78 Percent of Americans Believe Fast Food Is a Luxury, New Data Shows

Rachel Acenas
By Rachel Acenas
May 25, 2024US News
78 Percent of Americans Believe Fast Food Is a Luxury, New Data Shows
The McDonald's logo is seen outside a restaurant in Washington, on July 9, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)

Most Americans now consider fast food a luxury and eat out less often, according to data recently published by Lending Tree.

The online business platform asked more than 2,000 American adults about their views and behaviors around fast food and how they have changed amid high prices. The survey found that rampant inflation has forced many people to reassess their spending habits and curb their cravings.

According to the survey, 78 percent of consumers said that they view fast food as a luxury because it has become increasingly expensive.

“For generations, fast food has been a quick, low-cost, convenient way for budget-watching Americans to feed their family on busy school nights, after a long day of work or even when no one feels like cooking but you don’t want to break the bank,” Lending Tree financial analyst Matt Schultz said in a statement.

“We know it isn’t the healthiest choice for us physically, but it could sometimes serve an important purpose financially for busy families living paycheck to paycheck and trying to make ends meet. However, inflation is changing that,” he added.

Three-quarters of Americans told Lending Tree that they still eat fast food at least once a week, while 62 percent of survey respondents say that rising prices are forcing them to eat fast food less often. Additionally, 65 percent of Americans have experienced sticker shock over high fast food bills in the past six months.

Residents in California have particularly felt sticker shock following a new state law that boosted the hourly minimum wage for fast food workers from $16 to $20. California raised prices by 10 percent at 70 fast food chains, based on an analysis by market research firm Datassential.

As a result of rising costs, more Americans are choosing to eat at home: 67 percent agree that fast food should be cheaper than eating at home, but 75 percent believe that is no longer the case anymore, according to the new data.

The Consumer Price Index report showed inflation easing in April, but consumer prices, including for fast food, are still significantly higher than before the coronavirus outbreak. For example, a McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich has more than doubled to $8.28 from the cost of $3.99 back in 2019, according to data published by online tracker Fast Food Menu Prices.

Nationwide, companies are now looking to focus on offering better promotions and deals to improve traffic. McDonalds and Burger King recently announced they would be launching $5 meals as they scramble to attract customers.

The Lending Tree data also revealed that people with lower household incomes are especially feeling the financial squeeze. But even higher-income Americans are eating less fast food: 52 percent of those surveyed who make $100,000 or more a year say they have curbed their fast food spending.

Additionally, amid high costs, companies have been asking for tips to bring in extra revenue. The platform’s survey found that 44 percent of respondents have been asked to tip at a fast-food restaurant in the past six months.

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