Fast-food prices just aren't letting up. For the average fast-food menu, prices increased by about 13% in 2022, according to CNET. For now, customers have largely gone along with the increases, and top chains have reported record profits in the past year.
You might have noticed the price hikes at your go-to fast-food spot: Chipotle dialed up prices a little over 10% last year and then raised prices again towards the end of 2022, and McDonald's saw increases of 10% in Q3 of 2022. Wendy's and Starbucks, meanwhile, have both announced their menus got more expensive in 2022.
But just how much more are customers willing to shell out when it comes to fast food? The question currently looms large over the industry, as a report from Revenue Management Systems confirms that visits to drive-thrus were down in 2022 compared to 2021. In fact, fast-food customers are averaging about one less drive-thru trip per week.
The prices at these five burger chains may be reaching the limit of what customers are willing to pay for a simple burger.
And don't miss The 10 Best Fast-Food Meals You Can Still Get for Less Than $10.
Originally founded by a professional chef in 2011, BurgerFi entered the fast-food burger world and established many satisfied fans. The chain often receives praise for being a standout company that uses high-quality beef and stellar customer service. However, neither a good juicy burger patty nor a "have a nice day" have closed the gap of how expensive BurgerFi is for fast food customers' comfort.
As one Tripadvisor review put it: "So a cheeseburger, fries, and drink at this place is $14.32, with tax. Are you crazy?? I don't care how good the hamburger may be, I am not paying these prices for this type [of] meal. I give them six months before they are out of business." In a similar fashion, an unhappy Reddit user points out, "I can afford [BurgerFi] and more… but I don't want to get outright taken advantage of. The food wasn't bad, but it also wasn't three times as good as Wendy's or any other fast food joint."
BurgerFi's Cheeseburger averages $8.94 in California, according to Fast Food Menus. A Regular order of fries is priced at $4.39.
Five Guys' reputation for being overpriced is years in the making. Due to its steep prices, the chain began to fall out of favor with one of its core customer groups, millennials, around 2017. And five years later, the story hasn't changed much, with Five Guys' prices still a sore subject on Twitter.
The chain's Cheeseburger averages $9.84 in California, according to Fast Food Menus. Its fries aren't cheap, either, with a Regular order priced at $5.36.
Beloved for its flagship "ShackBurger" and its menu of hand-spun milkshakes and frozen custard, Shake Shack ranks among the top 15 largest burger chains in the U.S. The chain is thriving post-pandemic, too, reporting same-store sales growth of 7.8% over 2021.
Nonetheless, Shake Shack is still regarded by many of its customers as overpriced. In a Shake Shack complaint, published on Reddit, a customer claimed to have been charged $26 for two burgers and two drinks. Meanwhile, on Twitter, there's no shortage of stories about Shake Shack orders running well over the $20 mark. One customer claimed to have shelled $35 for a burger, fries, and drink.
The ShackBurger Double currently goes for $7.77 in California, according to Fast Food Menus. The chain raised menu prices by 3.5% in March, and announced plans for additional price hikes at the end of 2022.
A forerunner of the "better burger" trend, the Colorado-based chain (owned by Jollibee) is famous for its smashed-to-perfection burgers, which are made with never-frozen 100% angus beef. Smashburger got its start in 2007, and its footprint is currently expanding at a rate of about 20 restaurants per year.
But for all of its "better burger" credentials, the premium chain has a reputation for not being worth its high price tags (and a little shaky on the quality, too). Twitter reviews characterize Smashburger as "overpriced," "mediocre fast food at twice the price," and "five guys but even more overpriced." A Classic Smash Burger goes for about $10 in Los Angeles. And from the look of it, it's a lot of buck for a little bang.
The chain's Classic Smash averages $6.98 in California, according to Fast Food Menus. Its fries are $2.21.
Famous for its drive-in and rollerskating carhops, Sonic Drive-In has been around since the '50s, with its eclectic menu of burgers, hotdogs, slushes, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The drive-in chain enjoyed something of a resurgence during the pandemic, with its off-premise business model helping it to grow sales by 21% in 2020.
With that said, Sonic's menu prices leave a lot to be desired when compared with those of other major chains. As Mashed points out, Sonic's prices didn't budge during the late 2010s, when other chains like Burger King, McDonald's, and Wendy's were entangled in a "race to the bottom" price war. Failing to keep pace, Sonic has gradually become overpriced.
Sonic's Cheeseburger Combo averages $7.67 in California, according to Fast Food Menus.
A version of this story was originally published on May 6, 2022. It has been updated to include new information.