Inflation has hit fast-food menus—and how! A new report from the National Restaurant Association shows that we haven’t seen prices of our favorite burgers, fries, and shakes grow this steeply in over 40 years.
Compared to the same time last year, prices at fast-food restaurants are currently more than 7% higher, part of an industry-wide increase of 6.9% in average menu prices. The 6.9% jump, which includes price growth for full-service restaurants, is the steepest increase for the restaurant industry since 1981. The decades-high increases were driven by higher costs of food and labor, according to the report, which used data collected by the National Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Many leading fast-food chains have made headlines in the past year with news of price hikes. Starbucks came under scrutiny a few months ago when it announced “pricing actions” scheduled for sometime this year, as did Chipotle last summer, when it dialed up menu prices by 4%. And the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac has mirrored industry-wide trends, growing by 7% in 2021.
Fast food getting more expensive is nothing new. The Economist has been tracking fluctuations in the price of the Big Mac for decades. But industry-wide increases in the past six months have been unusually high, according to Matthew Goodman, an analyst interviewed by The New York Times.
“In recent years, most fast-food restaurants had, maybe, raised prices in the low single digits each year,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the last six-plus months are restaurants being aggressive in pushing through prices.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, the cost of food was up 15% in February, and hourly wages for restaurant employees grew by 12.1% over the same 12-month period. Increases in overall consumer prices, meanwhile, were “largely driven by a 48.0% surge in gas prices.”
As the New York Times report points out, price hikes do not seem to have slowed sales at leading fast-food chains. Earlier this year, McDonald’s reported its highest revenue since 2016, and Chipotle beat expectations for earnings in its most recent quarter.
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