It’s quick, it’s easy, it doesn’t require cooking, and it’s available nearly 24/7. Fast food is popular for all the obvious reasons. However, while these franchises often promote themselves as affordable, with food available for as little as a dollar. However, there are just plenty of fast food joints churning out equally questionable food, for an inexplicably higher price.
No one ever believed that fast food was nutritionally valuable, but back in the 1990s and early 2000s, it wasn’t a hot button issue. Around 2004, when Morgan Spurlock showcased the negative effects of overconsumption of McDonald’s meals in his film Supersize Me, the world woke up and began to pay attention.
These days, everyone wants to eat clean. Organic foods populate grocery store shelves, and gluten-free has become the most popular food tagline. Some fast food restaurants have tried to accommodate this craze. Children’s meals now tend to include apple slices instead of fries, and milk or sugar-free juice instead of a soda. For the adults, ‘healthier’ ingredients are being used to create food items that they can feel good about eating.
However, mass-producing these healthier foods costs money. Instead of grilling up hundreds of thousands of cheap frozen burger patties a day, fast food restaurants now have to make an effort to use fresh ingredients. As a result, the consumer is seeing an uptick in price for these menu items; fast food is still the lowest rung of the healthy food ladder, yet it’s getting more expensive.
The day where you could get a burger and fries for a dollar may be rapidly disappearing, but if the higher prices discourage people and shrink waistlines, it may not be so bad . These are the ten fast food franchises with items more expensive than the rest.
Wendy’s is a burger restaurant akin to McDonald’s or Burger King, but with a pricy twist. Since 1969, the chain has grown, with more than 6,500 locations all across the world as of 2010. Dave Thomas, the restaurant’s founder, used to promote the restaurant himself, before his death in 2002. He called the chain Wendy’s after his daughter Melinda Lou: The mascot that you still see on the restaurant’s bags, boxes, and drink cups is Melinda.
While you can get a cheap meal at McDonald’s and have to pay a bit more for Burger King, Wendy’s is the most expensive of the big three. The most inexpensive burger, Dave’s Hot ‘n Juicy 1/4 pound single burger with cheese, costs nearly $5 across all 50 states. The Baconator, Wendy’s famous bacon-loaded cheeseburger, is nearly $7.
If you want cheap, you can stick to a salad. The half-size Apple Pecan Chicken Salad is only about $5. The Right Price, Right Size menu is also considerably cheaper, but the portions are smaller too.
As fast food restaurants became more and more rampant, Subway wanted to give consumers a more nutritious dining option that was still fast. Specializing in subs and other sandwiches, Subway rose to prominence in the late 1990s through Jared Fogle, who became the restaurant’s unofficial mascot. Fogle claimed that he lost weight by eating at the chain and doing light exercise. Subway, which has existed since 1965, paid huge sums to advertisers to get the word out through Fogle.
The advertising efforts worked, as Subway was put on the map. While Fogle kept his weight down and always championed Subway, the chain eventually moved away from him. With nearly 44,000 locations worldwide as of 2014, Subway continues to grow. However, the cash in your pocket will shrink if you dine here too often.
The Footlong is arguably one of Subway’s most popular menu items, but enjoying any of the varieties like the Black Forest Ham, Meatball Marinara, Veggie Delite, and Subway Seafood Sensation will cost you between $5 and $8 per sandwich. The 6-inch sandwiches are a bit more affordable at nearly $5 each, but even the salads will put a wallop on your wallet with prices like $6 to $8 for the Spicy Italian, Monterey Chicken Melt, or Roast Beef Salad.
8. Chipotle Mexican Grill
A cult classic, Chipotle Mexican Grill prides itself on its quality ingredients that are locally sourced and organic. The chain has existed since 1993, but it experienced a sharp rise in popularity, and it even expanded outside of the United States last year. Currently, you can find about 1,700 restaurants internationally as of 2014.
