Many fast-food chains pride themselves on offering quality food at affordable prices with instant service—and, of course, the best deals for consumers. But who truly reigns as the King of Value, offering the cheapest fast food meals? From burger drive-throughs to pizza joints, let's look at some of the most affordable fast-food brands in the United States, along with a determination of which one really is the most reasonably priced.
The McDonald's logo is one of the most easily recognizable corporate symbols throughout the world. The highly popular franchise has many menu items, as they serve up specials for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—not to mention plenty of snack options for anyone who is hungry in between.
McDonald's (MCD) got a name for being among the most affordable fast-food chains around the turn of the 21st century due to its Dollar Menu, where everything—as the name implied—would only set you back a buck. Alas, times change. In 2017, McDonald's instituted a $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu—but today the only things on it nationwide are sodas of any size and small coffee drinks; in 2019, the company started letting their local branches choose what to put on it, so there's a lot of variation. Still, McDonald's overall offers many options that help keep dining costs low. Occasionally, McDonald's will run promotions offering soft drinks for $1, or 2 breakfast sandwiches for just $3. These deals keep luring hungry consumers toward the golden arches.
Another fast food chain that keeps costs low while giving their customers top value is Little Caesars. The pizza chain offers "Hot-N-Ready" pizza for as low as $6.49 a pie as of 2021, in comparison with its direct competition at Pizza Hut and Papa John's, which offer large pizzas from $10-$12 each. While the menu at Little Caesars may not offer as many options as its direct competitors, the cost factor certainly gives it an advantage.
Taco Bell is an industry leader that offers rock-bottom pricing on many menu items, including its chips and cheese sauce and tacos for $1 each as of 2021. The value gets a little watered down, however, when you consider that most people will order more than just one taco. But in comparison with other fast food vendors that sell Mexican-inspired menu options, Taco Bell is definitely a good choice that won't overly impact your bottom line.
Another fast food chain that offers a value menu along with reasonably priced meals is Wendy's. Some of Wendy's lowest-priced menu options appearing on its "Biggie Deals" and "Meal Deals," include a $0.99 Jr. cheeseburger and the 4 for $4 which includes a sandwich, chicken nuggets, fries and a drink combo. While Wendy's isn't necessarily known for any sandwich in particular, it are known for their low prices, and that, along with taste, is what keeps customers coming back for more.
Is Burger King the king of fast food? The fast food giant is definitely up against some steep competition for the title. Similar to McDonald's and Wendy's, Burger King offers a BK Value Menu with a long list of items that are both filling and inexpensive. In addition to the value menu, Burger King also has a hearty menu of combo meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as many snack items and beverages. In comparison with many other fast food chains, Burger King's value lies in how filling many of its value menu options are. Consumers could easily satisfy a hearty appetite with just a few dollars.
The Bottom Line
While each of the fast food chains examined above have its own set of advantages, there is one clear champion of the drive-through in terms of cost and value. While many fast food restaurants offer value menus, none trump McDonald's in terms of value. The fast food giant has many menu items that sell for just $1 each, in addition to many combo meals and frequent promotions for discounted sandwiches, drinks and more. While Burger King and Wendy's are following right on the heels of McDonald's, they aren't as highly ranked because their promotions don't quite measure up to what McDonald's offers. Regardless of which fast food restaurant is your favorite, the five restaurants listed are among your best bets when looking for a deal on your next meal.