Fast food is a convenient meal that tends to cost little money while still providing a satisfying experience.
While fast food restaurants used to be similar and offer similar things, tons of new restaurants cater to different appetites with different dishes.
The problem with fast food is that while most dishes used to be quite cheap, fast food has become a lot more expensive as of late.
You may find it difficult to order as much food as you used to on the same budget.
Here are 10 reasons fast food is so expensive.
Why Is Fast Food So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
Most fast food restaurants claim inflation is the reason behind their increased prices.
The global economy has gone through some turbulent times thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A mixture of closed businesses, stimulus checks, and then a sudden rush back into business as usual did little to help keep the economy normal.
Now, businesses are feeling the pains of the turbulence that the economy experienced.
Fast food restaurants are experiencing it with food costs and several other costs.
Even electricity has forced them to increase their prices.
Inflation drives price increases.
As small things become more expensive, bigger things become more expensive, too.
For example, as electricity becomes more expensive, it costs a fast food restaurant more money to power their restaurant.
To pay for the increased bill amount, the restaurant has to increase its prices.
While there’s always a bit of inflation in the economy, the world is currently experiencing a bad type of inflation.
It’s made prices increase dramatically since.
With some workers still unemployed and others still recovering financially from the pandemic, increased prices at fast food restaurants aren’t helping.
Many low-income families rely on fast food restaurants for cheap food.
To them, inflation has made menu prices seem even more expensive.
Fast food is expensive because of inflation.
2. Labor Shortages
Another factor that’s causing fast food restaurant prices to rise is the labor shortage that they’re experiencing.
Some fast food restaurants had to release some of their workers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Fast food restaurants weren’t hit as hard as sit-down restaurants, however, so they didn’t have the same kind of layoffs.
That said, they were seeing fewer customers since almost everyone was in a lockdown.
They were unable to leave their homes.
Since no one was in the office, it meant no one was going out for lunch or picking up dinner on the way home.
During this time, everyone also received stimulus checks to help get through until businesses opened up again.
These checks were larger than what most fast food restaurant employees make in a month.
That allowed them to leave their jobs and rely on that money while they found a better paying job elsewhere.
As lockdowns lifted, everyone was in a hurry to get back to eating fast food.
The problem is that these restaurants no longer had the staff to support the lunch and dinner crunches.
With slow service, customers leave unsatisfied.
Some leave without even ordering because they don’t want to deal with waiting.
That means the restaurant is losing money.
When it doesn’t have enough workers to cover the shifts, then the restaurant isn’t earning money.
To cover these losses, the restaurant has to increase its prices.
Customers then pay higher prices on the menu.
Fast food is expensive because of the labor shortage impacting its sales.
3. Wage Increases
One way that some fast food restaurants have tried to get workers back into their kitchens is by increasing wages.
For many workers, the amount of money they made didn’t make up for the type of work that they do.
Long hours on their feet and dealing with rude and sometimes blatantly cruel customers isn’t exactly worth making $9 an hour.
As fast food restaurants have increased their wages, their costs of operations have also increased.
The exact wage increases differ based on the restaurant.
Even within the same chain of restaurants, one might have higher wages than another.
It all depends on whether or not a restaurant is suffering from a labor shortage.
Some restaurants have started paying their workers $15 an hour while others have paid $11 an hour.
Regardless of the amount, it’s more than they used to pay.
There’s also wage competition among fast food restaurants.
Some offer more pay to attract workers to their restaurant instead of at a competing restaurant.
This boosts their sales while it diminishes their rival’s sales.
To stay competitive, restaurants have to keep wages competitive.
As a result, because their operational costs are higher, fast food restaurants have to cover those new expenses.
Instead of just having executives take home less money, most restaurants have decided to increase their menu prices.
Customers pay more money for food and the restaurant is able to pay higher wages and keep profit margins about the same.
Fast food is expensive because of wage increases.
4. More People Are Eating Out
While lockdowns were occurring during the pandemic, people were stuck at home and unable to go out to eat.
They had to eat home-cooked meals instead of relying on meals from restaurants.
Once fast food restaurants opened up fully and lockdowns lifted, there was a lot of interest in eating out.
People didn’t want to cook at home anymore.
They wanted familiar comfort food provided by their favorite fast food restaurants.
