Why Getting Fast Food Isn’t As Much Fun Anymore (Plus How to Save)

For just about my whole life, getting a burger from a local fast foodery has been something I viewed as a real treat—fun and a bargain. Ignoring the healthy eating concerns just for a bit here, I’m old enough to actually remember the first McDonald’s that opened in my neighborhood and its copycat rivals, Ronnie’s and Burger Chef (which didn’t last for long). If I had even just one dollar, I could get a burger, fries, and a soda and still get some change back from it! Those were the days.

Getting a burger and fries is just about as much Americana as one can think of. And that same memory is in my mind when as a young parent I would take the kids to get some of that, too. But something has changed for sure since the glory days when I was a kid and the changes today are dramatic. It’s the reason why getting fast food isn’t as much fun anymore!

What Happened to All of the Bargains?

Look, I have known for years that the fast food sold at my local Mickey D’s and their competitors isn’t the best you can buy. Filet mignon, err, no. Real cheese on those burgers, probably not. Free-range chicken nuggets? I don’t think so. But that was never really the point, was it? It all just tasted good even if it was eventually going to kill us all. Did we care?

Best of all, it was actually a bargain. There was literally no other place you could ever go where your lunch was going to be as cheap as any of those fast food places were. And besides the tasty food, you could even eventually get milkshakes, cookies, pies, ice cream—well you get the idea. Even as a kid and a teen, it was affordable and fun.

There was a movie out some time ago, I think in the 1950’s, called “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” to be exact (it starred Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield). It says a lot about what may have happened to McDonald’s and its rivals. Did success spoil them all? Perhaps it did along with inflation and what is called “the fast food mentality”. Let me try to explain that one.

The Fast Food Mentality

The fast food mentality refers to the idea that everything we want and need in life should be and could be like fast food: quick, easy, ready to go, and at little or no cost to us. It’s something that so many Baby Boomers have grown up with that it is actually “a real something”.

We place our “order” or requests of life and then expect a result and answer right away without any questions asked, or better yet anything asked of us in return. Oh, if it only was just that simple. It isn’t, but we do it anyway and expect results.

I think it’s the reason why so many are just plain unhappy about life and now there’s the actual disappointment of real fast food establishments, too!

Fast Food and Your Retirement Planning?

It has been said that some financial advisory firms are using the fast food mentality when it comes to retirement income planning. Here is what I mean:

Let’s say you walk into a local financial advisory firm and you are considering them to help you with your retirement assets. You sit down with the advisor and they hand you a “risk assessment form” (or something similar with a different name). You fill it out and then the advisor uses their “expert” training to determine your level of risk tolerance, either high risk, moderate risk or low risk. Sound familiar? Here is where the fast food mentality comes into play.

When it comes to making any investment “advisory” decisions about your retirement, how are they made?

They are usually made by a pre-selected method based on commissions that are paid when they are purchased. So as a result, they are similar to the methods used by your local McDonald’s. It’s like picking and choosing either a small, medium, or large fries.

Unfortunately, I can attest from real life in my days as a financial advisor working for a nationally known bank as to exactly how that was done to hundreds of people.

Getting full service and a full course meal is better and that applies to any kind of retirement planning, too.

Inflation in 2022 and Fast Food

In case you haven’t noticed it, fast food chains are grappling with inflation and rising costs just like you are doing. And you are paying the price, literally, to them. To cope with pricing pressures, many chains are increasing prices and eliminating deals. This isn’t the first time it’s ever happened, but it may be the most dramatic time.

Fast food just isn’t as affordable as it used to be, and value menus are another victim of inflation and the pandemic. With rising costs of both food and labor at your local shop, low-cost value menus can be the easiest choice to eliminate.

What’s Really in That Chicken Sandwich These Days?

One way to quietly raise prices is by swapping in lower-cost, cheaper ingredients or shrinking portion sizes to make the meal seem cheaper. Downsizing portion sizes saves costs and is hard to define as the customer sees it. Did you notice that a 10 piece nugget portion is now just 8 pieces? Maybe when you are hungry, you don’t.

Another method of manipulating customers is making the deals exclusive to online orders, which are cheaper to process and give access to more valuable customer data.

McDonald’s and the $1.00 Soda

Mickey D’s is putting an end to the iconic any-size soda for $1.00. It is now allowing franchise operators to sell sodas for higher prices after they were kept at a dollar for several years as part of a nationwide promotion. $1.00, $1.29, and $1.59 are the new standards coming soon to a Mickey D’s near you.

Its rival, Burger King, is eliminating paper coupons and making around a dozen changes to menus to increase profits, including raising prices on nuggets, fries, and bacon cheeseburgers. Just raising the menu price is the easiest way to do all this and they like to keep it as quiet as possible. Raising prices on staple menu items by 10% between now and July 2022 is expected. Will that mean anything to you?

What You Can Do to Save on Fast Food

There are some ways you can save money when you decide to go fast fooding.

  • First, there is using an app (which is available 99% of the time). Use it to order from your smart phone or computer. It will offer you discounts and online special prices, plus occasionally free items.
  • Second, when using the app, you often have the opportunity to be part of the loyalty program to earn points. These points accumulate and allow you to get free food items from time to time.
  • Third, there are still paper coupons you can find in newspapers, magazines, and in direct mailers, plus on the websites. You will also see some “value items” inside the restaurants. These are less expensive and while they still exist, you may find they are just what you wanted.
  • Finally, look carefully at the menu prices. Sometimes making it a meal gives you a better value, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes a different sized item is a better purchase. Recently, I was going to order a 6-piece nugget item for $2.99 until I realized that the 4-piece nuggets were $1.00 and I could order two to get a total of 8 pieces for $2.00 instead!

Fast food is ingrained in our culture and giving it up entirely isn’t going to be easy. Find a way to save at least some of the inflation factor with these tips.

Final Thoughts

Menu shifting, where a chain rolls out more expensive offerings while quietly taking cheaper ones off menus, is the strategy you will see in 2022.

Inflation has hit fast food, along with the rest of the economy, as ingredients and labor both become more expensive. U.S. inflation was up 7% year-over-year in December according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest level since 1982. Fast food eateries are projecting 8-10% inflation for 2022.

Because of it, fast food may have lost something that you can’t see on the menu. That is the “fun” factor. Taking your kids out for a treat and enjoying the tasty fries and burgers just got a blow to your wallet. Are you prepared?

Do you enjoy and use fast food as a go-to fun meal? Do your kids love it? How will 10% increases on fast food affect you and your family this year?