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This week, McDonald's officially rolls out their premium "espresso-based beverages" that have been pilot testing for a number of weeks around the country. My media source tells me the selection includes "Cappuccinos, Lattes, Mochas, Iced Lattes and Iced Mochas, as well as hot and iced Premium Roast brewed coffees and hot chocolate."

I am not a coffee drinker, so someone will have to let me know how these are and how the compare to beverages from that other fancy coffee place. meanwhile, McDonald's is running an online contest and sweepstakes at www.mcdonalds.com/mccafe for a chance to win a $50,000 Visa Gift card and other prizes. So check it out.

 

 

When Carl's Jr. rolled out their Six Dollar Burgers in the mid '90's they marketed them as the same burger that would cost you about $6 at a sit down restaurant (like Chili's). And the name was catchy because these big, bountiful burgers only set you back about three bucks. But as with everything else, the price of these burgers continued to creep up toward their namesake. In fact, the new Kentucky Bourbon Burger made its debut at a $5 price point.

 

Granted, the value for what I don't deny is a quality burger has stayed consistent relative to the counterparts at Chili's, TGI Fridays, et al. But maybe it's time for Carl's to start thinking about rebranding these. Honestly, when Carl's acquired Hardees, I expected back then that the $4+ Six Dollar Burgers might take on the east coast chain's "Thickburger" moniker. But nope, still Six Dollar Burgers. Which, if we stay this course, will soon carry the same marketing punch as advertising "The Dollar Forty-Nine Fries."

I decided back in February that this Easter season I would give up french fries for Lent. Not just french fries, but also french fry-related items like onion rings, tater tots, and even hash browns. That last one made Fridays even more challenging as we Catholics try not to eat meat on Fridays. So naturally, breakfast for dinner seems logical until you start removing key breakfast side items like hash browns and home fries. But I digress.

What did I learn? Giving up fries is HARD. Even I, a long time admitted fast food junkie, didn't realize how many places offer fries as the main side item. Dinners were relatively easy. I could have veggies, cole slaw, a side salad, or even a baked potato. But at lunch and especially at fast food restaurants, give up fries & onion rings and your options become severely limited. I found myself getting side salads a lot, the health advantages of which are debatable when you factor in dressing. In one case, while eating at McDonald's with friends, I ordered a side of apple slices. That was surreal. But more often, I just skipped the side altogether. That was a revelation. In an era of combo and value meals, it takes adjusted expectations to be satisfied with just a sandwich

Mexican food was great because I didn't count tortilla chips in my exclusion list. After a couple of weeks I settled into a routine where I got used to life without my fried friends. Don't get me wrong, I still missed them and counted down the days until Easter like a kid anticipating summer vacation.

So it's been a week since Easter. My first fries were from McDonald's. I figured one of the world's most popular french fries would be a good choice for the return from my fast food fried side fast. And ahhhh, it was good. But I took away something from this experience. Call it a better awareness of side item alternatives and a willingness to be content with skipping sides altogether on occasion. While not done for the health benefits, I can't help but think my cholesterol count benefitted from this experiment. All in all a satisfying experience, although it's too early to think about whether I would do it again next year!

 

Got an email from reader "Allie" who writes:

"I wanted to pass along a funny Carl’s Jr. video that features skateboarding superstar Rob Dyrdek doing various stunts in the "Happy Star" costume. Carl’s Jr. has teamed up with Dyrdek for in-store cup promotion and also charity – thanks to a generous donation from Carl’s Jr., The Rob Dyrdek/DC Shoes Skate Plaza Foundation recently opened a new skateboarding park at La Fayette Park in Los Angeles. It would be great if you could share this info and the video with your blog readers!"

Ok Allie. Consider it done. Check out more in this Carl's Jr. Social Media Release.

 

 

It was only a handful of years ago that the dollar menu (or "value menu," depending upon the restaurant) featured a long list of signature attractions. For a buck, you could get Whopper, so McDonald's retailiated with a $1 Big 'N Tasty. Over at Taco Bell, home of the ever changing pricing, a new line of sub-dollar items accompanied new creative combinations of beans, ground beef and cheese (how do they do it?!)

