Tricky American fast food restaurants

There’s been a lot of changes in America’s fast-food restaurants as of late, some good and some not so great. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend my life in the drive-thru lane. But between trips I’ve taken myself and being exposed to some of the changes on TV, I’ve noticed quite a few fast food joints are moving in similar directions.

The brilliant move is the addition of dollar or “value” menus (does this imply that their other items aren’t of value?). In this economy, it seems that the value menus are just the smart way to go. More and more fast food places have gone from pushing their value meals that come with some ginormous sandwich, fries and a drink to pushing their value menus. These have items that cost anywhere from 99 cents to about $1.50 per item. You can get usually some sort of smaller sandwich, small order of fries and usually a small drink, side salad and a small dessert. Of course for the taco joints, the menus include small tacos, burritos, small desserts, nacho chips, etc. From what I can remember, the places in our area that now have a dollar or value menu now include: McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Sonic, KFC, Dairy Queen and Taco Bueno.

I love this option. It makes so much more sense for two groups of people: those who are on a tight budget and for those of us with smaller appetites or stomachs. It makes more sense for fast places to move to this option because if they can keep customers loyal using the value menu, they can possibly entice them to get the bigger, more expensive items.

I use this value menu option a lot when I go out to eat and I not only save money, but I am able to get food that is more “Jamie size” as my husband puts it. In other words, I have an easy way of getting smaller portions that are more gastric bypass friendly. I find this especially useful at places such as Sonic, which now offers a “small” tater tot instead of the “regular.” I’m also able to get a small chicken sandwich there that is made from chicken strips instead of an entire, huge chicken patty.

While I applaud restaurants for making more value menu options, they have also made a change I find both annoying and a little hypocritical. A growing number of places have changed their sizes and their meal options so that you get more, but you also pay more. What used to be a medium drink (22 ounce), for example, is now a small. What used to be a large (32 ounce) is now a medium. The much criticized “super size” or “bed wetter” size (44 ounce) is now the large in a lot of places. The same goes for the fries. The fast food places have of course raised the price on a so-called large drink or whatever, but the percent of increase in price is more than the percent increase in product. This is a keen way of making more money by offering people more product but charging them even more to get it. People don’t really notice, I think, because they just see that they are getting a larger amount for the name of a smaller amount.

While I’m not crazy about the whole cost raising thing, that’s not what I find hypocritical. Lots of fast food places had gotten rid of their huge sizes, all in the name of helping people make healthier decisions. Now they are bringing those sizes back but just calling them something different. You might be saying that people aren’t stupid, they could see through that. I’m not so convinced. I think it’s just a way that people can convince themselves that they aren’t eating that much….”hey, I’m just eating a small fry!” Forget the fact that it’s what a few months ago would have been considered a medium.

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