Inflation has been felt across the board in recent years, but the tightening of one's wallet has been especially apparent when it comes to food purchases. Everyone has to eat, so rising costs at the grocery store and restaurants alike have hit Americans hard, no matter where they live. That also goes for fast-food chains, considered by some to be the final frontier of accessible, affordable meals.
The number of affordable meals available is dwindling, with many fast-food chains raising prices in 2023. McDonald's, for example, even cited seeing a reduction in the number of low-income customers, per CBS News. Price increases on popular menu items are likely to continue in 2024, especially in states like California, where a mandated wage increase to $20 per hour will go into effect next spring.
Simply put, the cost of a Big Mac from McDonald's, a footlong sub from Subway, and a burrito bowl from Chipotle, is now higher than ever before, with several major price hikes happening in the last year alone. The next time you head to any of the following fast-food chains, be prepared to shell out an extra few dollars for your order.
Customers have been watching McDonald's prices like a hawk ever since one Connecticut customer observed the wildly overpriced Big Mac combo coming in at $16.89. That was in April of 2023, and prices have only gone up from there, about 10% to be exact, according to Business Insider. That's on top of a 10% hike that took place in 2022.
Those price increases have boded well for the fast-food giant, with the latest quarterly report showing a 14% jump in earnings, per The New York Post. While McDonald's did not disclose the precise menu price increases that yielded such strong returns, the impact is felt among customers. One of them shared on Reddit in the last few months, "Me and my mom went to McDonald's for breakfast today and got 2 Sausage McGriddles and 2 iced coffees. It ended up being $25. WHAT!"
Fast-casual Mexican food chain Chipotle used to reign supreme among customers for its fresh ingredients and affordable prices. That reputation has gone south, with the chain raising its prices five times since June 2021, according to Business Insider. That increase includes a 3.5% to 4% jump in 2023, in addition to a 13% jump in 2022, according to CNN.
Customers are very vocal about their disappointment with the price increases, with one taking to Reddit to highlight how expensive their typical order from Chipotle has become: "My favorite actual sit-down restaurant is cheaper now. Same amount of food (well, often more now), 10x the flavor, 20x the options, and most of them are the same price (within a couple of dollars) as my go-to bowl. The only downside is their to-go is slower."
Another Redditor shared a record of price increases at their local Austin, Texas, restaurant, noting that a standard bowl from Chipotle that cost $6.44 in 2010 now costs $10.01 in 2023.
A trip to Starbucks has historically cost more than other coffee shops and certainly more than brewing coffee at home. But the popular chain is more costly than ever, especially when it comes to customizations people can make to their drinks. Per Business Insider, Starbucks noted that it would not rule out price increases as "strategic" opportunities.
So, while Starbucks CFO Rachel Ruggeri shared that the prices of drinks, including favorites like the Pumpkin Spice Latte, would be pretty close to what they were in 2022, it would now cost customers more if any modifications were made to those drinks. For example, extra pumps of syrup or adding cold foam can raise the price of a drink by $1 to $2, per Yahoo Finance.
Hip2Save also noticed new charges being implemented to Starbucks, such as paying an extra dollar for requesting a Refresher without any water.
Gone are the days of a $5 Footlong at Subway. What used to be a reliably inexpensive sandwich chain is now considered by many to be out of reach when looking for a cheap lunch. A customer from Canada shared on Reddit in 2023 how the cost of a footlong sub with tax just exceeded $20 (Canadian dollars). Another chimed in, noting they are "shocked that so few people are talking about this. I'm also in Toronto, and the recent price increases are SHOCKING."
Their observations are not unique in that customers across the United States have also seen recent price increases at Subway. Another customer shared a recent eye-popping experience at Subway on Reddit, saying, "I ended up spending almost 29 dollars for two footlongs at Subway today. No drinks or sides. Felt like whiplash when they said the total." It is worth noting that, according to Subway, it is the franchisees that set prices, with the company providing guidelines along the way (per Business Insider).
