10 Fast Food Upgrades We Hope to See in 2023

10 Fast Food Upgrades We Hope to See in 2023

Our 2023 fast food wish list isn't just concerned with the taste of the food.

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In the fast food industry, there’s always lots of room for improvement, and not just in the quality of the food. As frequent patrons of these restaurant chains, we have plenty of changes we’d like to see at all levels of the operation, from the menu options, to the way the food is sourced, to the technology that’s supposed to improve efficiency and convenience. McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, are you listening?

What follows is our fast food wish list for 2023, detailing all the shifts that might make things better for customers and restaurants alike. And while it’s true that you can’t always get what you want—we sure didn’t get everything we wanted in 2022—we can still think big and dream of the fast food fixes we hope to see in the coming year.

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More South and Southeast Asian flavors

More South and Southeast Asian flavors

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The American palate is timid, but it seems like it’s finally begun to expand its horizons a bit and crave some global flavors. As a result, now feels like the time to introduce more South Asian and Southeast Asian dishes to the fast food space, including Indian, Filipino, and Cambodian cuisine. While many Americans might not be familiar with these flavor profiles, Restaurant Business points to fast-casual Indian food as an emerging dining trend in North America, and only delicious things can come of it.

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Vegan ice cream options

Vegan ice cream options

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Sure, we spend a lot of time talking about plant-based meat substitutes in the fast food space—some more successful than othersbut it’s time we talk about the sweet side of things, too. We already know that vegan ice cream can be just as rich and delicious as its dairy counterpart, so why can’t McDonald’s add a vegan McFlurry to the lineup, and why can’t Wendy’s offer a dairy-free Frosty? Maybe there would be a significant price differential between the regular product and the vegan version, but if Burger King has proven anything with its Impossible Whopper, it’s that people are willing to shell out for these alternatives.

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Compostable or recyclable takeout containers

Compostable or recyclable takeout containers

paper bowl and fork
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It’s almost 2023, people. Fast food packaging shouldn’t be as wasteful as it still is—and it’s on the fast food industry to lead these changes, rather than creating convoluted new systems that put the onus on the customer to be the eco-conscious one. (Looking at you, Starbucks.) Dunkin’s decision to phase out Styrofoam has been a step in the right direction, but we need a lot more innovation to happen in this space if we’re going to keep the planet from becoming one giant mass of single-use plastic.

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Better working conditions

Better working conditions

fast food employee working with chicken
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It’s no lie that fast food corporations make boatloads of money year over year, much of which is pure profit. So why can’t more of those profits be directed to employees, many of whom are working for pay that hovers near the federal minimum wage? These jobs demand that employees work in environments where they risk physical injury, harassment by customers, and crushing stress. A living wage would not only show appreciation for all that these workers do for the industry, but might also begin to incentivize people to stay in those positions amidst a mass exodus and resulting labor shortage. A well-compensated workforce means more food and better service—what’s good for fast food employees is good for us all.

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Fresher ingredients

Fresher ingredients

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When it comes to fast food, details matter—that’s a lesson McDonald’s has learned with a small but significant menu swap. When the chain switched to fresh beef for its Quarter Pounders in 2018, replacing the heretofore frozen burger patties, it made a world of difference. Sales of the Quarter Pounder allegedly shot up 30% after the switch.

To some extent, fast food will probably always be full of processed ingredients, artificial colors, excess fat, and added sugars and flavoring. But if a chain decides to focus on a few key ingredients that are allowed to be their freshest, least adulterated selves, the entire menu (and therefore overall sales) can benefit. Can you imagine how delicious it would be if Taco Bell’s guacamole started by slicing open an actual avocado, rather than slicing open a bag of pureed pulp shipped out to the franchise from a centralized processing plant?

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Less—yes, less—technology

Less—yes, less—technology

robot arms pouring coffee
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We know this is not going to happen, since the current wave of innovation in fast food seemingly involves nothing but technology. From Flippy the Robot at White Castle to the way we order via mobile apps, technology continues to make its way into everything we choose to eat and how we choose to receive it.

We already know these apps are harvesting our personal data, which in turn will be used to sell us more stuff. This was the deal with the devil that many of us struck in order to receive perks like freebies, discounts, and loyalty points that can be redeemed for cool stuff. But now, the “deals” we’re being offered in return for our data have sharply decreased in value, meaning we have to spend even more money for the privilege of being thanked for it.

As for fast food robots, given how far we still seem to be from machines that can so much as hold a cup of coffee as well as a human can, all the research and development being poured into replacing human workers might be better allocated toward making conditions better for human workers.

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Menu innovations that are actually interesting

Menu innovations that are actually interesting

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Our tastebuds really need this change in 2023. Fast food innovation seems to have stagnated a bit, leaving us searching for flavor and excitement. The McDonald’s Smoky BLT Quarter Pounder seemed really uninspired, and as much as we love Taco Bell, the 7-Layer Nacho Fries just felt like a corporate kitchen doing the bare minimum to keep our attention.

What we need in 2023 is something fresh and bold, with lots of seasoning beyond excess sugar and/or salt. Bright acid, thoughtfully applied spices, international flavors—any of these avenues can take a familiar sandwich and make it new again. Let’s see what comes of a little experimentation, shall we?

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Regional specialties, sold nationwide

Regional specialties, sold nationwide

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The Bear, an FX series on Hulu about a struggling chef operating a family-owned restaurant in Chicago, was the surprise hit of the summer, and its success led to the unexpected explosion in popularity of a signature Chicago dish: the Italian Beef sandwich. National interest in beefs spiked, but beef stands unfortunately aren’t a fixture of cities nationwide. Fast food could bridge that gap, uniting curious customers with the regional dishes they have heard about but never had a chance to taste before.

Pizza Hut brought Detroit-style pizza to the masses in 2021; who’s to say Arby’s can’t release a really good Chicago-style Italian Beef? Why can’t Sbarro serve up some riggies? The caveat is that these chains have to make an honest effort to emulate the genuine article, rather than do a half-assed riff on a regional item that’ll just end up making everyone mad. It can be done, we just know it.

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Better fast food pizza

Better fast food pizza

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We’ve got the same players in the fast food pizza arena that we’ve pretty much always had: Little Caesars, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, Domino’s. But at its core, a plain cheese pizza is just flour, water, salt, yeast, tomato sauce, and cheese. A little care goes a long way, and there’s still so much improvement to be had in the fast food pizza space to achieve an exemplary final product. Fast food pizza can and should be better, from its core ingredients to the way it’s delivered. It’s time to demand better.

Maybe, rather than expecting improved pizza from the old players, we can look to the ascendant chains—Marco’s, Romeo’s MOD—to see if they can deliver on a pizza that doesn’t just taste like the same old puffy, bready thing.

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The complete abandonment of NFTs

The complete abandonment of NFTs

nft
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It seems pretty apparent that all the hype around NFTs (non-fungible tokens) is starting to wane, big time. As far as we can tell, the marketing gimmicks that attempted to merge crypto and food haven’t actually done anything for the restaurant industry, either. The last time we checked, you can’t eat an NFT, so we’re hoping that fast food ditches the concept altogether.

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