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Too much for a cheeseburger? Breaking down the increase in fast food prices

The “limited-service restaurants” index, which contains data for fast food spots, has outpaced overall inflation by nearly 15% over the past decade.
McDonald's Fast Food
Posted at 2:23 PM, May 21, 2024

Most of us have dealt with busy weeknights when ordering fast food might just make more sense — and national drive-thru chains are designed to save the consumer time and money. But the latest skyrocketing fast food prices are now causing a bigger dent in the wallet.

Data from the Labor Department shows overall inflation is up 33%, meaning the average price of all goods and services we pay for has risen by a third in a decade. Meanwhile, the “limited-service restaurants” index, which contains data for fast food spots, is up 47% in that same time frame.

However, this increase in average prices is masking much larger increases in one major item that Americans interact with regularly at fast food chains: the cheeseburger combo meal.

Using a combination of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and fastfoodmenuprices.com, Scripps News Phoenix collected data on the price of the main cheeseburger combo meal at four national chains and one regional fast-food chain, and then drove to each of these restaurants and ordered one to get today’s prices.

Since McDonald’s Big Mac is so well known that economists created a Big Mac index to compare the cost of living in different countries, it was used as the baseline combo meal. Today, the price for the Big Mac combo meal has risen approximately 84% compared to 2014.

While this price increase nearly doubled in just a decade, it’s lower than the Big Mac equivalent from competing chains. Wendy’s, Burger King, and Jack in the Box prices were all hovering around a 100% increase.

Regional chain In-N-Out had the smallest price jump of 55%, slightly above the 47% overall increase in fast-food inflation. The Double-Double combo was the most expensive of the combo meals in 2014 but is now the cheapest.

As prices at fast food restaurants increase, they begin to compete with other types of restaurants.

Chili’s offers a “You Pick Three” burger combo for $10.99. Meanwhile, the Burger King Whopper with cheese is priced at $11.99.

This story was originally published by Garrett Archer at Scripps News Phoenix.

Note: Historical price data was collected by putting fastfoodmenuprices.com in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Current prices were collected at drive-thru restaurants in Phoenix.

FastfoodMenuPrices.com is not an average and most price data collected varies by location and restaurant.

Inflation data was collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.