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Fast-Flation: Fast Food Restaurant Prices Surge, Even as Inflation Wanes

Historically, fast food has been considered one of the most budget-friendly options outside of cooking at home. But a steady trickle of fast-flation over the past decade has been eroding that value proposition.

And consumers are taking note. For instance, an $18 Big Mac combo garnered so much attention online recently that the McDonald’s CEO promised affordability on a recent earnings call.

In response to growing dissatisfaction among fast foodies, Finance Buzz conducted a study analyzing menu price data across twelve top fast-food chains between 2014 and 2024. Findings revealed that most restaurants raised prices by 60% on average during the time period, and five — McDonald’s, Popeyes, Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Jimmy John’s — did so at more than double the actual inflation rate.

The cost of goods has risen 31% since 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of this change has happened in the last 5 years — inflation is up 22% since 2019.

The Exorbitant Cost of Fast-Flation

Per study data the worst offender is McDonald’s, where prices have doubled since 2014. The chain’s average price increase is 100% — more than triple the actual inflation rate at that same time.fast-flation

Notably, value items were among the most egregious fast-flation price increases across the McDonald’s menu analysis.

Meanwhile, Popeyes, Taco Bell, and Chipotle exhibited the second, third, and fourth-largest average price increases, respectively. All three have raised prices by at least 75%.

Other leading price hike percentages by menu item include:

  • Popeyes Regular Mashed Potatoes & Gravy (+134%)
  • Taco Bell’s Beefy 5-Layer Burrito (+132%)
  • Wendy’s Small Frosty (+111%)
  • Taco Bell Chalupa Supreme (+110%)
  • Burger King Small Icee (+101%)
  • Taco Bell Cheesy Gordita Chunch (+100%)

Noteworthy Pockets of Moderation

Chains like Subway have kept price increases in line with inflation over the past ten years. Burger King also received honorable mention, with the average cost for menu items rising by “just” 55% in that same time.

In terms of keeping costs down, Starbucks was one of the best chains evaluated. The coffee house’s menu prices went up by 39% on average, which is only slightly higher than the actual inflation rate during that time.

Certain items like the Caffè Latte (+22%) and Caramel Macchiato (+17%) have actually risen slower than inflation, making them a better deal now than they were a decade ago.

The Food Institute Podcast

Is there a business case to be made for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts? According to Julie Swift, foodservice industry veteran and founder of The Foodservice Women’s Alliance, the answer is a resounding yes. On this episode of The Food Institute Podcast, Swift helps explain the impacts of unconscious bias, and how simple it can be to bring all team members to the table when leadership buys into DEI efforts.