Fast Food Prices See Increase

A recent survey conducted by LendingTree found that 78% of consumers now consider fast food to be a “luxury” purchase due to how expensive the meals have become. Half of those polled said they view fast food as a luxury because they’re struggling financially. This sentiment is especially pronounced among Americans who make less than $30,000 a year (71%), parents with young children (58%), and Gen Zers (58%).

Americans love their fast food, but a majority say they are pulling back on their consumption due to high prices. The findings show that 3 out of 4 Americans typically eat fast food once a week, but 62% of respondents said they are eating it less frequently due to the cost.

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed agreed that fast food should be cheaper than eating at home, but 75% say that is not the case. Nearly half of Americans (46%) say a meal at a fast-food restaurant costs about the same as one at their local sit-down restaurants, and 22% said fast food is actually more expensive.

Fast-food price hikes have outpaced inflation in recent years. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the cost of fast-food meals is up 41% from 2017, while the consumer price index has risen by 35.9%.

Columnist Dan O’Donnell of the free-market think tank the MacIver Institute wrote in a blog post on Thursday that prices on “basic items like McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Chick-fil-A nuggets have risen as much as 200% in less than five years with dire consequences for the lower- and middle-class families who make up much of the fast food customer base.”

“Fast food patrons are generally lower-income earners — many with young children — who rely on a quick, affordable meal before soccer practice or a band concert,” O’Donnell wrote. “When prices at these restaurants spike from $35-$40 for a family meal to $65-$70 in just a few years, those families either have to sacrifice a night out or extend themselves just a little further to afford it.”

In the LendingTree survey, when asked about their go-to for an easy, inexpensive meal, 56% of respondents cited making food at home. This shift is evident as more people opt to cook at home to save money.

Global restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have observed that lower-income customers are increasingly choosing to eat more meals at home amid the cost-of-living crisis. In response, these companies are offering steeper promotions to attract customers back.

This week, Wendy’s rolled out a $3 budget-friendly breakfast meal, and McDonald’s is planning a $5 combo meal in June. Both offerings will be available for a limited time, aiming to entice budget-conscious diners.

As fast food becomes less affordable for many, families and individuals are finding new ways to manage their budgets, often turning to home-cooked meals to stretch their dollars further. The rising costs and economic pressures underscore the shifting landscape of dining habits in America.


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