Customers are Increasingly Frustrated at the Rising Cost of Fast-Food

By: Georgia | Published: Apr 22, 2024

Fast-food chains have been hiking up their prices, citing reasons like increasing food costs, labor shortages, and even global events. 

As a result, customers are starting to shy away from their usual quick eats, turning instead to either home-cooked meals or dine-in restaurants that seem to offer more for their money.

A Sharp Turn in Pricing Practices

According to Sara Senatore, a restaurant analyst at Bank of America, there’s been a sharp pivot in how fast-food restaurants handle their pricing. 

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A fast-food meal laid out on a tray featuring a KFC Zinger burger box, a small container of popcorn chicken, a portion of fries, a soda cup, and a small sachet of sauce, with a receipt

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Normally, prices would tick up by about 2% each year, but come 2022 and 2023, some places have ramped that up to double digits, Business Insider learned from Senatore.

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Stabilizing Prices, Growing Impatience

As the overall inflation and grocery prices begin to level off, consumers are expected to have less patience for continued hikes in dining costs. 

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A variety of fresh vegetables arranged on shelves in a market, including lettuce, red bell peppers, limes, squash, spinach, cucumbers, and bunches of bananas, with price labels

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This shift is part of a larger trend of spenders tightening their belts and re-evaluating their budget allocations amid broader economic pressures.

Scaling Back: A New Norm

Warren Colehour told Business Insider about his drastic cutback on Dunkin’ visits. 

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A street view of a Dunkin' Donuts store with a large orange and pink sign, parked cars in front, and bare trees in the background, indicating a clear day

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Once a daily patron, the 40-year-old student from Kentucky now only goes about four times a month, deterred by soaring costs: “I can’t bring myself to spend $8 on that food.”

The End of the Dollar Menu

The value menu at McDonald’s is a thing of the past, as Chad Frye, a regular visitor, observed. 

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A close-up of a McDonald's cheeseburger wrapped in a yellow paper with red text, resting on a gray surface

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He explained, “You could go into McDonald’s and there would be a whole array of choices on a value menu, and they used to call it the dollar menu, and you can’t get anything in there for a dollar anymore.”

Paying More, Enjoying Less

Price hikes are not only affecting wallets but also how customers perceive food quality. 

A digital rendering of a modern Burger King restaurant exterior with a large circular sign displaying the Burger King logo, a clear blue sky in the background, and a menu signboard to the side

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Frye feels the increase in prices has made the food less enjoyable. “I think mentally you maybe don’t think it tastes as good anymore because you’re paying a lot more for it,” he said.

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Roadside Dining Becomes a Luxury

For truckers like Martin Jennings, finding affordable fast food on the road is becoming increasingly hard. 

A close-up view of a McDonald's Drive Thru sign, with the iconic golden arches above a red background. The words "Drive Thru" are in beige with the McDonald's logo on the left side

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He shared, “It’s just so expensive that we try to avoid it,” opting instead to bring along home-cooked meals.

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McDonald's Tackles Price Perception

A McDonald’s USA spokesperson emphasized the chain’s effort to balance pricing with value. 

A McDonald's Big Mac meal, including a box containing the burger, a side of fries, and a dipping sauce, sits on a wooden table with a red chair, alongside various personal items

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They told Business Insider, “McDonald’s always strives to strike the right balance of value for money,” encouraging customers to utilize their app for special offers and free items.

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More Diners Opt for Full-Service Restaurants

With fast food prices creeping up, diners like Ben Heyworth are finding better value in sit-down restaurants. 

Interior of a casual dining restaurant with warm lighting, showing booths and tables set for service, promotional signs on the tables, and a bar area with televisions in the background

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He said that he prefers the food, service, and atmosphere at these places, which now cost about the same as fast food.

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Bargain Hunting Amidst Rising Costs

Richard McConnell, a 58-year-old Oregonian, is keeping a keen eye on deals to stretch his dining dollar further. 

Exterior view of a Del Taco fast-food restaurant with a red and green storefront, palm trees surrounding the building, and a clear blue sky overhead

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He told Business Insider about spotting deals like “Del Taco’s three tacos for $2 deal on Tuesdays,” as part of his strategy to combat rising food prices.

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Loyal Customers Stick Around

Despite the price increases, fast food still has its loyalists. Ricardo Rodriguez, a semi-retired finance worker in California, is one of them. 

A McDonald's breakfast sandwich with a hash brown on the side, presented on a piece of wrapping paper with the McDonald's logo and cooking icons printed on it

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He said, “Even if they were to raise the price on the McGriddle sandwich, I probably would still go and buy it,” stressing his continued patronage.

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Fast Food at a Crossroads

The fast-food industry finds itself navigating through a period of significant change, balancing price increases with maintaining customer loyalty. 

Inside a busy fast-food restaurant kitchen, featuring industrial ovens full of chicken, various kitchen appliances, shelves stacked with supplies, and a digital order display screen. The background shows a menu board advertising taco and burrito packs, drinks, tenders, and a family meal deal

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As some consumers cut back, others adapt by leveraging apps and promotions to lessen the impact of rising prices, a trend that shows the industry’s ongoing efforts to keep pace with consumer expectations.

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