French fries vs. onion rings = cheap vs. expensive. Why?

Most non-fast food joints which serve FFs also serve ORs. But there’s often a 20-50% upcharge and the quantity served is half or less.

A large Russet and a softball-sized white or yellow onion both cost almost nothing. They’re about the same effort to cut the peices to the needed shape, and specialized tools are available to make that a *one pull of the lever *operation if you’re doing a volume of them.

They both fry up using the same equipment in about the same time.

So why the big difference in price and serving size? A generic mid-market Budweiser bar & grill around here recently advertised their OR appetizer: 9 whole rings for $6.95! Their side of FFs is more quantity by weight and just $2.25.
I love ORs, but am tired of feeling ripped off every time I upgrade my $7.95 burger & fries someplace & get 4-5 rings.

Anybody with restaurant experience have an opinion on why this is? Beyond the obvious thoughts like “As long as customers will pay, why change?” or “That’s just the way it’s always been.”


Fries can be machine-cut, and don’t need to be battered - they go straight from the machine to the frier.

Onions are more complex: they need to be cut (not sure if this is achievable in a machine or not, as the orientation of the onion is also important to make sure the rings occur correctly), the outer ring selected, the inner ones discarded, then they need to be dredged in batter before frying, and that batter needs to be mixed up too.

I defer to actual professional caterers though.

An ex of mine worked at Sonic and constantly complained about making onion rings. More work involved.

Wasteage, as well. I’ve rarely seen places that use every ring of the onion, down to the tiny one in the middle, which means that onion has less useable substance than a potato of the same size, from which pretty much every square millimeter of flesh can be fried up and served.

Aside from cost issues, if consumers consider onion rings to be more “upscale” or “fancy” than fries, they might be willing to pay more for them, making them a higher profit margin item.

At sit-down restaurants, onion rings or similar items are sold as appetizers, while fries are usually included with some meals. This would tend to reinforce the idea that they’re worth more than fries.

I can make french fries. I cannot make onion rings to save my life.

Sharing time: I was talking to the chef at one of my favorite bars some weeks ago, and commented how much I loved their onion rings. I do not like onion rings unless they are exceptionally well done. For some reason, onion + deep fried + batter (all things that make me happy) are not necessarily good when combined. I’m not sure how it is so many go wrong, but they do. Apparently there is a lot of love, art and science that goes into making a good onion ring. This has nothing to do with the rings at fast food joints, of course, but I figured I’d share anyway.

Agreed, if you’re making fresh rings as opposed to pouring them out of some bag of frozen, pre-battered rings. My sis also commented on what a PITA it was to make them.

The place my sis worked at though came up with a good solution to waste issue that jayjay mentioned. They started offering grilled onions (on request) for all their burgers. That’s recycling I can get behind.

As said, labor and wastage. Any onion rings worth eating are done by hand, and that takes a lot of time and effort. Excellent onion rings require more effort and time than you might realize. I know places where it takes 2 days to make the rings. But they are worth every penny.

I wouldn’t go out of my way for good french fries, but I’m always on the hunt for great onion rings. (The best I’ve found so far? The Red Box Car in Red Lodge, MT)

Then there are the mutant versions like the ones served at Tony Roma’s, which are a full fryer basket of thin rings served in a large loaf. Delicious with bbq sauce, but oh so messy to eat.


You are correct, sir. :smack:

I like my onion rings with yellow mustard.

Damn you, SDMB! Now it’s about lunchtime and I really want onion rings, but the hospital cafeteria doesn’t serve them! (they don’t even have fries…no deep fryer at all…jerks! :mad:)

I could go out for lunch, but it’s a ten minute walk to my car, another ten to get back, figure at least five minutes to drive somewhere and another five back, and now I’ve got barely half an hour to sit, order, and eat (although there is one local fast-food-ish places that has onions rings. Certainly better than Burger King’s, the only other fast food place around that has them, but still not great.)

I like turtles.

My cat’s breath smells like cat food.

It’s a longshot, but can you find a service that will deliver food from a halfway decent place (I know they exist; I just don’t know if they exist in your part of Vermont)? It would be my sense that such a service would be kind of pricey, but if you want them that badly it might be worth it to you.

I didn’t think that it was possible to make tasteless onion rings, but Burger King has somehow managed. They don’t taste like onion or even like spices. They taste like the cardboard they come in. I mean this literally. The only taste in my mouth when I eat a BK onion ring is vaguely papery.

Actually next time I might try eating the cardboard, its taste might improve after soaking up the onion ring grease.

If you read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation you will see why.

Basically potatos grown for french fries, expecially at McDonalds but also at other fast food outlets and grocers come from a very limited number of potato farms. They are extremely economical because they are mass produced via farming and, well he explains the processes. It’s very well thought out and done to meet demand.

Onions and batter are not done that way.

If you read the book you’ll see why potatos and french fires are HUGE money makers. In fact only Soda is a bigger money maker than fries.

It’s because what BK sells are not real onion rings. Take one apart. You’ll find that you can’t. The onion in there, if there is onion in there, is minced, probably reconstituted from dried.