Biting Back: The Rising Costs of America’s Fast Food Fixation
by Jakob Olsson
When inflation abounds and the prices of essentials rise across the country, so many of us find solace in the fact that we can still treat ourselves to a “dollar menu” item from McDonald’s. There’s comfort in binging on a budget…we get it.
Unfortunately, fast food prices are also on the rise, and we wanted to see just how much. We researched the average prices for popular fast food menu items from restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks to see how and where prices are changing in the current economy across all types of fast food chains.
- Fast food prices have increased 15.67% overall since 2015
- KFC has the highest menu item increase overall at 105.13%
- McDonald’s prices are higher in more states than any other chain
The States With the Most Severe Fast Food Price Hikes
Arkansas residents have seen the highest fast food price increases in the entire country since 2015, with the prices of burgers, fries, pizza, and the like going up by an average of 23.99%. North Dakota Dakota, Mississippi, Iowa, and South Dakota all saw massive increases of over 22% as well.
Fast food lovers in Maryland are the most insulated from price hikes, with grab-and-go restaurant prices increasing just 5.9% since 2015.
Five other states are seeing bumps of under 10% compared to eight years ago, including the following:
- New Jersey, with prices up 6.41%
- New Hampshire, with prices up 7.55%
- New York, with prices up 7.85%
- Virginia, with prices up 8.73%
- Delaware, with prices up 9.20%
On average, prices in fast food restaurants across the U.S. are 15.67% higher than they were in 2015.
Compared to other industries, this might not seem so bad, as inflation as a whole has led to all-around price increases of just under 28%. But, when you consider that cheap restaurant outings are a common way for individuals and families to treat themselves in the midst of a financial crisis, that 15.67% price bump is pretty painful.
Which Fast Food Chain Is the Most Guilty of Pushing Costs Higher?
KFC takes the cake! Out of all fast food chains in America, KFC has the highest price increase in Alaska, with the prices of those tasty chicken wings sitting a whopping 56.13% higher today than they did in 2015.
After KFC’s price spike in Alaska, McDonald’s has the highest price increases in the country in three states:
- Kentucky, with prices up 51.19%
- North Dakota, with prices up 47.38%
- Arizona, with prices up 47.36%
While KFC might have the highest single-state price spike of all, McDonald’s is actually the fast food chain that has increased its prices the most in most states: 23, to be exact.
Taco Bell and Pizza Hut have the largest price bumps in just two states each, so take-out pizza and tacos might be your best bet for saving while you splurge.
Which Fast Food Menu Items Have Jumped Up In Price the Most?
If you’re looking to #treatyoself to some fast food but don’t want to be paying inflated pricing, stay away from mashed potatoes from KFC. Of all of the single menu items from the fast food restaurants we looked at, an individual serving of mashed potatoes has the highest price bump in 27 states — a price bump of over 80% in most of those states!
In KFC’s defense, it does appear that this price hike is due to global supply chain issues related to potatoes, but still…
Wrapping Up: Is Fast Food Becoming Too Expensive?
In a word, maybe. Fast food is undoubtedly getting more expensive across the country, with the prices of some menu items having doubled in the past eight years and the average menu item price jumping by over 15% in that same time.
The question is: when will the fast food price hikes end? And more importantly, when will it no longer be possible to binge on Big Macs and still feel like we’re saving?
We used data from multiple websites to gauge 2015 fast food item costs eight years ago and in May 2023 in different states. We used representative restaurants in a few different categories, including McDonald’s for burgers and fries, KFC for chicken, Subway for sandwiches, Taco Bell for Mexican food, Pizza Hut for pizza, and Starbucks for coffee.
We looked at specific menu items for each restaurant to see how prices were changing, specifically. Those items included a Big Mac from McDonald’s, an 8-piece Chicken Meal from KFC, a 6-inch Italian BMT from Subway, a Crunchy Taco from Taco Bell, a Pepperoni Lover’s Pizza from Pizza Hut, and a Grande Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks. We also used an inflation calculator to adjust prices for inflation.
Please feel free to use our data and our infographics for any non-commercial purpose. Please link back to this page if you do to give credit to the authors and creators.