Nearly 80% of Americans now consider fast food a 'luxury' due to high prices

Has a trip through the drive-through become an extravagance? The vast majority of Americans say so.

A recent nonprobability survey conducted by LendingTree found 78% of consumers now consider fast food to be a "luxury" purchase due to how expensive the meals have become.

Half of those polled said they view fast food as a luxury because they’re struggling financially. This is especially true among Americans who make less than $30,000 a year (71%), parents with young children (58%), and Gen Zers (58%).

Americans love their fast food, but a majority say they are pulling back on their consumption due to high prices. The findings show 3 out of 4 Americans typically eat fast food once a week, but 62% of respondents said they are eating it less frequently due to the cost.

RELATED: McDonald's menu hikes: McDouble up 168%, McChicken 200% in 10 years

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed agreed fast food should be cheaper than eating at home, but 75% say that is not the case. Nearly half of Americans (46%) say a meal at a fast-food restaurant costs about the same as one at their local sit-down restaurants, and 22% said fast food is actually more expensive.

Fast-food price hikes have outpaced inflation in recent years. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the cost of fast-food meals is up 41% from 2017, while the consumer price index has risen by 35.9%.


A worker helps a customer at a Burger King restaurant on May 08, 2024 in San Rafael, California.

Columnist Dan O'Donnell of the free market think tank the MacIver Institute wrote in a blog post on Thursday that prices on "basic items like McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Chick-fil-A nuggets have risen as much as 200% in less than five years with dire consequences for the lower- and middle-class families who make up much of the fast food customer base."

"Fast food patrons are generally lower-income earners — many with young children — who rely on a quick, affordable meal before soccer practice or a band concert," O'Donnell wrote. "When prices at these restaurants spike from $35-$40 for a family meal to $65-$70 in just a few years, those families either have to sacrifice a night out or extend themselves just a little further to afford it."

In the LendingTree survey, when asked about their go-to for an easy, inexpensive meal, 56% of respondents cited making food at home. And that is exactly what more people are doing.

Global restaurant chains such as McDonald's and Starbucks have seen lower-income customers opting to eat more meals at home amid a cost-of-living crisis, prompting the companies to offer steeper promotions in an attempt to lure customers back.

This week, Wendy's rolled out a $3 budget-friendly breakfast meal, and McDonald's is planning a $5 combo meal in June. Both offerings will be for a limited time.