Over the past year, when you were craving your favorite $1 cheeseburger at 2 a.m., you might not have noticed that it actually cost $1.50. Or at the very least, you might not have cared because at that point you were already standing in line and 50 cents wasn’t going to keep you from sinking your teeth into that cheeseburger.
In a year plagued by inflation, not a damn thing was safe, not even cheap eats like fast food. Prices on just about everything had to increase, and many of us got creative in how we dealt with the effects. PriceListo.com, a consumer pricing platform, took menu price data from September 2021 to October 2022 to see how prices had changed at five major fast food chains: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and Taco Bell.
Fast food is often a great indication of the state of the U.S. economy. Take for example the Big Mac Index. First published by The Economist in 1986, the Big Mac Index was initially created as a playful tool to explain and calculate exchange rates across countries. The tool is also helpful in tracking inflation over time, notes The Visual Capitalist.
However, at least for 2022, McDonald’s most iconic menu item looks to be less of an indicator and more of an outlier. Per Pricelisto.com’s data, a Big Mac cost $5.30 in 2021 and increased to $5.47 by October 2022. That 17-cent (3.2%) increase is fairly minimal compared to the 51 cent (10.2%) increase of Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwich from the same time period. Yet, it’s Burger King that takes the crown with Chicken Fries, which saw a 16% increase in price going from $3.97 in 2021 to $4.64 in 2022.
By design, fast food is generally more affordable than other food options but every consumer has their limit. McDonald’s looks to have found a sweet spot, in keeping customers coming back and increasing its prices at a reasonable rate.
In addition to looking at individual menu item prices, Pricelisto.com also calculated the average price of a menu item at each of the fast food chains to determine which one was the most expensive.
The site’s research found that Wendy’s has the most expensive menu overall with an average price of $6.63 and a 35% increase from 2021. Just behind Wendy’s came Chick-fil-A with an average price of $4.65 for their products, an increase of 15.6% from 2021. And in third place came Taco Bell with a $3.37 menu average and a 14.6% increase from 2021.
Once again, McDonald’s has kept inflation at bay with an average menu price of $3.77 which is actually a 5% decrease from 2021. The right promotions and heavy brand loyalty seem to be the secret sauce for the golden arches.