Pizza has often been an affordable means of feeding a crowd, but those budgets are being stretched thinner and thinner, especially when it comes to Pizza Hut. The fast-food pizza chain revamped its $5 Deal Lover's Menu to what is now a $7 version, including 17 menu items that cost $7 each when you buy two or more (per Business Insider). That adds at least $4 to your order now, or an increase of 40%, which can add up quickly if you are planning on buying multiple menu items using that deal.
A Frosty and Baconator cost a little more these days. The fast-food chain raised the price of several menu items by roughly 7% in the last year, according to The Messenger. Much of this is a result of the rising cost of goods, like beef, that serves as a staple ingredient for the company.
Customers are not too thrilled with the price hikes in 2023, which they cite as the latest in a string of increases. One Redditor confessed, "After a 15-20% recent price hike, I am done with Wendy's." Another Redditor thought the original post was being too lenient on Wendy's, adding, "I don't know what you mean 15-20%; Crispy Chicken Sandwiches have gone from 99 cents to $2.50 each. That's a 150% increase in less than 2 years."
It may no longer be a "great day" at Chick-fil-A when customers do the math on recent price increases. According to Food Truck Empire, the fast-food chain increased menu prices by 15% from 2021 to 2022. On top of that, in early 2023, Chick-fil-A announced that prices would go up by another 6%. The result is stunned reactions from customers, like one who paid $14 for Chick-n-Minis and a lemonade. She shared the experience on TikTok and commented, "For $14, I should have gone to Starbucks. I thought Starbucks was a treat."
Employees at Chick-fil-A are sympathizing with customers, as one Redditor shares, "At my store we were instructed to tell people that it is due to rising supply chain costs and overall inflation of running the store. I usually try to empathize with people and tell them that I eat here too, and I'm not happy about it either."
Taco Bell was once a top choice among customers for its menu of low-priced items. Those days seem to be in the past now, as prices continued to climb in 2023. According to Yahoo! Finance, prices at Taco Bell are now around 15% higher than two years ago.
Not only that, but customers have noticed a trend of shrinkflation taking place at Taco Bell. It has all been too much for one customer, who shared on Reddit, "I gave up religiously eating Taco Bell around the same time COVID hit. Prices were already starting to get a bit high then, especially in my area. But then they removed my go-to items. And then they implemented a shrinkflation policy on other items I enjoyed (like the Crunchwrap). It's barely more expensive to go to a local Mexican restaurant."
Customers are feeling the sting of rising costs at Burger King, too. Price increases are becoming more common, with people taking to the internet to air their grievances. One Redditor shared in September of 2023 that "At the local Burger Kings, prices jumped on many items by more than 10% (more like 15% in many cases) at the end of last week. That's on top of all the price increases over the past year+ and the decimation of the value menu."
Another customer shared their experience on Reddit about a recent visit to Burger King in the fall of 2023, sharing how they are "Done with their ridiculous price increases and declining food quality. I just wanted a small double cheeseburger meal and was informed it was seven bucks with no drink." Adding a drink would only bring more shock, as another customer shared on Reddit, "I rarely go to BK but was around one and decided to get a drink. A medium soda cost $3.93 with tax. This is sick!"
Panda Express has strived over the years to offer healthy menu options by serving meals made with fresh ingredients. Those higher-quality food items come at a cost, however, and customers have noticed that their local Panda Express has only gotten more expensive in 2023.
One Redditor shared, "Our local Panda Express just raised their prices today. I saw their manager putting new price stickers after peeling the old ones. A bowl with no premium entrée is almost $10 now; it was $8.97 after tax." Another Redditor pointed out that, "Due to rising prices in food, most restaurants are having to raise prices. Panda has been able to hold it off for a while, but it eventually had to be done."
Those customers are on to something, as Daily Dot reported that a worker at Panda Express observed how their hourly rate was not enough to afford the cheapest menu items.