Major restaurant chains are cutting menu prices due to high food costs, decrease in consumer demand

Wendy's is the latest food retailer to announce its own meal promo: an all-new $3 breakfast combo

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published May 28, 2024 12:00PM (EDT)

Fast Food, Fried Chicken And French Fries (Getty Images/Jonathan Knowles)
Fast Food, Fried Chicken And French Fries (Getty Images/Jonathan Knowles)

Fast food has long been regarded as a convenient and affordable meal option. But over the past decade, a classic hamburger-and-fries combo has become increasingly unattainable for many Americans. Fast-flation — the term used to describe soaring fast food menu prices — continues to affect diners nationwide. So much so, that many consider fast food a “luxury,” and are choosing to eat more meals at home instead of dining out.  

A recent study from FinanceBuzz found that average fast food prices have risen between 39% and 100% from 2014 to 2024 — increases that “outpaced” inflation during the given time period. Since 2014, McDonald’s had the highest price increases compared to other major chains with menu prices doubling (100% increase) across popular items. Earlier this year, the multinational fast food chain sparked a national debate after a McDonald’s in Darien, Connecticut, charged an astounding $18 for a Big Mac combo meal. The backlash compelled McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski to announce that the company would make affordability a priority in 2024 during a Feb. 5 earnings call.

“The battleground is certainly with that low-income consumer. And I think what you’re going to see as you head into 2024 is probably more attention to what I would describe as affordability,” Kempczinski said, per a transcript of the call, adding that he believes consumers prioritized “absolute price point” over “value.” Kempczinski reiterated similar sentiments in April, during the company’s first-quarter earnings call. “Consumers continue to be even more discriminating with every dollar that they spend as they face elevated prices in their day-to-day spending, which is putting pressure on the industry,” he said. “[I]t's imperative that we continue to keep affordability at the forefront for our customers.”

This month, McDonald’s announced a limited-time offer which is slated to drop June 25. The promo meal will include a choice of either a McChicken, a McDouble or four-piece chicken nuggets, small fries and a small drink — all for just $5. 

Now other food retailers are following suit in hopes of winning back their customers. Giant Food announced in April that it would lower prices on its private label food staples, including bread, milk, bottled water, bacon, frozen vegetables and more. Just a month later, Aldi said it would cut prices on more than 250 items, like frozen fruit, granola bars and meats. The latest move plans to put $100 million back into customers’ wallets through Labor Day, the grocer specified in a press release.  

This week, Target announced that it would cut prices on 5,000 different products, including fruit, milk, meat, peanut butter, pet food, paper towels and more. And on Tuesday, Wendy’s dropped its budget-friendly breakfast combo meal. For a limited time only, customers can get a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese English Muffin or a Sausage, Egg, & Cheese English Muffin with a small order of Seasoned Potatoes for a total of $3. Wendy’s said it’s “doubling down on better breakfast with unmatched value and quality on the go” with its latest meal deal, according to Food & Wine.

Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter, The Bite.

The drastic menu price hikes are undoubtedly hitting consumers hard, especially low-income Americans. A January poll from consulting firm Revenue Management Solutions found that 25% of individuals who make under $50,000 were cutting back on fast food due to high costs. Adding to the decline in consumer demand is the widening gap between the prices of Food At Home (FAH) and prices of Food Away From Home (FAFH).

Wendy’s breakfast deal isn’t the only price-conscious promotion the fast food chain will offer its customers. Wendy’s is looking to compete with McDonald’s via its “Wendy’s Wednesday,” which awards customers free six-piece nuggets with any mobile app purchase every single Wednesday. There’s also Wendy’s Nuggs Party Pack, a 50-piece order of all white meat chicken nuggets that’s available every day of the week in select participating locations. The Nuggs Party Pack Map — which details which stores are serving up the crowd-sized meal — was designed by Rashiq Zahid, who created the McBroken website to expose McDonald’s so-called “broken” ice cream machines.     

“We don’t break under can always count on Wendy’s for a Frosty® treat, and now a Nuggs Party Pack,” Wendy’s assured its consumers.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Aldi Fast Food Fast-flation Food News Giant Food Inflation Mcdonalds Restaurants Target Wendy's