But as with shrinking cereal boxes and lighter bags of potato chips, so goes the fast food industry. Burger King replaced the dollar Whopper with a dollar Whopper Jr. McDonald's upped the price of the Big 'N Tasty and began pushing the $1 double cheeseburger. Taco Bell bumped the Beef Combo Burrito up from 89 cents to 99 cents to $1.29 and now, on a recent visit, an astounding $1.69. Back at McDonald's, even the aforementioned double cheeseburger was apparently too costly to offer at a dollar as last fall it was replaced with the McDouble, the exact same thing, only with one slice of cheese instead of two.

For years I have been watching the price of large fountain drinks drift teasingly toward the $2 mark. It's sort of a barometer for overall food prices the way the Big Mac index is a measure of exchange rates. There seems to be sort of psychological barrier as very few chains successfully push even their mega bucket-sized drinks above $1.99. For example, looking back at an old version of this site from way back in 2002, a large fountain drink at McDonald's was $1.59. Now it's $1.79. Of course, prices vary and I don't have portion size data, but the barrier is apparent. That's a 12.5% increase. Meanwhile, the regular cheeseburger went from .69 to .99, a 43% jump in the same period. And the same is true at other chains:

 

Item 2002 Price 2009 Price % Change
Burger King Large Drink 1.29 1.79 39%
Burger King Cheeseburger .49 (promo) .89 81%
Taco Bell Large Drink 1.39 1.89 36%
Taco Bell Chicken Soft Taco* 1.29 1.89 47%
* Rebranded as Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco

Despite the fact that fountain drinks are still a huge money maker for restaurants, how were the chains able to keep even these lower costs under control? With the introduction of self-service drink dispensing. Yes, the human cost in the time it takes an employee to fill your drink (when they could be taking the next order) caused chains to get creative.

So this begs the question: Could build-your-own-burger toppings bars be next? What about scoop-your-own-fries? Ok, maybe a bit far fetched. But barring any more creative cost cutting measures it is all but inevitable that the value menu will become "great items for under $1.25." And from there, the sky's the limit.

 

I was watching the 1979 movie Time After Time, starring Malcolm McDowell the other day and a thought crossed my mind when McDowell, as the fish out of water H.G. Wells, discovered McDonald's.


(c)1979 Orion Pictures Corp & Warner Bros.

No, it wasn't the overly perky cashier or the hustle of the pristinely-uniformed crew. No, it was this menu board:


(c)1979 Orion Pictures Corp & Warner Bros.

Take a closer look at the board and what do you see? Aside from the fact that a Big Mac was 95 cents, you'll note something big missing. Take another look. Can't tell? There are no combo meals. Ah, the golden age of the Golden Arches, when you ordered your Big Mac, fries and coke separately. Here's McDowell's character tasting his first french fry:


(c)1979 Orion Pictures Corp & Warner Bros.

He's not sure what to make of it. How did people ever survive not being able to order "a number one?" Of course, restaurants like McDonald's soon discovered that combo meals did the up-selling for them. And it wasn't long after this movie was shot that America saw its first combos and "value meals." Hot on the heels of that innovation: super-sizing, which lead to more profits along with the stigma of association with the nation's increasing waistlines.

I like looking at these pics from the innocent days. Here's another observation only a fast food geek would make. Wells places the same order as the man in front of him in line (actor Nicholas Shields, seated to McDowell's left.) They both order a Big Mac, fries, and a coke. Interestingly, McDowell gets what looks like a Filet-O-Fish foam box, while Shields' character has the proper gold-colored Big Mac container. I guess the prop guys weren't fast food geeks.

 

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Providing fast food blogs, menus, locations and other information for over80 major chains

Since 2000, Fast Food Source has been the premier independent site dedicated to fast food lovers, offering fast food restaurant menus, and nutrition information, as well as fast food blogs, articles, forums, and fast food industry news. We offer fast food location information for over 50 cities and more than 80 fast food chains.

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