The problem is that since there are a lot of people looking to eat food at fast food restaurants now, and with labor shortages and other problems occurring, it’s made the prices higher.
There’s more demand for the food and its services.
Supply isn’t always there due to shortages.
Fast food is expensive because more people are eating out at fast food restaurants.
5. High Beef Costs
Another problem that’s making fast food restaurants cost more is the price of beef.
Beef prices have increased for several reasons.
The first is that demand for it has increased while the supply of beef has remained low.
That’s because farmers had to cull many of their beef cows during the pandemic.
It will take a few years before they’re able to breed enough cows to get back to their usual numbers.
Since there isn’t that much beef, those who need to buy beef have to compete with one another.
Whoever can pay the most gets the beef.
Another reason that beef prices are high is because of the problems with the environment that are impacting farms.
Drought is one of the biggest problems plaguing beef farmers.
They’re unable to keep their cows watered.
Instead, they have to spend a lot of money to bring water to their farms.
Another reason is problems with the grain supply.
Grain helps keep their cows fed during times of drought.
Unfortunately, grain also needs water to grow, and the drought is affecting the crops, too.
With more costs associated with raising beef as well as the low supply, farmers are setting high prices.
Fast food restaurants have no choice but to buy beef at high prices.
In return, customers buy food at higher prices to cover the costs.
Fast food is expensive because of high beef prices.
6. Increased Potato Prices
One of the reasons that many fast food restaurants have fries and other potato dishes is that potatoes are traditionally cheap.
They’re able to do a lot with only a few potatoes.
Even when other food prices have increased, fast food restaurants could rely on cheap potatoes.
That’s no longer the case.
Potato prices have increased by 14% between 2020 and 2021.
The primary reason behind the price increase is the increased consumption rate of potatoes.
With farms unable to produce as many potatoes due to a lack of workers, it created a bubble in the supply chain.
Fast food restaurants and other restaurants increased their demands for potato products because they store for a long time.
It helps them save money on food costs.
That meant that the supply of potatoes quickly dwindled.
Potatoes are also facing problems with drought and other weather problems which are impacting their yield.
With a shortage of potatoes and demand still high for them, the price of potatoes has increased substantially.
This means that fast food restaurants have also had to increase their prices.
Even cheap fries are no longer as affordable as customers remember.
Until the potato supply meets demand, their prices will remain high.
Fast food is expensive because potato prices have increased.
7. High Pork Prices
Fast food restaurants that sell ham or other pork products are also feeling a financial squeeze.
Pork, which tends to only ever rise in price marginally, increased a lot during the past few years.
There are several drivers behind the price increases.
One of those reasons is transportation costs.
The cost to transport pigs and other livestock is expensive.
The pigs need enough care to survive the journey to the slaughterhouse.
They need to stay healthy, too, or else their meat will not be acceptable for human consumption.
After slaughter, pork then needs a refrigerated truck to deliver it to the various manufacturing factories which process it into meat products.
From there, more refrigerated trucks take the products to their various marketplaces.
There’s a lot of transportation involved in the pork industry.
The problem with the transportation industry is that there’s a labor shortage going on.
It’s impacting the ability of pork to leave its various checkpoints quickly.
This means that supply is slow while demand is high.
There have also been various increased wage payments throughout the pork industry.
This has also raised the price of pork.
One of the reasons that wage payments have increased is the lack of labor in pork facilities.
Whether it’s on hog farms or in the factories, a lack of workers is impacting the price.
Finally, farmers had to cull the number of pigs they had during the pandemic since pork demand dropped.
With pork back in demand, farmers are scrambling to replenish their numbers.
All these problems have impacted the supply of pork that’s available for fast food restaurants.
Since restaurants are buying pork at higher prices, they also have to sell their menu items at higher prices to cover the costs.
Fast food is expensive because of the increase in pork prices.
8. Chicken Price Increases
Pork and beef aren’t the only food products to have seen price increases.
Chicken has also increased.
This becomes especially problematic when restaurants are trying to outdo one another with chicken sandwiches.
However, the real chicken product seeing the most consumption is chicken wings.
Over the past few years, chicken wing consumption has increased by 17%.
Part of the reason they’ve grown so popular is that they were an easy menu item to sell during the pandemic.
