Surge Pricing for Cheeseburgers Was Always a Horrible Idea

Wendy’s plan to implement surge pricing was met with such extreme backlash that the restaurant tried to walk back its original announcement.
Updated July 18, 2024
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young woman wearing black t-shirt eating burger with fries and cola drink.

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Surge pricing, which hikes prices when demand is high, is probably the most common complaint among customers who use ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft. While some may write it off as simply supply and demand at work, others see it as essentially the same idea as price gouging, which is illegal in most states.

News broke this week that fast food giant Wendy’s plans to implement its own version of surge pricing beginning as early as 2025—and customers were, to put it lightly, outraged.

There are many reasons why what worked for rideshare apps and for ticket sellers, like Ticketmaster, will fail miserably in the fast-food game. Here are a few.

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What is surge pricing?

stokkete/Adobe woman standing with grocery at store reviewing grocery receipt in hand

Surge pricing, also known as dynamic pricing, means that the prices of products or services can vary based on demand.

Dynamic pricing made headlines, and sparked much ire, when Ticketmaster used the model to sell tickets to some of last year’s most in-demand concerts. Some fans even reported ticket prices changing while they had them in their online cart en route to checkout.

The idea of surge or dynamic pricing isn’t entirely new. Airlines, for example, have long been known to hike flight prices during heavy travel times, like spring break.

Still, the idea of dynamic pricing on a Baconator is not sitting well with customers.

Wendy’s controversial plan

Roman Tiraspolsky/Adobe Wendy's logo

Earlier this month, Wendy’s CEO Kirk Tanner confirmed that the fast-food giant would begin experimenting with “dynamic pricing and daypart offerings” as early as 2025. Tanner also said they would be adding AI-enabled menu changes.

However, after much backlash, the company walked back the claims, saying that the plans for dynamic pricing don’t necessarily mean their burgers will cost more during busy periods, like the lunch rush.

In a statement to Reuters, the company said that the changes would allow Wendy’s to offer discounts during “slower times of day,” touting the dynamic pricing changes as something that could actually save customers money.

However, anyone who has ever needed to get an Uber on New Year’s Eve or tried to get anywhere near Taylor Swift’s Era’s Tour may be wary to take the company at its word.

Nobody wants dynamically-priced burgers

Image courtesy of Wendy's baconator burger

The consensus among customers, even those who consider Wendy’s their top fast food choice, seems to be that there is no way they are dealing with surge pricing for cheeseburgers and Frosties.

A major flaw in the dynamic pricing plan is that Wendy’s simply does not have a hold over its industry in the same way Uber and Lyft do, as Reddit users were quick to point out.

“It’s one thing to deal with surge pricing when you only have two rideshare apps to work with, but there are literally hundreds of restaurants within five miles of my house,” one wrote.

“They never get my order right now. Maybe try putting on your pants before your shoes, Wendy’s,” another added.

It is well worth noting that these are some of the more tame complaints that flooded the internet after the Wendy’s news broke.

Bottom line

ronstik/Adobe woman reading customer reviews on smartphone

Only time will tell if the Wendy’s plan to bring dynamic pricing to fast food will be successful and if other companies will follow suit.

However, judging by the sheer backlash the company is facing now, and the moves to walk back the surge pricing announcement, it seems the only thing Wendy’s has done thus far is find a beef with customers.

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Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.