7 Secret Hidden Fees Your Favorite Fast Food and Chain Restaurants Unabashedly Charge

These seven hidden fees are among the reasons you’re paying so much for fast food these days.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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If you think eating at your favorite fast food chain has been taking a bigger bite out of your budget than usual, you’re absolutely correct. 

Fast food prices have gone up exponentially over the last decade, with some chains increasing prices by as much as 100% (we’re looking at you, McDonald’s).

So what, exactly, are you paying for when you hit your favorite drive-through for some overpriced fast food? Below, we run through a list of seven hidden fees that could be adding to your overall restaurant bill so you can avoid wasting money on inflated fast food costs.

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Service fees

EdNurg/Adobe payment for an order

Online services from TicketMaster to Uber Eats tack on surcharges, which they euphemistically call “service fees.” It’s usually unclear what exactly those fees are for and how they’re calculated — which is why consumers and legislators often refer to them as “junk fees.”

The current presidential administration has been fighting to cut down on junk fees (or at least require companies to explain which service fees they’re charging and why). However, it’s likely you’re still being charged seemingly arbitrary service fees on a variety of in-person and online orders — including at your favorite fast food or restaurant chain.

These fees can range from 3% to 30% and up, and you might not even know you’re paying them since they aren’t always itemized on your final bill.

However, starting July 1, 2024, California is requiring all restaurants to be transparent about their service fees. After that law goes into effect, we’ll have a better understanding of how California restaurants, at least, are increasing prices with service fees. In the meantime, just know that undisclosed “service fees” probably play a role in how much you’ve been paying to satisfy your hamburger craving.

Fees for extra sauce packets

Ming/Adobe small packaged portions tomato ketchup

Once upon a time, a restaurant like Wendy’s or Burger King would toss in a few extra packets of ketchup when asked. Nowadays, you’ll likely incur an extra fee of at least a few cents if you request more than the standard packet or two of sauce.

Online ordering fees

FellowNeko/Adobe woman using uber eats application

You probably expect to be charged a fee for ordering online if you use a service like Uber Eats or DoorDash. But even if you order directly from a fast food chain or restaurant’s website, you could end up paying more for the food than you would have by simply ordering it in person.

For example, in 2023, Chick-fil-A customers who ordered online paid a full 29.8% more compared to customers who ordered in person.

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Takeout fees

DAVID/Adobe to-go plastic containers

Alas, ordering in person isn’t always enough to save you from extra fees. At certain restaurants, if you order your food to go, you might get an extra fee tacked on just for getting takeout.

It’s possible restaurants are charging these fees to make up for the money they lose in tips when they prepare your food to go. 

Still, plenty of takeout orderers leave a tip even when they don’t dine in — and plenty of in-person diners fail to tip properly. If you typically tip when ordering takeout, being charged an extra fee just feels like adding insult to injury.

Card processing fees

Erik González/Adobe young woman pays for service

Businesses that accept credit cards are charged a processing fee for each payment they accept. (Fun fact: American Express charges the most complicated processing fees, which is why many businesses refuse to accept AmEx cards.) 

However, many companies eat the cost of processing fees and charge customers extra fees only if they use a card to buy something for $5 or less.

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find fast food for under $5 these days, some consumers say they’ve noticed card processing fees tacked on to their orders anyway.

Tips

Koonsiri/Adobe new payment system

Speaking of tips, you’ve probably noticed that more and more establishments are using card processors that ask if you want to add a tip at the end of your transactions — including at convenient fast-food-style chains like Starbucks. 

While you don’t have to leave a tip even if you’re asked for one, you might feel obligated to do so during an in-person transaction, which means you end up paying more for a meal than you’d bargained for.

Inflation

kanpisut/Adobe drive through and takeaway

Inflation isn’t exactly a hidden fee. In fact, it’s just the opposite: We’re all acutely aware of just how dramatically inflation can impact your bottom line. 

However, fast food chain prices have actually increased at a rate above the average inflation rate — in some cases by as much as two or three times the rest of the nation.

Bottom line

epic_images/Adobe waiting to order food

There’s only one surefire way to avoid the hidden costs of eating out: cooking at home. 

Comparing prices between stores in your area to save money on groceries, avoiding Instacart and DoorDash, and taking advantage of coupons can further cut down on costs. 

And it might even free up some room in your budget for you to occasionally indulge in your favorite fast food, overpriced or not.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.