Paying McDouble: Study Reveals Just How Much Fast Food Prices Have Risen

NEWS & TRENDING - MONEY NEWS
Fast food favorites have become pricier in the last decade. Here's your guide to stretching your budget at the drive-thru in 2024.
Updated April 17, 2024
Fact checked
American fast food restaurant apps are seen on an iPhone

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Ever feel like your favorite fast food meal isn't as affordable as it used to be? You're not wrong. A new study by FinanceBuzz shows that fast food prices have skyrocketed in recent years, outpacing inflation by a significant margin.

This can make it tough to stick to a budget, but there are still ways to save money shopping for food – fast food included. Keep reading to see how much your favorite menu items have gone up in price, and for some tips on how to be a savvier fast food consumer.

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Fast food isn't so cheap anymore

Seika/Adobe sales receipt along with mcdonald's fast food order

The data is clear: Fast food prices have surged over the past decade. While the national inflation rate sits at 31%, many fast food chains have raised prices by much more. In fact, some chains have doubled their prices.

This means your dollar just doesn't stretch as far as it used to when it comes to grabbing a quick bite. We compared prices from 2014 to see which fast food chains raised theirs the most.

McDonald's takes the crown for biggest price hikes

Felix Mizioznikov/Adobe digital menu at a Mcdonalds drive through

Comparing prices from 2014, McDonald's takes the dubious honor of having raised prices the most.The fast-food giant, known for its dollar menu, has seen items practically double in price, with an average increase of 100%.

Longing for a McChicken for just a dollar? Those were the good ol' days. Today, you'll be shelling out nearly $3 for that same sandwich. Even fries and McDoubles have seen eye-watering price jumps.

Who else raised prices significantly?

Refrina/Adobe Taco Bell fast food restaurant

While McDonald's might be the king of price hikes, they're certainly not alone. Here's a look at how other popular chains have seen their menus transformed:

  • Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen offerings have climbed an average of 86% since 2014. Their beloved 2-piece chicken combo now costs $11.39, a 76% jump from its former price.
  • Taco Bell, known for its budget-friendly Mexican fare, has also seen significant price increases. Their menu items are 81% more expensive on average. The Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, once a pocket-friendly option at $1.59, now costs $3.69, a hefty 132% increase.
  • Eating out at Chipotle Mexican Grill, considered one of the healthier fast-food joints, costs 75% more compared to 2014. Their Barbacoa Burrito, for example, has ballooned to $12.45, a hefty $5.80 increase from its 2014 price.

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Chains that kept costs somewhat under control

ManuPadilla/Adobe woman drinking a tall starbucks coffee

Thankfully, not all fast food chains have joined the price hikes. Here are two chains that have managed to keep their menus relatively affordable:

  • Subway has seen prices rise by a comparatively modest 39% since 2014. While their classic six-inch Black Forest Ham isn't the $3.50 steal it once was, at $5.25, it's still a decent value.
  • Starbucks has also managed to keep price increases in check. Their menu items have risen in price by an average of just 39%. So, you can still grab your favorite Caffe Latte for a reasonable $4.45, only $0.80 more than it cost a decade ago.

Popular but mid-priced chains: finding the balance

jetcityimage/Adobe A Panera Bread storefront

While some chains have gone all-out on price hikes, others have found a middle ground.

  • Chick-fil-A menu items have gone up by an average of 57%. Their classic Chicken Sandwich Combo, while still a popular choice, now costs $8.55, up from $5.85 a decade ago.
  • Wendy's also falls into this mid-priced category, with menu items averaging a 56% increase. Their Spicy Chicken Sandwich Combo will now set you back by $9.99, a significant increase from its 2014 price of $6.39.
  • Panera Bread has seen its prices climb by an average of 63% over the past decade. Their signature Bread Bowl of Soup, once a satisfying and affordable meal, now costs close to $10, a staggering 84% increase from its 2014 price.

Stretch your dollar: Finding deals and value menus

Elena Medoks/Adobe Happy Meal menu at McDonald's restaurant

Even though fast food prices have risen, there are still ways to be a savvy consumer and save money at the drive-thru. Here are some tips to help you stretch your fast food budget:

  • Download the apps of your favorite fast food chains. Many offer exclusive deals, coupons, and rewards programs that can save you money on your next meal.
  • Some chains offer discounted meals or snacks during off-peak hours.
  • While dollar menus might be a thing of the past, many chains offer value menus or combo deals that can be a better bargain than buying items separately.
  • Fast food portions can be generous. Consider splitting a meal with a friend or saving half for later to get two meals for the price of one.

By being smart about your fast food choices, you can still enjoy your favorite meals without breaking the bank.

Bottom line

Studio Romantic/Adobe fast food restaurant

Fast food prices have definitely outpaced inflation in the last decade. While some chains have been better than others at keeping costs down, it's clear that our favorite meals aren't quite as budget-friendly as they used to be.

So next time you're craving a quick bite, consider using a credit card that helps you earn rewards on everyday purchases to offset the cost a bit. But be sure to factor in the price before you head to the drive-thru!

Editor's Note: Generative AI tools helped write this story.

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Author Details

Maneesha Tiwari With more than seven years of experience managing content and editorial teams, Maneesha is passionate about news and how to help her audience navigate the ever-changing landscape of personal finance. She previously served as a journalist for Reuters, where she covered the stock market.

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