The 7 Most Expensive Fast Food Chains, According To Customers – Fast food is not as cheap as it used to be. In fact, prices in fast food restaurants look more like what we’re used to seeing on casual dining menus. And whether due to inflation, material shortages, or rising labor costs, higher costs are passed on to consumers. So when you pay more, many fast food chains report increased profits and customers report overpriced food.
But there’s such a thing as being overpriced, especially when the quality of the food doesn’t seem to keep up with the ever-increasing prices. Customers frustrated with the value they are getting at the popular fast food chain aired their grievances on Reddit, TikTok and on social media. And according to them, this chain is currently the biggest culprit of overpriced fast food.
Panera is technically a fast-casual chain, so while customers expect a bit more than they do at McDonald’s, they also expect to get a lot more for the price. More and more customers are reporting that Panera is not delivering on that promise. This year, in particular, customers have criticized the chain for its “overpriced hospital food” and small portions. Someone complained on Reddit, “I ordered the grilled cheese and soup and pasta duo for $15-18 and it wasn’t even filling.”
Workers even chimed in on Panera’s Reddit page to ask customers not to blame them for the price increases. “They have consistently raised their prices every 3 months for years. With little or no pay increase for veteran workers,” said one. “Company says to let customers know their side is free and if a customer asks about a price increase, we quote an increase in the cost of healthy ingredients,” explained another.
McDonald’s has always been a major stalwart in the fast food industry that fans will continue to turn to no matter what. Companies know this and they are betting on it. Because even though McDonald’s reported an average US price increase of about 10% year-over-year for Q3 2022—and fans are already starting to notice it—they seem to be sticking around.
However, that could change as chatter about costs inevitably increases. Late last year, a Reddit user shared a photo of the receipt asking: “When did Mcdonald’s get so expensive?” Another Reddit thread follows fans outraged that the price of Big Macs has risen by more than 40% over the past decade. Other fans have taken to social media to complain about rising prices and increased profits for the company. Workers even experienced harassment over price increases.
Chipotle is another chain that hears customer outrage but feels no fire. The average burrito bowl has increased from $7.65 in 2020 to just over $10 today. The 20% increase in costs does not go over the head of the customer. But while customers are fed up, the price increase hasn’t affected Chipotle’s profits.
Despite another increase in October of 2-3% in many locations, the company has yet to see that increase hurt the chain’s reputation with consumers. Although some outlets suggest that the tide may be turning for the chain and that may have driven up the prices too much. A recent viral TikTok shows a man looking annoyed with a burrito bowl that costs nearly $21. The comments were littered with sympathizers who decried the chain’s skimpy portions and expensive extras.
If there’s one food that customers universally agree should be cheap, it’s pizza. But customers say Pizza Hut’s higher prices just aren’t worth it. One Redditor asked, “When did Pizza Hut get so expensive?! ” Well-wishers point the hungry man either to the coupons or to Domino’s. “That’s the standard price,” said one. “Go to dominos and order a large specialty pizza without a coupon.”
These days, a large pepperoni pizza costs more at a chain than at Papa John’s or Domino’s. And the discrepancy wasn’t lost on this customer, who said, “That sure makes it hard to choose Pizza Hut over Domino’s when you can do a big 3-topping from Domino’s for $7.99. Pizza Hut charges $10.99 for 1 large topping.”
However, the Melts Pizza Hut lineup can change brand perception. During the chain’s most recent earnings call executives pointed to this handheld pizza in October as a big driver of its recent sales. Pizza Hut fans who don’t want to shell out for a whole pie can spend $6.99 for one of the Melts.
While the initial concept of Five Guys took off as fast food establishments began to compete fiercely with traditional fast food chains, customers soon grew tired of the burger joint’s prices.
Some customers pay as much as $20 at their local Five Guys for a regular cheeseburger, a regular fry, and a regular sized drink. While prices vary between locations, a common complaint is that the price tag feels more appropriate for a diner than a fast food burger joint.
Five Guys cites the high cost of keeping food fresh, which it says is never frozen (the company doesn’t have freezers on site.) In addition, its large portion sizes, especially its fries (which are enough for two people), free toppings, and the fact that it’s using peanut oil instead of cheaper substitutes for frying, is all the reasons for the prices seen on the menu.
While high standards are a component of whether customers choose to frequent a business, Five Guys seems to be thinking about a balancing act between value and quality.
Sonic has yet to win over customers with discounted meals and value meals. While the chain does feature plenty of promotions on its app and has frequent happy hour specials, it still struggles to keep up with McDonald’s $1 $2 $3 Menu or Wendy’s $5 Dollar Biggie Bag.
As of now, Sonic’s regular Cheeseburger Combo with medium drink and tots costs about a dollar more than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal. Also, fast food franchises have a tipping option on their app, something that most of the other chains don’t have. Whether the customer decides to add a gratuity is up to them, of course, but if they do, the meal can cost another $1-$2 dollars, bringing the total combo to over $10.
Add to that customer complaints that the chain has taken a hit in quality—the price point just doesn’t look good. According to one Redditor, “The other day I just stared at the menu how expensive everything is and the cheapest thing on the menu where I live in NY is a pretzel with cheese for $1.99.”
New York-based Shake Shack has become a cult favorite with a huge following since it began expanding in 2014. Considering itself a “quick-casual” rather than a “fast-casual” crowd, most customers realize they’ll be spending a bit more on the Shake Shack. than at a typical grab-and-go place.
With an air of deliberate excellence in service and food quality, Shake Shack is not trying to be McDonald’s. The brand focuses on sourcing premium ingredients and meat from farms that report ethical and humane practices in food production. Shake Shack beef has no antibiotics, or added hormones, and does not come from animals that have been fed animal by-products.
However, the chain is on the unfavorable end of inflation. In just one year, pork and beef prices have gone up 14% to 20%, he said CNBC, which leads to price increases.
Some customers have complained about paying too much at the chain. Shake Shack is increasing its menu prices several times in 2022. It is raising prices on some menu items by as much as 10%, but on others it is increasing rates by just 2%, following a general price increase of 3.5% in early spring.
With skyrocketing prices, some customers feel the quality of the food is not up to par. One Redditor said, “Too expensive for what you get. IMO Culver’s is the better deal.”
A previous version of this article was published in April 2022. It has been updated with new information.