Why the Filet-O-Fish Sandwich Has Been On the McDonald’s Menu For More Than 60 Years

McDonald’s has introduced and quietly killed many dishes over the years, but there’s a core group of items that have held their spot on the menu for decades. Listed alongside the Big Mac and McNuggets is the Filet-O-Fish — a McDonald’s staple you may have forgotten about if you’re not the type of person who orders seafood from fast food restaurants. The classic sandwich, consisting of a fried fish filet, tartar sauce, and American cheese on a bun — didn’t get on the menu by mistake. The inception of the Filet-O-Fish can be traced back to a McDonald’s franchise that opened near Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1959. Back then, the restaurant offered beef burgers as its only main dish, and for most of the year diners couldn’t get enough of them. However, things changed during Lent. Many Catholics abstained from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, and in the early 1960s Cincinnati was more than 85% Catholic. Fridays are supposed to be one of the busiest days of the week for restaurants, but sales at the Ohio McDonald’s took a nosedive every Friday leading up to Easter. That’s when franchise owner Lou Groen went to McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, with the idea of adding a meat alternative to the menu to lure back Catholic customers. Kroc didn’t love the idea — mainly because he didn’t want his stores smelling like fish — but suggested a “Hula Burger” made from a pineapple slice with cheese instead. To decide which item would earn a permanent place on the menu, they put the two sandwiches head to head at Groen’s McDonald’s one Friday during Lent. The restaurant sold 350 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches that day, clearly beating the Hula Burger. The Filet-O-Fish has remained part of the McDonald’s lineup in some form ever since, and today approximately 300 million of the sandwiches are sold annually, with an estimated 25% of those sales being made during Lent.