They’re small and easy to pack and weren’t as expensive as some other chicken items.
The problem with increased sales is that it means there’s a lot of demand for chicken.
Whether a fast food restaurant is looking to get in on the chicken sandwich competition or just provide new wings to their customers, they need chicken.
Problems in the chicken industry have impacted the supply of available chicken meat.
In particular, Texas saw a few storms that hit during winter, which killed coops.
Others had to cull their chickens when demand was low.
Chicken farms are also facing labor shortages.
Farms are unable to find employees to work at the same pay rate that they used to.
Those who have increased their wages have had to increase the price of their chicken meat.
All these increases mean that fast food restaurants have to pay higher costs to get their hands on chicken meat, too.
Since supply is low, the meat goes to those who are able and willing to pay higher prices.
To cover the cost and make a profit, fast food restaurants have to increase menu prices.
Fast food is expensive because chicken prices have risen.
9. Fast Casual Restaurants
A lot of consumers also mix up fast food restaurants with fast casual restaurants.
Fast food restaurants have been around for a long time.
McDonald’s, Burger King, White Castle, Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Subway are just a few examples.
They made a reputation in the restaurant industry for providing cheap food quickly.
As a result, customers expected cheap prices whenever they visited the restaurant.
That all changed with the emergence of fast casual restaurants.
Some examples include Chipotle and Five Guys.
These restaurants are slightly different from fast food restaurants because they give larger portions at higher prices.
Five Guys, in particular, made a name for itself by giving huge portions with extra fries in the bags.
Once fast casual restaurants emerged, they essentially reset the pricing for fast food restaurants.
Mcdonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food restaurants realized that consumers were willing to pay more for fast food to a point.
As long as they received a meal that they felt matched the price point, they’d pay for it.
As a result, fast food restaurants have followed the example of fast casual restaurants and slowly increased their prices over time.
Some restaurants have even decided to switch from serving dark meat to white chicken meat to make themselves more like the fast casual restaurants.
Fast food restaurants have learned that they can offer convenient and cheap menu items as well as provide more premium items for those willing to pay.
Fast food is expensive because fast casual restaurants paved the way for higher prices on premium menu items.
As consumers are becoming more aware of the impact on food and climate change, they are making changes to their diet.
Some call for their favorite restaurants to practice more sustainable methods.
Others have switched their lifestyles entirely.
They’ve stopped eating meat, and they follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle instead.
This has forced restaurants to try and hold onto their customers by following the path society is forging.
In particular, they’re looking for more sustainable ways to do business.
That might mean investing less in plastic packaging and relying on paper instead.
It might mean doing business with farmers who use sustainable methods to protect soil richness and chemistry.
Some restaurants have even tried to bring vegans and vegetarians back to them by providing plant-based burgers and other meals.
All these new changes cost money.
Sustainable farmers, for example, tend to be more expensive than farmers who aren’t doing what they can to fight climate change.
That’s because sustainable farmers take on more costs to ensure they’re not harming the environment.
Plant-based food tends to be more expensive because it requires more processing.
Using paper products or switching to recyclable plastics are often more expensive than normal plastic.
All these instances add to the fast food restaurant’s cost of operations.
To make up for those costs, they need higher profits.
They get higher profits by charging higher prices on their menu.
Fast food restaurants are expensive because many of them are trying to be sustainable and welcoming to those pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
How To Save Money At Fast Food Restaurants
If you’re on a budget and need to save money on food, there are a few things you can do to save money at fast food restaurants.
The first thing is to look at their daily deals.
Every fast food restaurant usually has a deal of some sort.
It makes their cheap food even cheaper.
Another thing you can do is look for coupons or promotions in newspaper ads or online.
You can often find buy-one/get-one-free deals in these ads.
That can help stretch your dollar a bit more, too.
Finally, you should limit the condiments and sides that you get.
With food prices on the rise, reducing the extra food that you get can save a few dollars.
Stick with just a burger and one side or a meal without any extras to get the most out of their cheap prices.
Fast food restaurants used to sell food that cost only a few cents.
Thanks to inflation and the rising cost of food, fast food restaurants have had to increase their menu item prices to stay afloat.
Many also have made investments to operate more sustainably which also adds to their operational costs, driving up their prices.