The cost of food has skyrocketed in recent years, and fast food is no different. From soaring prices to shrinking value options, these stats illustrate everything you need to know about the fast food industry. Plus, we’ve got plenty of inflation-beating tips so you can dine out without destroying your budget.
1. The cost of a Big Mac is over $5.50 — up 33% in 10 years
The average cost of a U.S. Big Mac in June 2023 was $5.58, according to The Economist. That’s $1.40 more than it was in June 2013. The Economist has been tracking the cost of McDonald’s signature burger around the world for almost 40 years. It uses so-called “burgernomics” as a tool to compare purchasing power in different countries.
What you can do about rising fast food costs
If you want to cut the cost of fast food, keep your eyes peeled for discounts, wherever they may be. For example, check your receipt next time you buy pizza or a burger. There may be a discount you can use on your next visit or a survey you can fill out in exchange for free food.
Another route is to install the app for your favorite restaurants and sign up to their loyalty program. This is a great way to keep on top of the latest deals and earn rewards. For example, McDonald’s will give you free fries when you install its app, and you can use your points to pay for your meal.
Use coupon apps and sites like Groupon or RetailMeNot to get discount coupons. You might find a fixed dollar discount such as $10 off your next Pizza Hut order, cash back, or a percentage discount. I’ve used Groupon to get half-price meals before. Those savings all add up to more cash in your bank account.
The cost of a Big Mac only tells part of the story when it comes to budget fast food deals. It doesn’t factor in promotions or low cost everyday items. Ten years ago, a Big Mac cost over $4, but you could get a basic burger for $1. Now its value menu is a “$1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu.” And — as one TikTok user recently pointed out — there’s nothing on it that costs a dollar. McDonald’s is not alone in this. Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready pizza no longer costs $5, and Burger King customers have also taken to social media to complain about price hikes.
Inflation has made it harder, but not impossible, to find low-cost fast food. One chain that’s stuck by its value offer is Costco. Costco’s hot dog and soda combo has cost $1.50 since the 1980s and the company plans to keep it that way.
Costco’s not the only place you can get fast food for less than a couple of dollars. Right now, Sonic’s FRITOS Chili Cheese Jr. Wrap comes in at $0.99. And Del Taco has a menu with 20 items under $2 — including tacos, burritos, nachos, and donut bites.
3. The average pizza check comes to $8
Consumer behavior data providers, Circana, say that people’s average check at a pizza joint is $8 and $6.56 at a hamburger chain. For many Americans, that’s still an affordable treat, even at the higher prices.
Latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that the prices of take-out meals and fast food (which it calls limited service meals) rose 6.2% from October 2022 to October 2023. That’s a bigger jump than restaurant prices, which rose 4.3% in the same period.
How to spend less when you’re in a fast food joint
When I get takeaway curry, I never buy rice as I can cook it in 10 minutes at home. If you only buy the main, it’s often a great way to shrink your check. For example, a large pizza that feeds four people would set you back around $20 at Pizza Hut. Skip the sides and the drinks — and you’re looking at a bit over $5 a head. It’ll be less if you get one of their deals or use a discount code.
4. Americans spent $3,639 on eating out last year
Food accounted for about 13% of people’s average spending last year. BLS data shows that the average American spent $9,343 on food in 2022. About 40% of that went toward eating out. That adds up. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Americans spent over $92 million in eateries in September alone.
How to spend less on fast food
One of the best ways to spend less on food is to cook at home. I always have staples such as canned vegetables, pasta, and rice in my cupboard. Here’s what the basic ingredients for a quick tuna pasta cost on Walmart.com:
- Can of tuna (5 oz): $0.96
- Pasta (16 oz): $1.18
- Pasta sauce (24 oz): $1.70
- Shredded cheese (8 oz): $2.22
It won’t be gourmet, but with four ingredients, I can cook a quick meal in about 15 minutes. That’s less time than my local Domino’s takes to deliver, and means I can feed four people for around the same price as a single takeaway pasta dish.
It’s true that you can save money on food by cooking at home, but eating the occasional meal out can be fun, not to mention saves you the hassle of doing the dishes. Use coupons, mobile apps, and meal deals to keep fast food as affordable as possible.