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. 

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

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.


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. 

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

Source: nrd/Unsplash

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. 

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

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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. 

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

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.


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

Source: a befendo/Unsplash

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


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

Source: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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.


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

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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


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

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.


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

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.


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.