Why Is McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish So Good?

McDonald's Filet-O-Fish
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McDonald's/Getty Images/Allrecipes

Give me back that Filet-O-Fish, give me that fish! If you’re already humming that tune, which will now be stuck in your head all day (sorry!), then we don’t need to tell you how tasty the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich is.

You’re probably already a fan of the crispy fish topped with melty cheese and tangy tartar sauce. But between bites of your fish sandwich have you ever wondered just what makes it so good? It’s so simple yet one of the most popular fast-food fish sandwiches out there. And to understand why customers love it—enough that they signed petitions to make it a permanent menu item—we need to go back to its inception.

The History of McDonald's Filet-O-Fish

The Filet-O-Fish sandwich dates back to the 1960s when McDonald’s was just a place to get burgers and fries. Ray Kroc, McDonald’s CEO, was looking for ways to stand out against the competition, so he challenged his franchisees to create new menu items. This challenge is how we ended up with some of the iconic menu items today, like the Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, and, of course, the Filet-O-Fish.

Mickey D’s Filet-O-Fish originated at a Cincinnati, Ohio, franchise. The franchisee, Lou Groen, realized that he was losing a substantial amount of business on Fridays during the early spring months. That’s because more than 80% of the city’s population were practicing Catholics who abstained from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Because McDonald’s only sold hamburgers and fries, the fast food joint was out of the question on Fridays.

So, Groen came up with a solution to the meat problem: a fish sandwich. At first, Kroc wasn’t sold on the Filet-O-Fish—he agreed that McDonald’s needed a meat-free option, but he had his own idea: the Hula Burger, which was a grilled pineapple slice topped with cheese on a bun.

Kroc chose to let the customers decide which item should join the menu by offering both the Filet-O-Fish and Hula Burger on a Friday during Lent. The item that sold more would get to stay and, as you can guess, the Filet-O-Fish won—the Hula Burger only sold six sandwiches while the Filet-O-Fish sold 350.

The Filet-O-Fish sandwich joined the menu in 1962 becoming the first non-hamburger sandwich at McDonald’s. Today, it remains the only non-meat sandwich sold at McDonald's nationwide.

What Makes the Filet-O-Fish So Good?

Mickey D’s Filet-O-Fish has obviously withstood the test of time. In all its years, it was only replaced once by the Fish Filet Deluxe, which had a bigger fish patty and added lettuce. However, McDonald’s brought the original Filet-O-Fish back, this time using the deluxe patty, after customers petitioned for it. Now, it remains a permanent menu fixture that customers enjoy all year round, but especially during the Lenten season when McDonald’s sees about 25% of the fish sandwich sales.

So, why is the Filet-O-Fish so beloved? Because of its simplicity and flavor. 

The Filet-O-Fish is plain and simple: a crispy breaded fish patty, McDonald’s tartar sauce, American cheese, and a pillowy, steamed bun. It doesn’t need the bells and whistles of lettuce, tomato, or pickles. 

Additionally, it’s one of the only fast-food fish sandwiches that is available all the time. Sure, there’s a novelty in getting Popeye’s fish sandwich once a year, but McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is always there for you. As with most McDonald’s food, it’s comforting and nostalgic, which makes you want to order it more—and also makes it taste better when there’s a memory of getting fish sandwiches with your grandparents associated with it.

Whether you’re in need of a fish sandwich this Lenten Friday or simply craving the nostalgia of the crispy Filet-O-Fish, we’ll meet you under the Golden Arches for yet another fantastic meal.

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