6 Most Overpriced Fast-Food Chains, According to Customers
Fast food isn't as dirt cheap as it used to be. In fact, prices at quick-service restaurants have been looking more like those we're used to seeing on casual dining menus. And whether due to inflation, ingredient shortages, or growing labor costs, the higher costs are being passed onto the consumer. So while you're paying more, many fast-food chains are reporting growing profits.
But there is such a thing as too expensive, especially when the food quality doesn't seem to justify the ever-increasing price. Customers frustrated with the value they're getting at popular fast-food chains have recently aired their grievances on Reddit. And according to them, these chains are currently the biggest perpetrators of overpriced fast food.
McDonald's has always been the stalwart in the fast-food industry that fans will keep going to no matter what. The company knows this and they're betting on it. Because even though McDonald's reported an average U.S. price increase of about 10% year-over-year for Q3 2022—and fans have started to notice—they seem to be sticking around.
However, that could change because chatter has definitely increased about the cost. Earlier this year one Reddit user shared a picture of a receipt asking: "When did Mcdonald's become so overpriced?" Another Reddit thread followed fans who were outraged that the price of a Big Mac went up over 40% over the past decade. Other fans have taken to social media to complain about rising prices and increased profits for the company. Workers have even experienced harassment over the increasing prices.
Chipotle is another chain that is hearing customer wrath but isn't quite feeling the fire. An average burrito bowl has increased from $7.65 in 2020 to over $10 today. That 20% increase in cost is not going over customers' heads. But while customers are getting fed up, the increased prices are not affecting Chipotle's bottom line.
Despite another increase in October of 2-3% across a bunch of locations, the company has not seen the hikes harming the chain's reputation with consumers. However, a recent viral TikTok, tells another story with a man visibly upset with a burrito bowl that came out to almost $21. The comments are littered with sympathizers who blasted the chain's skimpy portions and expensive extras.
If there is one food that customers can universally agree should be cheap, it's pizza. But customers say Pizza Hut's higher prices simply aren't worth it. One Redditor said, "Pizza Hut. [It's] just…so overrated. You can find better pizza at any local pizza place here."
And the price isn't the only problem, the chain is also struggling to win over customers with food quality. According to Restaurant Business, Pizza Hut's overall year-over-year sales fell 2.2% in 2020. Meanwhile, its biggest competitors, Domino's and Papa John's, saw net gains of 17.6% and 15.9%, respectively, during that time.
Currently, a large pepperoni pizza at the chain costs almost $2 more than at Papa John's or Domino's. And the discrepancy wasn't lost on this customer, who said "That sure makes it hard to pick Pizza Hut over Domino's when you can carry out a large 3 topping from Domino's for $7.99. Pizza Hut charges $10.99 for a large 1 topping."
While the initial concept of Five Guys took off when fast-casual establishments started heavily competing against traditional fast-food chains, customers soon became weary of the burger restaurant's prices.
Currently, a cheeseburger, regular fry, and regular-sized drink, some customers are paying as much as $20 at their local Five Guys. While prices vary between locations, a common complaint is that the price tags feel more like they belong at a dine-in restaurant than a quick-service burger joint.
In fact, the chain has gotten so much flack about its prices, that it started to lose business from its main target group: millennials. According to Insider, Five Guys fell out of favor with that generation as early as 2015 due to concerns about cost and nutrition.
Five Guys has cited the expensive cost of keeping fresh food, which it says is never frozen (the company doesn't have freezers at its locations.) Additionally, its huge portion sizes, particularly its fries (which are enough for two people), free toppings, and the fact it uses peanut oil rather than a cheaper substitute for frying, are all reasons for the prices seen on the menu.
While high standards are a component of whether a customer chooses to frequent a business, Five Guys seem to be figuring out the balancing act between value and quality. According to one Redditor, the chain has "gotten ridiculously overpriced…The next day [after going to Five Guys] I went to a neighborhood gourmet burger place and my whole meal was only $15 and leagues beyond what Five Guys had to offer."
Sonic hasn't been winning over customers' hearts with discounted food and value meals. While the chain does feature many promotions on its app and often runs happy hour specials, it's still having a hard time keeping up with McDonald's $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu or Wendy's $5 Dollar Biggie Bag.
As of now, Sonic's regular Cheeseburger Combo with a medium drink and tots runs about a dollar more than McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal. Additionally, the fast-food franchise has a tipping option on its app, something that most other chains do not. Whether the customers decide to add gratuity is up to them, of course, but if they do, the meal could cost them another $1-$2 dollars, bringing the combo total to well over $10.
Coupled with customers' complaints that the chain has taken a hit in quality—the price points aren't looking great. According to one Redditor, Sonic has "gone downhill since [its] corporate buy-out," while another person notes that "the food is horrible, tiny portions and overpriced."
New York-based Shake Shack has been a cult favorite with many customers since it started expanding in 2014. Billing itself as "fine-casual" rather than "fast-casual," most patrons realize they are going to spend a little more at Shake Shack than at a typical grab-and-go establishment.
With a deliberate atmosphere of excellence in service and quality of food, Shake Shack isn't trying to be McDonald's. The brand focuses on sourcing premium ingredients and meat from farms that report ethical and humane practices in food production. Shake Shack's beef has no antibiotics, or added hormones, and doesn't come from animals fed with animal by-products.
The chain has, however, been on the unfortunate end of inflation. In just one year, the price of pork and beef has gone up 14% to 20%, according to CNBC, which has led to price increases.
Some customers have complained about paying too much at the chain, citing that recently they've paid as much as $26 for two burgers and two drinks. Last year alone, the chain's prices jumped by 3% to 3.5%, while another increase is expected again this year.
With the skyrocketing prices, some customers don't think the food quality is up to snuff. One Redditor said, "I had Shake Shack for the first time in my life and I can honestly say it was worse than public school lunches."
A previous version of this article was published in April 2022. It has been updated with new information.
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