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Shady Things About Dairy Queen's Menu

Dairy Queen blizzard and fries
Dairy Queen blizzard and fries - Brittney Paige / X (formally known as Twitter)

Dairy Queen might not be as common as other fast food chains, but it certainly has its share of loyal fans — and frustrated detractors. The chain known for serving Blizzards upside down has more than 7,000 locations in over 20 countries and has won over fans with its soft serve, ice cream cakes, and other confections.

The first Dairy Queen opened its doors in 1940 in Illinois, and over the years locations have popped up from coast to coast. Dairy Queen is completely franchised, which means that independent owners purchase the rights to sell Dairy Queen products, at prices they choose. (Meaning the quality of your local Dairy Queen might have a lot to do with the owner behind it.) That said, Dairy Queen's franchise operations are successful by any measure: The brand was ranked the No. 19 franchise in the United States in 2023 by Franchise Times, which reports that the chain raked in over $5.7 billion in global sales in the previous fiscal year. Not too shabby for a business that sells something called a Dilly Bar.

Fans praise the chain for its addictive frozen treats and high-quality ingredients. Not every DQ serves hot food, but many of the ones that do have happy repeat customers. Still, there are some things best left unordered, according to customers and employees who work behind the scenes.

Read more: Fast Food Hamburgers Ranked Worst To Best

The Flip Or It's Free Blizzard Promotion Has Caveats

Woman holding a Blizzard upside down
Woman holding a Blizzard upside down - Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

If you know anything about Dairy Queen, you know its Blizzards are supposed to be the thickest shakes around. So thick, that when they're turned upside down, you won't lose a drop.

The upside-down party trick serves as instant quality control: If a Blizzard was made correctly, the spoon will stay in the cup and none of the candy or precious soft serve will spill onto the counter. As legend and tradition states, if a Blizzard fails the flip test, you get a free one. That said, a former Dairy Queen manager told readers on Quora that the promotion is up to each individual owner. If they don't want to participate, they aren't required to. "The true catch to upside down or free is: The NEXT blizzard is free, not the one that failed its flip. So the idea is for you to come back another time to receive it," Christie Messner wrote.

There are other exceptions, too. Some locations don't flip Royal Blizzards, since they have a liquid core and would likely be more problematic. If you're in a group, expect only one Blizzard to get flipped, another DQ employee said in the thread. Same goes for if you order a bunch at the drive-through window. So while it's an iconic promotion, the chances of you scoring a coupon for a free one might be smaller than you think.

A Change In Burger Patties Has Fans Calling For The Originals

hamburgers on a table
hamburgers on a table - Christopher Robbins/Getty Images

Dairy Queen sales have been very successful in the past several years, on a growth trend that continued even during the pandemic. The chain attempted to boost food sales even more in 2022 when it made a big menu change with a new line of Stackburgers.

While the move was made to entice customers to order a meal before dessert, it didn't win over everyone. Apparently, the switch also meant a change in the patty recipe itself, and had some customers crying foul. "When my [DQ] location switched to Stackburgers, they also apparently changed the patties and they are way worse, almost school lunch tier," one Dairy Queen customer wrote on Reddit.

Others quickly sounded off, saying the change was apparent and the "death of DQ." Others complained they thought the quality of meat was lower. "The smaller patties dry out and are not juicy and flavorful like the larger, single patty. Plus the texture is nasty," another former fan wrote. "My personal view is the Stackburgers are a disaster. I won't order another one."

While some commenters said the burgers were seasoned better than the previous patties, the detractors were backed up by another reviewer from The Takeout. They tried all five Stackburger offerings and had the same problem with each one ... the beef. According to the reviewer, the texture reminded them of breakfast sausage instead of a burger, and didn't have the savory flavor they expected.

The Signature FlameThrower Sauce Has Pretty Basic Ingredients

orange sauce
orange sauce - Bhakpong/Getty Images

If dry, flavorless burgers can be saved, it's with an addictive sauce. But while Dairy Queen has put a lot of marketing into its line of Stackburgers, at least one of the sauces in the lineup is pretty ordinary. "Flame Sauce, the orange slop that goes on the Flamethrower burger, is a mixture of mayonnaise and Tabasco," one former Dairy Queen cook wrote on Quora.

Another Quora thread lists what appears to be the original ingredients list for the FlameThrower sauce. The first three ingredients are soybean oil (the main ingredient in most mayonnaise), water, and Tabasco sauce. That said, the link for that ingredient list is no longer active on the Dairy Queen site, and it appears that the sauce might have been changed in the last two years. The current ingredient list on the Dairy Queen site still starts with soybean oil, water, and hot sauce, but it's no longer a branded entity.

The rest of the major ingredients won't be surprising to anyone who's made mayonnaise or read its ingredients: sugar, egg yolks, and vinegar are all pretty commonplace. The ingredients that are less than 2% of the recipe vary in the new recipe, and include ground chipotle peppers and natural smoke flavor. The bottom line? You could probably make a very similar sauce at home by mixing mayo with hot sauce — without the upcharge. You'd just need to decide if it's worth the effort.

