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These Fast-Food Chains Are Now Secretly Charging You More

You're paying as much for some drive-thru as dine-in, which could make "value menus" a thing of the past.

Over the past year, you've probably found it interesting to note how so many restaurants have pivoted to serve you in new ways. (Even Hooters is adapting.) But not so fast, says a new report: Some of your favorite restaurants have been charging you for a particular service that's been hitting your wallet in a covert way. Here are the fast-food spots that might have pulled a fast one on you recently.

Whether you despise or don't mind the concept of "the new normal," the truth is that it's made some of your most affordable eating choices more expensive—by a lot. Restaurant Business is reporting on an increasing phenomenon: A lot of quick-serve restaurants (that is, largely fast food joints) and delivery services have started charging you for convenience, even if you haven't noticed. "Limited-service chains have increased their prices by 6.5% over the past year, according to the most recent federal data," the site reports. They add that cost structures have given fast-food places an advantage over wider-service restaurants, since the historical relative low pricing of fast food allowed some buffer to beef up margins.

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What's the impact? From the report: "A typical fast-food meal for a family of four using one of the major third-party delivery apps now costs roughly equivalent to a meal at a bar-and-grill chain, including tips in both cases." Steep, yes… but clearly worth it, in the eyes of many.

Besides delivery service fees, fast-food businesses are "realizing they can price for the simplicity of using their restaurants," because limited-service in the form of a drive-thru became a preferred method of food pickup in 2020, instead of what some of our culture spent years perceiving as a lazy choice. And, say some fast food business veterans, plenty of fast food items are such fan favorites that customers have been willing to fork over that spending just because the craving wins. As a former McDonald's franchise owner said: "If you like a Big Mac, you like a Big Mac."

It's reported brands like McDonald's, Chipotle, and Jersey Mike's have implemented or are currently eyeing price increases to cover expenses, with the minimum wage increase that's on the horizon as an added reason. Meanwhile, some insiders say, fast food companies have spent so much time in recent decades marketing $1 menu items and other "value" options, but COVID has caused a major shift in the landscape.

The need for drive-thru or contactless pickup has brought many higher-spending customers back to fast food for the first time in a generation, which is likely to keep restaurants vying for the "convenience" customer in a way that could eclipse the concept of fast food value.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy