think that the basic menu items (hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Filets-O-Fish, Big Macs, fries, milkshakes, sundaes, etc.), taste pretty much the same everywhere. And of course the German McDonald’s has had the McRib as a permanent menu item since its introduction, whereas Americans are always bemoaning its absence.

The Austrian McDonald’s are pretty good at coming up with ephemeral menu items that appeal to local tastes, such as rösti burgers or fried camembert burgers. Aberrations, sure, but surely not sad ones.

I’ve had McDonalds in Norway (cold, soggy fries and burger cheese that was almost a sauce) and Tokyo (burgers like something you would get in the freezer section and microwave and, again, cold fries). In both cases, it seemed like the food had been pre-made and waiting for someone to order.

Don’t get me started on what they pass off as KFC in Prague.

Mexican food is pretty awful everywhere in Europe, and seems to get more awful the further east you go. In London I used to live next door to a Mexican restaurant where the food, if not authentic, was more than tolerable. Good enough, anyway, that I would order their nachos at least once a month. I then moved to a city near Frankfurt where, coincidentally, there was a Mexican restaurant at the end of our block. We tried it once and never set foot in it again for the next seven years. The food wasn’t entirely bad per se, but was so underwhelming that we never felt the need to have it again. Since 2019 we’ve been living in Vienna, and a few weekends ago we ordered a taco salad a Mexican fast food place. Was that ever a travesty! Fried, unseasoned ground beef with a dollop of sour cream, served with two(!) tiny tortilla chips. And nothing else.

Fortunately, there is a Mexican grocery store here run by real Mexicans. They sell all the authentic ingredients you need for Mexican or Tex-Mex food, including corn or flour tortillas, tortilla chips, refried beans, various salsas, and frozen Monterey Jack. We shop there and then make our nachos, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. at home.

The US chains here in South Africa that I’ve had US versions of (McD, Subway, KFC) were pretty much the same in both places.

I mean, SA McDs has some local things like chicken foldovers and boerie breakfasts that I couldn’t find in McDs in Houston, but by the same token we don’t have breakfast burittos. But Big Macs and McNuggets seemed to be the same, as well as the fries.

KFC here, chicken comes in regular or Zinger (spicy, extra-crispy) but not grilled. There are fries. There are things like the twisters and box meals I didn’t see in the US, and we don’t have the tenders as a whole category, but the actual regular chicken tasted basically the same.

And Subways were identical.

The grilled variety is relatively recent for the U.S., having been introduced in 2009. It had a lot of fanfare when they first launched it, but it doesn’t get much marketing love or attention from them anymore, suggesting to me that it didn’t really catch on.

Out here in SoCal, Popeyes is way better than KFC, and quite good.

But they discontinued the old gravy, which was the best, and now it is bland and tasteless.

Question for Brit residents- In watching “Escape to the Country” they show lost of pub, tearooms, Fish & chip places, etc, but never a fast food place (unless maybe quickly skimmed over). Have McDs or Wimpies taken over all those quaint fish & chip shops?

Pretty well bust out here too. You seem like an expert, maybe my question above is in your expertise? I suspect that often overseas versions of American fast food (Except maybe McDs) are not as good as the American ones. Taco Bell is not bad at all here in SoCal. Of course, it is by no means “authentic”.

We have Nandos here, and I absolutely love it. I hadn’t even really tried it until after I got back from a trip to the U.K. Sadly, a bunch of franchises went bust due to COVID shutdowns. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven branches here shut down. There are only three left in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and they’re all quite a long drive from me.