You're Not Really Eating Ice Cream

Two Dairy Queen sundaes
Two Dairy Queen sundaes - Dairy Queen / X (formally known as Twitter)

Dairy Queen is the queen of ice cream, right? Nope. You might find it just as delicious as a regular vanilla cone, but the Dairy Queen's soft serve isn't technically ice cream. Believe it or not, ice cream is technically defined by the Food and Drug Administration, and must have at least 10% butterfat. Dairy Queen's product only has 5% butterfat. Early on, this mix was legally referred to as "ice milk." Mmmm, what a craveable name.

"DQ soft serve fits into the 'reduced-fat' ice cream category and our shake mix qualifies as 'low-fat' ice cream," the chain states on its FAQ page. The Dairy Queen soft serve recipe hasn't changed despite the name shift, but you'll know you're being served by a newbie if you hear any DQ employee call it ice cream.

If the DQ soft serve still tastes rich, it has to do with how much air is mixed into it, which is called "overrun." As one former DQ franchise owner explained on Quora, too much air, or overrun, leads to a pock-marked appearance and chewy texture. Too low, and the resulting product will be yellowish in color and dense. "While most ice cream contains 100% overrun (50% air) DQ soft serve has only 40% overrun," they explained. "This unique combination gives DQ soft serve a richer, creamier texture and taste while using a lower fat product."

The Chocolate Soft Serve Isn't Consistent

Chocolate vanilla twist cone
Chocolate vanilla twist cone - Paterno Cappelli/Shutterstock

If your typical soft serve order is a chocolate cone rather than vanilla, you might get your share of lackluster offerings from Dairy Queen. One DQ employee posted a picture to Reddit featuring a vanilla and chocolate twist cone, with the chocolate half obviously drooping to the side. The employee commented that the chocolate soft serve can often be runny, making for a lackluster dipped cone. Fellow employees chimed in, explaining that sometimes it happens when chocolate isn't being requested often enough, and the mix inside the machine isn't churned to stay frozen.

Some DQ locations likely don't offer chocolate at all. One Quora user said DQ required franchise owners to purchase new soft serve machines in 2017, to the tune of $15,000 each. (Used DQ soft serve machines retail for up to $13,000 on some retail sites, so this tracks.) They explained that every DQ must have vanilla soft serve in one machine barrel, and a backup in case the first one fails. Soft serve machines at DQ only have two barrels, so making chocolate soft serve means a store would need to purchase two machines — potentially a luxury they can't afford.

If you simply must have chocolate soft serve, you'll have the best shot of getting it at Dairy Queen locations that also sell ice cream cakes. Why? According to a separate Quora thread, they need chocolate soft serve to make them in the first place.

The Hard Shell Dips Might Not Be As Sanitary As Other Items

Cone with chocolate hard shell
Cone with chocolate hard shell - Grimaldo_Solis / X (formally known as Twitter)

If you're happy with your vanilla cone but want the crunchy, chocolatey dipped shell over top, you order it at your own risk, one DQ crew member told Quora users. The same is likely true for any hard shell dips, given the advice; it's not about the dip itself, but how often those areas are cleaned.

When one user asked which DQ menu item to avoid, this former employee was adamant: "The hard shell dips. They're the least healthy and also the most likely to have anything gross in them." The blades that mix the Blizzards are cleaned between each use, and the soft serve machines are sanitized frequently, in most cases at least daily. "But the containers that hold the dips and keep them heated so they don't solidify are dodgy at best," they added.

Unfortunately, this likely goes for all of the hard shell dips. Dairy Queen currently offers the classic chocolate dip, along with a confetti cake dipped cone that quickly became a fan favorite on TikTok when it debuted in early 2024. Fans who mourned the loss of the cherry-dipped cones there was some relief when it was announced in 2024 that the cherry dip was back for a limited time. With flavors like this, you might be willing to throw caution to the wind.

Grilled Foods Are Often Microwaved On-Site

Grilled chicken
Grilled chicken - Nycshooter/Getty Images

When you stop at Dairy Queen, the emphasis is likely on the sweet treat you're eating, perhaps not the hot food. And while DQ has clearly had success with its meal offerings — it wouldn't keep serving them if it didn't — some of the hot items are better than others.

A former DQ employee (the same one who said the FlameThrower sauce wasn't that revolutionary) noted that the grilled chicken might not be grilled on-site at all. "Our grilled chicken doesn't have to be grilled," they wrote. "It can be microwaved for 45 seconds, since it comes to us precooked."

Another DQ employee in the thread clarified, saying that while it might not be grilled on-site, it is likely grilled at some point. "Did you notice the grilled chicken has grill marks on it? It is pre-cooked. More specifically; grilled," they responded. "It is grilled at another location, frozen, and then delivered to DQ's where they heat them up again to a temp of 165 or greater and serve them for their sandwiches."

