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Fast Food Napkins, Ranked (It’s April 1st, But We Took This Seriously)

No, you haven’t been trolled. Sure, it’s “April Fools,” but that’s already a dumb holiday and no one has the appetite for pranks coming from media companies as we ease out of a pandemic. If there’s a joke here, it’s the very existence of this article. But once we decided to do the thing, you’d better believe we took it seriously. (Maybe that makes the joke on us.)

Having written about and ranked so much fast food over the past year — chicken sandwiches, french fries, fish sandwiches, bacon burgers, etc. — it was almost inevitable that I’d form some HOT NAPKIN TAKES. Beyond that, how much of a lede do you need?

You read the headline and clicked, you know what you’re getting!

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11. In-N-Out

In-N-Out’s napkins are by far fast food’s worst. It’s not so much the quality of the napkin that’s bad — it’s a napkin, it gets the job done — it’s that In-N-Out can’t seem to ever give you a napkin that doesn’t have a piece of cheese stuck to it or a dab of sauce smeared across it. This is because of the brand’s insistence on laying your napkin right on top of your food. (In-N-Out doesn’t put their burgers in closed boxes, which is why this is an issue in the first place.)

The Bottom Line

Napkins are for, you know, cleaning your hands and face. It kind of kills the effect when they’re already greasy.

10. Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box suffers from the same problem as In-N-Out. But instead of only giving you one single dirty napkin, they carelessly toss too many into your bag, and one thing we’ve discovered about Jack in the Box from eating fast food non-stop during the pandemic is that the longer the food stays in your bag, the greasier the bag becomes, and that extends to the napkins.

After a fifteen-minute drive from the drive-thru of your nearest Jack in the Box to your home, these napkins are practically translucent with grease — which means you can’t even save the dozen or so that Jack in the Box gives you.

The Bottom Line

How many trees have to die for the one greaseless Jack in the Box napkin each visit provides?

9. Del Taco

Dane RIvera

Del Taco’s napkins are just so damn rough. We give them credit for opting for recycled napkins over the soft and fluffy white variety, but using these things is like exfoliating. They are a step up from Jack in the Box but that’s only because Del Taco’s food is significantly less greasy than the stoner’s paradise that is Jack in the Box.

The Bottom Line

There’s got to be a soft recycled napkin out there. Come on, science!

8. McDonald’s

McDonald

Okay, admittedly napkins numbered nine through six are almost interchangeable — they’re all recycled paper brown napkins — though McDonald’s have a Golden Arches stamp on them, which we guess is worth mentioning because what the hell else are we going to talk about when it comes to napkins?

Man, maybe this is a practical joke. On me.

Anyway, McDonald’s has a good but ultimately middling napkin. It’s not too rough, it’s absorbent, and it has a neutral smell, which helps to feel like you’re actually getting clean and not just wiping a grease-soaked piece of paper on your grease-soaked face.

The Bottom Line

It’s fine. A napkin.

7. Wendy’s

Dane Rivera

Not a lot of difference between McDonald’s and Wendy’s napkins, but I’d choose Wendy’s food over McDonald’s — so here we are.

The Bottom Line

I’m rapidly growing less convinced that I needed to write this article.

6. Little Caesars

Dane Rivera

The Little Caesar’s napkins feature the brand’s logo and mascot printed on a brown napkin. We don’t need that extra ink, but the napkin itself is noticeably softer than the napkins ranked below it — it’s definitely of a higher quality.

Napkins don’t have terminology — as far as we know — but we’d guess that these napkins have a higher… let’s call it thread count(?). Best of all, Little Caesars places your napkins on top of the pizza box, which means when it comes time to use them they’re never covered in grease.

The Bottom Line

The Egyptian cotton of recycled napkins. Proof that recycled softness is possible.

5. Wing Stop

Dane Rivera

God damn, this thing is a straight-up paper towel. We couldn’t ask for more from a wing joint, this napkin is highly absorbent and huge, you’ll probably burn through a couple with your wing order but the only way Wing Stop could’ve done better than this would’ve been to just supply you with a wet nap.

Honestly though, it wouldn’t matter what Wing Stop gave you, even after you wash your hands you’ll still smell the food on you so you might as well just jump in the shower.

The Bottom Line

It’s a legit paper towel. That’s nice when your main dish is driven by sauce and grease.

4. El Pollo Loco

We’re pretty torn on El Pollo Loco’s napkins. On one hand, these napkins feel supremely luxurious — they fold out into a full-on bib and are extremely soft and absorbent. You can truly utilize a single El Pollo Loco napkin for your entire meal, and this is food you eat and tear part with your hands! The napkin is also always perfectly clean, arguably this napkin deserves the number one spot…

And yet we feel wrong giving it to them.

The reason the El Pollo Loco napkin is always pristine is that it’s wrapped in plastic. We get it, fast food is already incredibly wasteful, and you could make the argument that if we’re getting our food to go we’re better off just washing our hands at home than using a napkin at all, but look, you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere, and for us, it’s at feeling comfortable using a napkin that comes wrapped in plastic.

The Bottom Line

Congratulations El Pollo Loco, you made us feel bad about using a (very luxurious) napkin.

3. Five Guys

Dane Rivera

This is a straight-up supermarket aisle napkin. In fact, my Five Guys might literally just be going to Costco. Sometimes the napkins have a flower embroidered on them, sometimes they just have a bumpy texture, but every time Five Guys stuffs way too many in my bag.

The good news is that because of the quality I don’t throw them away.

The Bottom Line

It’s a good napkin and a junk drawer staple.

2. Chick-fil-A

Dane Rivera

Chick-fil-A proudly claims that they’re made from 100% recycled content which makes us feel nice and they feature a Chick-fil-A logo stamp and a textured border. Why the textured border? Does it pull food off the face better?

We appreciate you, napkin technologist, wherever you are.

The Bottom Line

Very fine napkin.

1. Subway

When I started to do research about fast food napkins — yes, we did research, isn’t obvious that we’re taking this way too seriously — I found a whole lot of internet chatter about how Subway is incredibly conservative with their napkins. They have a policy, it’s one napkin per six-inch, which means for an entire foot-long sub they give you two napkins. Clearly, these napkins are made of something special and it’s led us to conclude that Subway napkins must be made from people.

Subway’s bread isn’t legally considered bread in Ireland, their tuna has been brought into question as to whether it’s even fish, so it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Subway’s napkins aren’t really napkins at all. Due to their rarity, they get the number one spot.

The Bottom Line

Subway’s greatest contribution to the fast-food space. Which tells you a lot.

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