80% of Americans Now Consider Fast-Food a ‘Luxury’ Due to Extreme Price Hikes

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Jun 13, 2024

Long gone are the days when fast-food was considered quick, cheap and simple for people to have after a long day when they didn’t want to cook or before going out somewhere due to the extreme price hikes over the last few years.

With these companies continuing to raise their prices, what was once a regular occurrence is now seen as a luxury. This is due to a number of reasons, such as the rise in minimum wage and overall food prices.

Fast-Food Prices Have Increased by 47%

The rise in fast-food prices isn’t as new as many think it is. They have risen by 47% over the last decade. This is all mostly due to inflation.

Two In-N-Out cheeseburgers, fries, sauces and napkins.

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However, the cost of a fast-food meal does depend on where you are in the nation. For example, a Big Mac meal in Houston, Texas, costs $7.89. However, the same meal in Seattle costs just under $15.


Fast-Food Customers Hate Price Increases

Most people hate it when a business increases its prices, especially when these prices go up so much that something that was once seen as affordable is now a luxury.

Fried chicken in cardboard boxes.

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It has now gotten to the point where people who were once loyal customers of these fast-food places have now turned to home cooking or other types of restaurants that have since become more affordable. 

75% of Americans Eat Fast-Food Once a Week

A survey of 2000 Americans found that around 75% of them would typically eat fast-food at least once a week. However, the price hikes have since changed that.

A cheeseburger and fries in a red wrapper.

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62% of these have said that they aren’t eating it as much due to the rising prices. 67% believe that fast-food should be cheaper than eating at home; however, they have since been forced to eat at home as they can no longer afford to eat fast-food. 

Finances and Personal Situations Affect What People Can Afford

The survey found that some people are less likely to be able to afford fast-food, depending on their annual wage, whether or not they have children, which generation they are from and their gender.

A $1 note with coins on top.

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Those who now see fast-food as a luxury are people who earn less than $30,000 per year, are parents to young children, are Gen Z and are women. 

Even High Earners Are Avoiding Fast-Food

It’s not just low-income people who are avoiding fast-food places, as those who earn over $100,000 per year are also avoiding these outlets. 

A person with $100 notes in their hands that have been fanned out.

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The exact reason for this is unknown, as these people aren’t typically in fast-food companies’ main customer base. However, even those on high wages know where the right deals are, which currently aren’t fast-food places.


The Fast-Food Industry Will Grow by $120 Billion

Despite the increase in prices and fewer people being able to afford going out to eat fast-food, the industry is still expected to grow by a massive $120 billion by 2027.

Two cheeseburgers, fries and two drinks in takeaway cups.

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One of the main reasons for this is urbanization and a growing white-collar population, with over 1000 fast-food outlets being opened in just the U.S. in one year.


Fast-Food vs. Sit-Down Restaurants

One of the big points of contention is that many Americans now find that sit-down restaurants are either cheaper or cost the same as fast-food outlets.

Fries on top of a cardboard burger box.

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46% of the Americans surveyed said that a meal at most fast-food outlets now costs the same as a sit-down restaurant in their area. In comparison, 22% said that fast-food outlets are far more expensive than sit-down restaurants. 


Fast-Food Is More Than Inflation

While inflation is one of the main reasons why fast-food outlets have had to up their prices, these prices have now gone up more than inflation. Fast-food prices have gone up by 41% since 2017, whereas inflation has only gone up by 35.9%.

Fries with sauce on top in cardboard cones.

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A family meal has gone from costing between $35 and $40 to $65 and $70. As it tends to be low- and middle-income families that are the main customer base for fast-food outlets, this could affect business in the future.


Why Americans Are Struggling

The battle between the prices of fast-food, sit-down restaurants and grocery shopping has fast become a controversial subject for Americans as they struggle to decide which one is the most affordable. 

A McDonald’s sign at night next to the restaurant.

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While fast-food has gone up by 4.8% in the last year compared to grocery shopping at 1.1%, it is difficult for people to know where the most affordable grocery stores are. And then, factor that in with buying some ingredients in bulk and the use of electricity or gas when cooking the food, it all adds up. 


Fast-Food Outlets Are Offering Deals

As a way to try and win back customers, several fast-food outlets have begun offering deals to get customers back through their doors.

A McDonald’s restaurant at night.

Source: Robi Pastores/Pexels

For example, McDonald’s is offering a $5 value meal. However, whether any of these deals will attract customers or whether they will still decide to avoid them remains to be seen. 


How To Save Money With Fast-Food

Even though the rising cost of fast-food is a worry for many, there are some recommended ways to save money or get fast-food for cheaper than usual.

A pink piggybank with white spots with gold coins next to it on a wooden table.

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They can do this by using the restaurant’s cell phone app and paying with plastic for cash-back rewards. Alternatively, you can order your favorite item but choose not to get the combo option.