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Making the Most of a Fast Food Value Menu

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I was looking through a local paper and I came across a reprint of this article: The Secrets of the Value Menu: How Fast-Food Chains Use the Value Menu to Get You to Spend More. I've had a love affair with the Value Menu of fast food restaurants for some time. More than six years ago, I wrote about 75 words on a McDonalds commercial I saw (that was the great depth of writing you got from Lazy Man back in 2006). Two and a half years later, I wrote a much more substantial piece analyzing several restaurant value menus: Save Money with Fast Food Value Menus where I cover not only the best value option in the value menu, but also the healthiest (in my opinion, obviously) option.

Happy Fast Food

Eaaaattttt Meeeee!!! (from Big Stock's fast food image gallery)

The Secrets of the Value Menu

The article that I read in the local paper covered all the basics about how companies are trying to upsell you on their other products. What was interesting to me is that it mentioned how people have started to order tap water instead of soft drinks (smart!), but that they've started falling for $3 coffee drinks (ugh!). Not only that, but the article nicely covers the incredible shrinking value menu. It specifically mentions the switch from a double cheeseburger with two slices of cheese to a McDouble with one, which I covered previously. When I wrote about it in early 2009 the double cheeseburger was $1.29 vs. the $1.00 McDouble. This article mentions that the double cheeseburger is now up to $2.00. In 2009, I lamented about the price of a 29 cent slice of cheese. Imagine how I feel now when you could get two extra patties and two extra buns by ordering two McDoubles for the same price as a double cheeseburger. (Are people still ordering double cheeseburgers?)

This brings me to something that I've often wondered... when do value menus based around dollar pricing outright die? At some point commodity prices are going to eat further and further into McDoubles until they have to be smaller and smaller for McDonalds to still make money. I suppose they could raise the price of the value menu, but then the "Dollar Menu" would no longer be aptly named. It seems like the unlimited data plans of cell phone companies that simply are not built to stand the test of time.

I suppose McDonalds could use the Dollar Menu as a loss leader to get people to buy higher margin drinks and fries. It's not too much different than what they do today, except that they'd lose money on cheapskates frugally awesome people like me who have a drink in the car and skip the fries.

If fast food places start losing money on value menus because people aren't buying the upsale items, they will surely die. So on second thought, go have that McLatte Grande.

The Obligatory Message about Health and Fast Food Value Menus

We all recognize that the value menu items at fast food places is a "sometimes food", right? I'm not advocating some kind of burger diet devoid of healthy fruits and vegetables. I don't believe in that.

However, as a practical measure, there are times when you are going to be on the road and hungry. Perhaps you didn't plan ahead to put a nutrition bar in your car's glove compartment. (Wait, you are all smart enough to do that, right?) Perhaps you just want something hot for lunch. Perhaps you have limited time and you are willing to pay for convenience. Perhaps you just want to put around 400 calories in your system and McDonalds McDouble is good fit under the right circumstances.

Side note: I have to include this section because the ViSalus and MonaVie distributors like to read posts like this this and spread propaganda that I'm against healthy foods as some kind of justification for ignoring my posts about their pyramid schemes.

Posted on October 31, 2012.

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7 Responses to “Making the Most of a Fast Food Value Menu”

  1. Tommy Z says:

    I think the next “step” in the dollar menu is to require a purchase of some other high margin item to get the “privileged” of ordering off the dollar menu.

    For example, McDonald’s may say in order to get $1 menu pricing, you must also order a soft drink with your meal – or something to that effect.

  2. Michael says:

    I think you’ve already seen a shift away from the ‘dollar’ menu to the ‘value’ menu. I remember Wendy’s used to have a ton of stuff on their ’99 cent’ menu and here in Michigan, people would talk about getting the $4.20 meal, which was four items at 99 cents each plus 24 cents state sales tax, totaling $4.20. Now, they still have many of the same items on the same spot on the menu but they vary in price, and the $4.20 meal is all but impossible. It’s not a matter of when the commodity prices cause a shift, because it’s been happening all along.

    As far as the McDouble, I’m fine with one slice of cheese. Of course I remember one time before the McDouble came out, I went through the drive through and ordered a double cheeseburger, got home and there was a sandwich with two slices of cheese and one patty. Talk about taking it to the extreme :)

  3. Steve says:

    It’s not a slam dunk that a “nutrition bar” is really much more nutritious than a hamburger. And it may not be much cheaper.

    • Lazy Man says:

      I presume that you plan ahead enough to pick a nutrition bar that is nutritious. If you can find one kind that’s all you really need, right?

      True they might not be cheaper. It seems that most of them are a dollar like an item on the dollar menu.

      Actually, I prefer to have some mixed nuts and dried fruit around. It lasts nearly forever and gives you a good mix of protein, healthy fats, and hey who is against dried fruit?

  4. robyn says:

    the real purpose of roadstop fast food is CLEAN RESTROOMS. which may not matter to a guy as much as to a female or a parent with small child. the 2nd major function is a place to stop and let your kids run around after being int he car for a few hours. easier than looking for a park, safer [you don’t have to worry about traffic or getting lost] and restrooms with running water. i must have driven from ny to fl 30 times when my kids were little, fastfood made it possible. did we eat the stuff? bought a coffee or an unsweet tea, a salad, whatever. the food was the price for using the facility.

  5. Meghan says:

    4.20 meal – ha!
    I’m a sucker for the diet cokes. McDonalds will still give you a large for $1. There’s a gas station chain (forget which one) that has them for $0.79. So bad for me but so tasty!

    • Lazy Man says:

      Yeah getting that large for $1 is a pretty good value in comparison to what other restaurants are charging. If you eat in, you can get a couple of fills of it too. However, I’m trying to cut back on my Diet Coke.

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