As mentioned, the better ingredients that go into your fast food, the more that you end up paying for it. While dining at Chipotle, don’t expect a burrito for less than $7 or $8, even if you just add steak or chicken. The price doesn’t change if you forego meat entirely. The addition of chips or guacamole is nearly $2 each respectively, but you can combine the two for a little over $3. If you decide to unwind with an alcoholic beverage, it will increase your bill anywhere between nearly $4 for a beer and nearly $8 for a Patron margarita.
A little more upscale than McDonald’s but classified as fast food all the same, Fuddruckers has been whipping up fresh burgers and fries since 1979 in the Houston, Texas area. There’s a far smaller amount of these franchises compared to other chains on this list; nearly 200 total as of 2011 in countries like Saudi Arabia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Canada, and of course the US.
Still, what you get in restaurant and food quality you lose in cheap prices. The Original Fudds burger, which boasts a hefty 1/3 pound patty, costs about $6. The cheapest item on the menu for adults is the Ultimate Bacon Grilled Cheese for about $5 or $7, which may not satisfy you if you came in to Fuddruckers looking for a burger. Some sandwiches, like the 1/2 pound the Works Burger, the 1/2 pound Southwest Burger, and the 1/2 pound BBQ Burger are all nearly a whopping $10 each. You’ll pay extra for any exotic menu items, like the elk, kobe, or buffalo burgers, which are all nearly $11 and up.
Even if you try to eat healthier and grab a salad, these will still set you back about $8 or $9. With such high prices, you may want to skip sides like the $4 large sweet potato fries or the $5 large chili cheese fries.
6. Firehouse Subs
Firehouse Subs is the place to go for sandwiches with a kick. Not only can you find hot sandwiches here, but the subs are also fired up with some spiciness for a thrilling dining experience. The chain has been in business since 1994; it’s named Firehouse Subs because founders Chris and Robin Sorensen had careers as firefighters before switching over to work in the restaurant industry.
With about 700 spots to dine in Puerto Rico and the US as of 2013, it’s no wonder that Firehouse Subs has earned awards from the National Restaurant Association and KPMG. However, before you sink your teeth into a hot sub, take a look at the menu.
For most sandwiches, the medium version costs about $7 and the large about $9. This doesn’t matter if you order the Firehouse Meatball sandwich, the New York Steamer, the Hook & Ladder, or the Sweet & Spicy Meatball sub. Some large sandwiches, like the Turkey Bacon Ranch or the Firehouse Hero, are nearly $10 each.
A few of the lighter subs are better for your health and your bank account. Clocking in at 500 calories or below, the Hook & Ladder Light is about $6 while the Sriracha Beef, Momma’s Homemade Chicken Salad, the Turkey Salsa Verde, and the Capt. Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Grilled Chicken are all about $7 each. For that last one though, you’ll certainly need a drink, which is affordable at a price of about $2 to $3.
Arby’s is another sandwich joint that serves Reuben’s, roast beefs, Philly cheese steaks, turkey club sandwiches, and more. Since you’re not eating your average frozen beef patty that’s grilled up and slapped between two buns, you end up paying more for it. Still, Arby’s has garnered a pretty good following and has more than 3,400 locations as of 2013 since opening in 1964. You can find an Arby’s in countries like Qatar and Turkey as well as Canada and the US.
When you walk into your local Arby’s, the sandwich prices differ. The single sandwiches aren’t too much of a strain, as a small roast beef is about $4 and a small Beef n’ Cheddar will ring up at about $5. However, most consumers also want a drink and a side, and it’s the combos that really hurt at Arby’s. While that small roast beef sandwich is $4, the combo meal is nearly $7, which is practically doubled. By the time you get up to the biggest roast beef sandwich on Arby’s menu, you’re paying about $10 for a combo meal. That’s pretty painful.
While the Snack ‘n Save menu includes items between $2 to $4, these small sandwiches, chips, fries, and drinks are all meant to be consumed as a snack rather than a meal. Still, doubling up on a cheap sandwich is a more financially feasible option.
4. Captain D’s
Ray Danner’s Captain D’s restaurant (the “D” is for Danner), has been in operation since 1969 when the first location opened in Tennessee. As a fast food seafood joint, you already know that you’re going to be paying an extra bit of money. Of course, with franchises like McDonald’s and Burger King serving up fish dishes, chains like Captain D’s have even more competition than just Long John Silver’s.
