It doesn’t matter where you go: Fast-food hamburgers almost uniformly look like the same round, flat patties. Except for Wendy’s, which has square burgers.
The reason for the outlier four-sided shape can be traced back to Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. In 1969, he opened the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio, because he wasn’t satisfied with other options. To make it distinctive compared to Wendy’s competitors, he used fresh meat formed into a square.
The corners of Wendy’s burgers hang over the buns. That way, Thomas believed, customers would see the quality of the hamburger, according to the company’s history.
The company has long used the square patties in its marketing campaigns. For example, the restaurant chain often says “cutting corners isn’t in Wendy’s DNA.”
There’s a practical reason for the square shape, too.
“We can fit more square hamburgers on a single grill than round ones,” said John Li, vice president of culinary innovation at the Wendy’s Company, told CNN Business.
The chain’s use of fresh meat rather than frozen has also helped its sales.
“We’ve built longstanding and trusted relationships with our partners to ensure we can deliver the iconic square fresh, never frozen, beef burgers our fans have come to expect and love,” Li said.
Competitors have taken notice, including McDonald’s in 2018, when it swapped out frozen beef for fresh beef in most of its quarter-pound burgers in the United States. In Japan, the chain is currently experimenting with square buns (the patties are still round) for a special promotion.
White Castle also uses square patties – an invention that actually predates Wendy’s. According to its history, the chain began in 1921 by selling square hamburgers that were easy to eat and called “Sliders.” In 1954, White Castle added five holes to the patty so they could cook faster.
Wendy’s examined switching to round patties about a decade ago, because perfectly squared shapes looked processed to focus groups. However, a round burger would’ve been antithetical to Thomas’ vision. Instead, Wendy’s slightly tweaked the shape to a “natural square” with uneven edges.
Changing its burgers too much could damage its reputation.
“The square burger is part of the Wendy’s brand experience and has been used as a differentiator in the fast food category,” according to Marisa Mulvihill, partner and head of brand and activation at global consultancy firm Prophet. “Changing to round burgers requires leaving behind their inspirational story and their distinctive experience which will likely diminish some of Wendy’s brand relevance.”