fast food

Fast food establishments continue to fail their customers and employees with overpriced items, slow throughput and unlivable wages.

Very few people, if any at all, enjoy inflation. With the United States experiencing an unusually high annual inflation rate, it’s no surprise that the price of gas, eggs and other grocery items is at the forefront of the public’s discourse. In the background, fast food prices have quietly increased at the same rate as groceries despite little in the way of changes to some of the industry’s glaring issues.

Fast food is typically consumed for one of two reasons: It is fast (imagine that!) and cheap. In a pinch, a pit stop at one of the many drive-thru restaurants across the country can have you fed and on your way quickly. For the restaurants you actively seek out, the food is expected to be enjoyable. You don’t need a supersized experiment to know fast food is not the best thing available for your health, but it isn’t intended to be part of your everyday diet. 

Unfortunately for the fast food industry, it is not hard to discover that the two reasons above are not on the consumer’s side now. For instance, Pricelisto found that menu prices at five of the biggest fast food chains – McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s and Taco Bell – increased nearly 13% between September 2021 and October 2022. With steep price hikes in every industry, the rising price of fast food can be a deterrent, as there are more pressing necessities to spend your money. 

Of course, this does not have to be the case. If the customer feels they are getting what they are paying for, perhaps they feel more inclined to shell out the money. The speed and quality of the service, as well as the accuracy of the order can make it much easier to stomach the price increases. Yet, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found that consumers across the industry experienced a decrease in their satisfaction from 2021 to 2022, fueled by food quality, restaurant care, speed of service and order accuracy. 

The prospect of price increases coupled with customer satisfaction decreases is a clear signal that not enough is being done to justify the increased price tag. It’s simply human nature to expect that the more you pay for something, the better the quality or service will be. Minor order mishaps or inaccuracies become a lot harder to overlook at a higher price. Trends indicate that fast food consumers are paying more for equal or lesser service, which no one should accept.

What can fast food companies do to combat this trend? For starters, some already try to by incentivizing the use of their mobile app. Some of the larger companies, such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s, have a small variety of recurring deals that can be used on order-ahead pick-up orders placed on the app, which make the price of a meal dramatically less than it is at the drive-through speaker. Some even add “bonus points” earned from orders that can ultimately be used to obtain free menu items. For as nice of an offer as this may be, not everyone owns a smartphone, nor should they need to in order to get a fairly priced meal. 

For those with no interest in the app, traditionally, some of the more well-known fast food companies have promoted “value meals” – those under $5 – and “dollar menus” to account for financial disparities. Unfortunately, in recent years, dollar menus have become thinner – and the definition of ‘dollar menu’ has become stretched by some companies – while some value menus have slowly populated with increasing options over the past few years.

While these measures lay a decent framework for improving the value of what you’re paying, they leave a lot to be desired. Small enhancements, such as the expanse of value menu items, unique weekly deals, and a wider selection of bonus point rewards, can benefit both the consumer and the company. Taking better care of the employees through the means of wage increases and better support programs would boost morale and productivity, perhaps bridging the gap between service and consumer satisfaction. These are not the only possible solutions, but implementing any of them would bring fast food companies closer to justifying these ever-raising prices.

Opinion Reporter

Bobb Knauft is a fourth-year business analytics student. He has been with The News Record since spring 2022 with contributions to both the sports and opinion sections.