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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.


As you probably already know, restaurants hire these people called "food stylists" to pose food items as attractively as possible for photos. That is how you get beautiful pictures like this lovely Big Mac:

When was the last time you actually received a Big Mac that looked this good? Probably never. Instead, you're more likely to open the box to find something like what I found one Saturday:

Now I am obviously a fast food nut because the sandwich pictured above looks delicious! Still, you may be entertained by a recent article in the West Virginia Surf Report which shows a long line of fast food "styled" pictures and the "reality." Check it out.


Photo Credit Burger King Website

Those of you my age might remember the Burger King "Burger Buddies" from the early '90's. These were three- and six-pack slider-style mini burgers sold by Burger King. They were great as a snack or a small meal, especially when accompanied by a Pepsi (before BK's switch to Coke.)

Well, the buddies are back and have a new name. Burger Shots. Now available in 2 and 6 packs, there is a breakfast sandwich in addition to the classic slider burger. Woo hoo! Thank you Burger King for bringing back a real winner.


My sister picked up these little beauties while in Illinois this past Christmas.


It's nice to see McDonald's spending some money to print up colorful theme items like this. I mean, it's just a bib. They could have easily just used generic ones and nobody would know what they were missing. Way to go the extra mile, McD!


I'll admit it - I am a french fry purist. I like my fries the way God intended them: fried golden brown and crispy on the outside but white and potato-y on the inside. Thin, thick, no matter. I am not partial to the cut. What I am not a fan of, however, are seasoned fries masquerading as basic french fries.

carls jr fries

Take, for instance, the most recent offender: The Carl's Jr. Natural-Cut Fries. Carl's decided to discard their superior basic fry in favor of pursuing a trend. The result, a seasoned fry that competes with, rather than complements, their line-up of mouth-watering burgers. This at a time when Carl's already had a seasoned veteran on their menu: the crisscut.

But Carl's Jr. is not the first. The trend is several years running. Burger King was the first big chain to succumb to the seasoned Siren's song. Jack In The Box also tossed a perfectly servicable fry in favor of seasoned fluff. I won't be hard on Arby's, Sonic or Checkers. I think their fries have always been seasoned. But you others - shame on you! Where is your spirit of tradition? Your patriotisim? Dare I say, your taste?

Who will be next? My list of basic fries that don't pretend to be more than fries is getting shorter all the time. Of the large nationwide chains there's still McDonald's, of course. And underrated Wienerschnitzel. And Wendy's. And Del Taco (crinkled but basic.) And some chains do offer alternatives that satisfy the fried potato urge without going into strange flavor territory (thank you Sonic tots.)

Yes, this is an opinion piece. Sure there's probably lots of market research that will tell me I am in the minority. I just hate it when a perfectly popular product is thrown away after years of dutiful service. It's like discontinuing the secret sauce at Jack In the Box in favor of mayo. What, they did that years ago? Damn.


What is Fast Food Source?

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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