This time, you’re paying more money for the quality of fish. While you never know just what kind of seafood goes into those Fillet-O-Fish meals, at Captain D’s, you can get catfish, shrimp, crab, tilapia, and more. Even land lovers can order dishes like chicken.
There are nearly 530 different Captain D’s locations in the US as of 2015. The prices are steep though, as two pieces of batter-dipped fish will ring up to nearly $8 and adding one more piece of fish increases the price to $9. The feasts and platters are also where the prices get dicey. A deluxe seafood platter is nearly $11, as is a catfish feast. To feed the whole family, have at least $26 on hand for a 10-piece box of fish.
3. Papa Murphy’s
The fifth most popular pizza franchise, Papa Murphy’s is based out of Washington. It and Papa Aldo’s Pizza underwent a 1995 merger, and ever since then, Papa Murphy’s has picked up plenty of steam. It boasts over 1,400 restaurants in both Canada and the US as of 2015.
Papa Murphy’s differs from other pizza chains in that you have a degree of control over how cooked that your pie is. You order the type of pizza you want, including the crust type, sauce flavors, types of cheese, and toppings, and then you bring it home and thaw it out in your oven. You can load up on Papa Murphy’s pizzas and have one available for a busy night.
However, that convenience does come at a price. Most pizzas on the menu don’t cost less than $14 to $15, whether you choose original or thin crust and whether you go for minimal toppings or you want vegetables or meats on your pie. The Gourmet Delite pizzas, which Papa Murphy’s prepares with artisan thin crust, are actually a better value at $14 to $18 a pop. You can enjoy such flavors as Herb Chicken Mediterranean, Angus Steak & Roast Garlic, Thai Chicken, and Chicken Bacon Artichoke.
2. Long John Silver’s
Another fast food fish franchise, Long John Silver’s is probably one of the most well-known seafood chains out there. Considering that there’s more than 8,400 international locations as of 2015, it’s easy to see why. The restaurant got its start in 1969 in Kentucky and is sometimes co-branded with Taco Bell or Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC restaurants.
Long John Silver’s offers a variety of seafood, including shrimp, cod, and clams at some locations. You may even be able to enjoy clam chowder or fish tacos in some states. The chain is also known for its yummy hushpuppies side dish. However, you certainly get what you pay for here. A basic platter, which can include various pieces of shrimp or chicken, fish or chicken, or even fish, shrimp, and chicken, all costs between $10 and $12. Even individual meals, such as three pieces of chicken, eight pieces of shrimp, or two pieces of fish are a little expensive at $8 to $10.
You’re better off ordering a combo that includes a drink and hushpuppies. You can get two pieces of fish with those sides for about $8 and six pieces of shrimp with the same sides for about $9.
1. Panera Bread
If you don’t have a lot of time to eat but you want more upscale fast food, then Panera Bread is the perfect stop for you. With pastas, sandwiches, soups, baked goods, and salads on the menu, there’s something for everyone here. Since 1981, Panera Bread has expanded to have more than 1,800 locations as of 2014.
As you can imagine, with so many different types of menu items, the prices can escalate pretty rapidly. All signature panini half-sandwiches cost between $7 to $10, including options like the Tomato and Mozzarella, Smokehouse Turkey, Chipotle Chicken, and Steak and White Cheddar. Whole sandwiches are priced higher at $8 to $11. The signature sandwiches and the cafe sandwiches from the chain will ring up about the same.
The pasta dishes can really surprise when it comes time to pay for your meal. Small portions of the Chicken Sorrentina Pasta, Butternut Squash Ravioli, or Pesto Sacchettini cost between $8 to $10 for a small. Larger portions start at $11 and up. Even a large mac and cheese is overpriced at $8 to $10.
The salads aren’t much better. You’ll be charged about $11 for a whole serving of leafy greens, whether you choose the Steak and Blue Cheese Salad, the Chicken Cobb with Avocado, or the Shrimp Caesar Salad. The cafe salads are a bit more affordable at about $7, but even that’s a lot to get your veggies.