You can decide if you want reheated chicken; sometimes it still hits the spot. But another former DQ employee on Quora said that while the desserts are high-quality, some menu items like the signature sandwiches are frozen until a customer orders one.

Customer Complaints About The French Fries Are Common

Dairy Queen fries and sauce
Dairy Queen fries and sauce - jewsifer / X (formally known as Twitter)

While french fries seem like they should be a safe accompaniment to your Oreo Blizzard, that's not always the case at Dairy Queen. One Reddit user posted a picture of their three-piece chicken strip meal. The amount of fries in the box seems lackluster: They don't even cover the bottom of the box with the strips. A few DQ employees responded with some saying it looked normal, and that fries are added by weight to keep the amount consistent. Others said regardless of whether it's normal or not, the amount of fries given isn't great.

Paltry fry servings seem to be an ongoing theme, as a separate Reddit thread in 2023 showed a similar issue. Some DQ employees agreed the amount in the box was less than it should have been. Sometimes it might be at the manager's direction, one person added. "Unfortunately some owners purposely tell employees to put less than a regular fry to try and save money so it could be bad owners or just a genuine accident," they wrote.

Regardless of how many fries customers get, the debate about the DQ fry quality is rampant online. Some Reddit users claim the fries are some of their favorite among fast food chains, especially when they're hot from the fryer. Others said they perpetually taste stale, go cold quickly, and are among the worst fast food fries.

Charges For Dipping Sauces Vary From Place To Place

chicken with dipping sauce
chicken with dipping sauce - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

The beauty of Dairy Queen franchises is owners can make tweaks to their offerings that suit their local area. The downside for customers: Prices can vary from store to store, including dipping sauces. Some locations don't charge for any sauces, while others charge for each one.

Some DQ employees on Reddit said customers who ask for numerous sauces and expect them for free have an impact on the cost of goods. The stores need to purchase the sauce packets to have on hand, but it's up to owners whether they pass that charge on to the customer.

The results? The price you pay is as varied as the number of stores you visit. Some Reddit commenters said their locations charge 50 to 75 cents per sauce. Others charge for special sauces like queso or gravy, but not for anything else. Still, another location said the first couple are free, and they charge for extras beyond that. "Dealt with too many customers ticked off about charging for sauce so we just let it go for the most part," they added.

In a separate thread, one customer posted a picture of a handwritten sign in the DQ drive-through window, saying their extra sauces were 52 cents each — an odd amount the customer was frustrated with. Needless to say, if you're the type who needs a rainbow of sauces with your chicken strips, be prepared to pay a little extra just in case.

Some Holiday Blizzards Aren't Really That Special

Dairy Queen Blizzard
Dairy Queen Blizzard - Andrew Burton/Getty Images

You can make almost any flavor combination of Blizzard you want at Dairy Queen, and some limited-time Blizzards take the creativity up a notch. Others sometimes miss the mark, though, including a recent offering that left some customers wanting more. The Red Velvet Blizzard is billed by Dairy Queen as red velvet cake pieces blended with cream cheese icing and vanilla soft serve.

One Reddit user, however, wasn't impressed. In their view, it was just brownie chunks that were dyed red. "I know that red velvet is a type of chocolate cake, but this was straight up brownie. Barely a hint of red velvet taste," they wrote. "Does my Dairy Queen location just suck or is this how they all are?" One response implied they were correct and this is par for the course with the Red Velvet Blizzard.

Red velvet cakes have distinguishing ingredients like cocoa, vinegar, and buttermilk. Historically, when the cocoa was mixed with vinegar or buttermilk, the resulting cake had a reddish tint. (It's common today to add red food coloring to boost the color.) The DQ ingredients for the cake in the Red Velvet Blizzard contain cocoa, but buttermilk and vinegar are nowhere to be seen. It does contain Red 40 powder, but it might fall short of the true red velvet standard.

App Deals Aren't What They Used To Be

Customers paying at Dairy Queen
Customers paying at Dairy Queen - Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Roughly two years ago, several Reddit users noticed that DQ updated its app — and the menu deals disappeared. "Every time I check, it always says no new deals," one user wrote. "The old app always had at least a few deals every day."

Other users quickly chimed in saying they had the same experience. Some noted that the deals worked if they were already in the DQ parking lot, but wouldn't load ahead of time. In another thread, one customer said they used to have four or five deal options per week, but nothing appeared in the several weeks since the app refresh.

In 2018, a woman sued Dairy Queen because her mobile app said her local DQ was participating in a free Blizzard promotion. When she showed up, the store said they weren't — but the attempt to scan the coupon made it ineligible at other locations. She tried to sue, but ultimately had to drop the case because even using the app meant accepting DQ's terms of service. That fine print meant she couldn't sue outright for anything related to the app; she could only attempt to settle issues through arbitration.

One last coupon caveat to be aware of: DQ gives you a "birthday offer" to use within seven days of your birthday, but you must have purchased something from the chain in the previous 45 days to be eligible, according to the chain's FAQs.

Read the original article on Mashed.