8 Popular Restaurants That Use Frozen French Fries

According to the South Florida Reporter, french fries have been enjoyed in the United States since the time of Thomas Jefferson. In the nearly 200 years following Jefferson's death, this side dish has become a staple of American culture. The french fries' impressive, nationwide popularity is substantiated by the fact that the average American eats nearly 30 pounds of fluffy, golden, and evidentially moreish fries each year (via National Geographic).

While different sizes, shapes, and seasonings have all been experimented with over the years, there has been one creation that has loomed larger than any other: the invention of the commercial frozen french fry. The New York Times reports that this version of the french fry was first invented by J. R. Simplot and Ray Dunlap during the mid-20th century. Shortly after their invention, the duo promptly agreed to supply a rising restaurant chain by the name of McDonald's, kickstarting a relationship between frozen fries and the restaurant that stands to this day. 

While frozen french fries can now be bought from grocery stores and cooked at home, the food item's greatest impact has been in restaurants where they give staff a means of bypassing laborious preparatory steps, reducing cooking time, and improving consistency. As such, it's not surprising that many extremely popular — and even astronomically expensive — restaurants of today serve french fries that are cooked straight from frozen.

Shake Shack

When it comes to food, we as consumers often assume that fresh is superior to frozen (per Vitality). However, this is not always the case, as demonstrated by Shake Shack's 2013 french fry fiasco. Fast Company reports that 2013 was the year Shake Shack moved from serving frozen, crinkle-cut fries to freshly made, straight-cut fries. Speaking at the time of the transition, Greg Waters, a senior manager at Shake Shack, sounded confident in the new fries: "Our culinary and operations teams tasted every fry they could get their hands on. They traveled to farms all across the Northwest in their hunt for the best crop of Russet potatoes. They tasted. They tested. The result is a fresh, hand-cut, twice-cooked fry that we feel is far superior to its frozen predecessor” (per Boston.com).

Unfortunately for Shake Shack, customers did not feel the same, and after six months of dropping sales and rising complaints, CEO Randy Garutti decided to reverse the company's decision (per Fast Company). Ever since this day, Shake Shack has served frozen fries at all its restaurants. After what happened last time, we would be surprised to see Shake Shack launching fresh fries anytime soon.


A YouGovAmerica poll highlighted that the vast majority of Americans believe McDonald's makes the best french fries of all burger chain restaurants, with 34% of adults labeling McDonald's fries their favorite. In comparison, Five Guys came in third with only 9% of the vote. What makes this all the more startling is that Five Guys is known for making its fries fresh in-house, according to Today. McDonald's, on the other hand, cooks its french fries from frozen (via Reader's Digest).

Not only do McDonald's fries outperform those made by Five Guys, but also the fries served by other chains such as Burger King. This is despite the fact both McDonald's and Burger King frequently use the same french fry supplier, as reported by the Daily Mail. So, what is it that sets McDonald's fries apart? Many publications, such as Food Beast, suggest that it is the inclusion of natural beef flavoring that — although it does not contain any meat — gives the fries a similarly rich umami flavor. Other factors could include the specially selected types of potatoes and the complex, multistep processing procedures that ensure all McDonald's french fries end up with the perfect color, crispness, and flavor when fried (via CNET).


When it comes to fast food restaurants, producing fries that are cheap, quick, and easy to make is of the utmost importance. As such, it is nearly guaranteed that french fries in these establishments are being fried from frozen and customers almost expect as much (per BBC). However, in famously expensive restaurants like Nusr-Et, London, a restaurant where a portion of parmesan and truffle pies costs around $18 and a strip loin steak over $800, customer expectations tend to be a little higher.

This is one of the reasons why there was such an uproar after ex-employee Guillermo Perez claimed the restaurant was serving french fries cooked from frozen: "Of course you can charge people whatever price you want, but it's pretty immoral when the quality of the food and service does not match the price. One day I saw a big bag of frozen chips and I thought 'really? That's what we are serving people?'" (via Daily Mail).

In the past, serving frozen fries in fine dining establishments has caused scandals that have ultimately doomed the businesses to fail, as per Evening Standard. However, celebrity owner Nusret Gökçe — otherwise known as Salt Bae — has so far managed to brush off Perez's accusations of Nusr-Et. This might be due to the extraordinary nature of the restaurant itself, which has gained a reputation for serving poor-quality food at incredibly high prices (via Evening Standard).


In the cutthroat world of food and drinks, changing recipes can have dramatic consequences for a business. Coca-Cola's infamous attempt to launch a new and improved Coca-Cola recipe in 1985 is one such example (via The Independent). Despite these historical blunders, Wendy's has made a habit of tweaking its french fry recipe roughly every ten years. The initial change came in November 2010 (per CNN), when the restaurant chain decided to leave potato skin on the fries. This was a step that gave customers healthier products without impacting cost, as CMO Ken Calwell explained to CBS News: "People are saying they want high integrity ingredients, things their grandmother would have used, that don't look like they came out of a chemistry lab. But they're also saying I've got a family to feed and can only afford to spend about $4 on my lunch, and I've only got about a minute or two to eat it."

