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These Burger Chains Are Losing Customers Amid Inflation

Here's how America's biggest fast-food chains stack up with customers.

Just how intense is inflation right now? We haven't seen price jumps like these in 40 years, according to numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of the largest increases over the past 12 months include electricity (up 12%), utility gas service (up 30.2%), and meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (up 14.2%), reports Forbes.

When it comes to buying these necessities, customers don't have much choice. But what about discretionary spending on, say, fast food? How are some of the biggest burger chains faring amid these challenges?

And don't miss 5 Restaurant Chains That Raised Their Prices the Most.

According to data company Placer.ai, of America's three largest burger chains, McDonald's is leading the pack with the best performance in relation to 2019. Compared to the same time period of that year, visits to the chain's locations were up by 6.3% in April and 3.8% in May.

The chain has also seen more foot traffic every single month this year compared to 2021. It looks as though all the changes McDonald's had made in 2021—from raising the bar on celeb collaborations to rolling out its biggest loyalty program nationwide—are paying off.

On the flipside, Wendy's and Burger King are seeing more struggles with foot traffic in the current economic climate. While year-over-year visits were up at both chains, the second- and third-largest burger franchises in America are currently lagging behind their 2019 traffic. Compared to May of 2019, traffic this May dropped by 12.1% and 12.4% respectively.

Could higher prices be at play? Wendy's raised its menu prices by 6% last year, while the chain confirmed it plans to increase them by another 5% in 2022.

"We did talk about taking 5%-plus pricing," said president and CEO Todd Penegor in an interview with CNN Business. "We've got to find that point where we can balance passing on some price but still being of relative value to the consumer."

Over at Burger King's largest franchisee, Carrols Restaurant Group, CEO Paolo Pena is facing reality as well. "Even if inflation moderates in the back half of this year, we're likely to feel its impact on our cost structure for some time," Pena said, according to Restaurant Business. "To deal with it, we are going to need to adapt and evolve as never before. And to do that, we are going to need to look at all aspects of our operations with fresh eyes."

The good news, reports Placer.ai, is that regional burger chains In-N-Out Burger, Whataburger, Sonic Drive-In, and White Castle are seeing consistent growth in visits this year compared to 2019. The question is: What's their secret sauce?

Melissa Fiorenza
Melissa Fiorenza has been writing for over a decade on a range of topics, including mental health, nutrition, fitness, parenting, and women's issues. Read more