The second change came in 2021, when the fries were first coated with batter to ensure they stayed crisp during the increased transit time associated with the growing popularity of food delivery, as per Restaurant Business. But what has remained the same throughout all recent iterations of Wendy's fries is that they are cooked from frozen (via CBS News). This suggests that, despite scientific changes being made to the fries, Wendy's is loath to take the more laborious approach required to make fresh fries in-house.


According to Chick-fil-A, the restaurant chain's waffle potato fries were first introduced in 1985 and the recipe has not been altered since. Over this time period, the distinctive waffle fry has come to be associated with the restaurant because it is so different from the styles offered by other brands, as food writer Seth Cardoza explained to Fox News: "Chick-fil-A waffle fries stand out simply for what they are, waffle fries. Most other fast food chains only offer traditional french fries [...] It's a nice change from the usual, something you can't get everywhere ... They are meatier, have more substance, and make you feel like you're eating more."

Given the fry's intricate shape, it is not a shock to learn that they are made at a processing plant before being frozen and shipped to restaurants. The process was revealed by an ex-Chick-fil-A employee via Quora: "Fries come precut and frozen. I believe they are cut and flash frozen at whatever plant manufacturers Chick-fil-A's food. Fries come in boxes with 6 bags in each box. The location where I worked got biweekly deliveries and we went through lots of fries, so no box was sitting in our freezers for more than 4 days."

Found Oyster

We have seen how using frozen french fries can benefit fast food restaurants while also bringing potential scandal to more esteemed establishments. But if consumers prefer frozen fries, why shouldn't restaurants outside of the fast food world use them too? 

This is the question many modern restaurateurs are asking, including Ari Kolender, co-founder and chef at Found Oyster in Los Angeles. Kolender prefers to buy frozen fries as opposed to making them in-house for a number of reasons, not least because frozen fries are more consistent: "The idea that house-made is always better is false [...] You just never know what you are going to get week to week, season to season. Especially if you are buying farmers market potatoes" (via Food & Wine).

Kolender's forthrightness concerning his use of premade frozen french fries has done little to diminish the reputation of Found Oyster or his own talents as a chef. To the contrary, both have been the topic of glowing reviews by leading food publications such as the Los Angeles Times and The Infatuation, with the latter even noting how good the fries are. As such, many chefs and restauranteurs — like Nick Montgomery of Konbi and June Rodil of Goodnight Hospitality — hope that the example set by Kolender will allow them greater freedom to employ frozen ingredients where necessary. This would grant chefs the time they need to focus on other aspects of cooking (via Food & Wine).


Founded in South Africa, restaurant chain Nando's has spread all over the globe with outposts throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America (via USA Today). Famous for its chicken, Nando's has also gained acclaim for its peri-peri fries, as per The Guardian. Interestingly, it was revealed that — in the U.K. — Nando's buys frozen fries from McCain's (via BBC), a brand that also supplies McDonald's and Burger King, as reported by The Sun.

Despite being bought from the same supplier, a spokesperson for Nando's stated to the BBC that the brand's french fries are unique: "Our hugely popular chips are developed in partnership with McCain Food Services and the specific recipe is exclusive to Nando's. They aren't the same as their grocery products such as oven chips."

Consequently, Nando's iconic fries cannot accurately be replicated by competitors or burgeoning home cooks. On the contrary, huge restaurant chains such as Nando's and McDonald's decide which potatoes are used, how they are cut, and what processing stages they undergo (via Mashed). Meaning that visiting one of the brand's restaurants is still the only way to enjoy Nando's iconic peri-peri fries.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell is not known for its french fries. In fact, CNN reports that french fries aren't even a permanent fixture on the restaurant's menu. However, in an interview with the same publication, CEO Mark King indicated that this might change in the near future: "People that go to lunch want to have French fries. We know that. So we're looking at and testing bringing fries permanently on to the menu, which would increase our lunch business dramatically."

Taco Bell's most successful french fries are the occasionally available nacho fries. In fact, these became the restaurant chain's most successful product launch ever when launched in 2018, per Nation's Restaurant News. An ex-employee highlighted on Quora how the famous fries are prepared: "I worked at Taco Bell for a year in High School. Nothing is microwaved but pretty much everything is frozen. It's all delivered frozen and stored, and when we open we put the bags of frozen meat in a big container with hot water that warms it up [...] The nacho chips are also frozen but they're uncooked and are fried every morning." So if Taco Bell does decide to make nacho fries a permanent fixture, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be cooked from frozen.