Who has the best fast food value menu?
By Mike Thayer
I recently did a fast food value meal challenge, challenging myself to eat nothing but fast food value meals for a week with a budget of just $50.
Were there enough restaurants out there offering value meals that fit in that budget? Was there enough variety? Did I stay full enough, no snacking between meals?
While that challenge started out well enough, it ended in epic fail. I didn't blow the budget, but I did find that there really weren't enough restaurants offering enough meal choices, nor was there enough variety. The options were few. And yes, as a result, there was snacking between meals. Eating just a small salad for lunch for example made sense for the budget, but it didn't make sense to the stomach.
I purchased 21 meals during the course of this challenge - a standard breakfast, lunch, dinner thing - eating at 14 different restaurants. I could have broadened the variety of meals and options by eating at regional fast food chain restaurants, but my focus was on just the nationally recognized joints.
So what restaurants have the best and worst value meal menus?
Let's start with the worst.
14. QuikTrip: Some would argue that QuikTrip does not qualify as a Fast Food joint, but I say it does. It's a convenience store with a kitchen, it doesn't get much more 'fast food' than that. QuikTrip's menu is affordable, but it's also the worst food of the lot, or what they do decently, often isn't available. Their 'Hotzi' breakfast sandwiches and burritos are dry and sit in the warming bin longer than they should. QuikTrip says they make food to order, but that's not the case more often than not. All meal options are available here, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eat here as a last resort. If you refueled your vehicle and the stomach is growling, grab a bag of chips to tide you over until you can find a better place to feed.
13. Arby's: The Roast Beef King of fast food doesn't have a value meal menu, but you can take advantage of the limited time offers. The restaurant is always running a two sandwiches for $5 or $6 kind of deal. There's a downside to that though. Arby's does roast beef really well, other meats or fish...... not so much..... Of the nationally recognized fast food chains, this restaurant is one of the more expensive ones. Arby's serves up lunch and dinner, breakfast is only available at select locations.
12. Popeyes: Comparable to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeye's also features fried chicken but unlike KFC, has fish options on the menu as well. * Popeye's doesn't have any kind of value meal on their board, but does currently offer a $5 Shrimp Tacklebox which comes with eight butterfly shrimp, a regular side, biscuit and cocktail sauce. Next month, the 'box' might feature some kind of chicken instead of shrimp. I'm not a fan of Popeye's, I'd rather have KFC. They serve lunch and dinner. *In March, the company discontinued its seafood menu at most locations, offering those items now only at select locations.
11. Chick-fil-A: They specialize in chicken, period. That's no surprise right? The name says all you need to know..... It's good chicken too, but they have no value meal to speak of. They really don't run any special offers either. You can find some inexpensive items on their lunch and dinner menus but Chick-fil-A does run on the higher end of fast food pricing. Their breakfast menu is competitive though and you can get meals cheaper than the listed menu price by using their coupons and promo codes, downloadable online. Chick-fil-A serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
10. Hardee's: Of the burger joints, Hardee's has the worst value menu with a total of just eight options with two of those items being over $4.50. Their 'Red Burrito' menu is competitively priced, but then again, if I'm in the mood for Mexican, I'm going to go to a taco joint. My favorite sandwich is the classic Ham & Cheese priced at about $4.50 for just the sandwich and I recently enjoyed the Frisco Burger, but overall Hardee's is NOT a go-to place if you're looking for a value meal. Hardee's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
9. Wendy's: Meal deals at Wendy's is a focus on '4 for $4'. You get four items for $4, a sandwich, chicken nuggets, small fries and a drink. It's a pretty fair deal but then again, you're limited to a sandwich, chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink. Wendy's has other low priced items like a baked potato, a small bowl of chili and some salads, but overall, their value menu is a bit limited and there's really not much variety to it. Wendy's doesn't serve breakfast, only lunch and dinner.
8. Dunkin Donuts: They don't have a value menu, but their entire menu is competitively priced and you can spend less than $5 on the breakfast menu and walk to your table with a very good morning meal. They serve breakfast anytime too, even for lunch or dinner. The Egg and Cheese Wake Up Wraps are pretty darn tasty and as a result of this challenge, I'll be eating at Dunkin Donuts more often!
7. KFC: If you're in the mood for chicken, this is the place to go. Their $5 Fill Ups Menu is pretty good, if you're in the mood for chicken and there's the Colonel's Value Menu with some budget-minded items all under $3 featuring yes, you guessed it, chicken. Make no bones about it (pun intended), KFC specializes in chicken and they do it well. That's the only downside really to KFC, you're limited to options of chicken. The upside to that is they do chicken better than most everybody else. They serve lunch and dinner. The chain is currently experimenting with breakfast menus overseas.
6. Sonic: I'm not really a fan of drive-up eating, but Sonic deserves some kudos here, they have a menu with a lot of variety featuring something to please just about anyone. If you're into hotdogs, you'll really like Sonic and the prices for sides are very reasonable as well. Overall the prices on the entire menu are budget friendly and it's filled with options. It's too bad Sonic is such a fair weather restaurant, because they have a menu that competes with any other fast food joint. All meal options are available here, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
5. Subway: The sub sandwich shop is currently offering their $5 foot long deal on selected sandwiches at participating restaurants. That's a great deal because that's really two meals. Even the six inch sandwich option is reasonably priced with many choices at around $4. I contend you feel fuller eating a six inch sub vs. a tiny cheeseburger and fries for about the same price and you can put a lot of variety between two pieces of bread at this place. Subway serves all three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, but their breakfast prices run higher than most of the fast food competition.
4. Dairy Queen: You can eat well at DQ for lunch, taking advantage of their $5 buck lunch. This offering features your choice of Three-Piece Chicken Strips, Deluxe Cheeseburger or their A.1. Bacon Cheeseburger. You also get crispy fries, a 21 oz drink and a sundae for dessert. You can upgrade your sundae to a small Blizzard treat for $1 more. The downside to that price is that it's limited to lunch, only offered from 11am - 4pm. You can find some decent items on their combo menu (entree includes fries and a drink) for under $4. They don't have an official value menu, but the prices are reasonable and the food is quite good. Dairy Queen is another restaurant I'll be eating at more often as a result of this challenge. DQ serves breakfast (did you know that?), lunch and dinner.
3. Burger King: They have a decent variety on their value menu, burgers, chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, fries, onion rings, apple pie, ice cream and more. The most expensive item on their value menu is the Bacon Double Cheeseburger, a bit over $2. Their dessert menu is pretty decent too with all of it competitively priced. For breakfast, I'm a sucker for their Sausage, egg & cheese Croissan'wich. As the name implies, Burger King specializes in those - burgers - but they are to be considered an 'all-purpose' fast food joint with a nice variety of meal options. If you're not quite sure what you're in the mood for, Burger King is a nice Plan B. Burger King serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
2. Taco Bell: I ranked it #2 just for the sheer number of cheap eats they have. I've sampled many of them, most are decent, some just fair. They have a dozen items on their dollar 'Cravings' menu alone. Taco Bell is always running a $5 box deal of some kind featuring their latest new product offering and they have all kinds of meal deals and combos on their board that you can customize, most all in the $5 and $6 range. I like their Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, but their new venture into french fries, not so much..... Taco Bell has the most cheap eats, but you have to be in the mood for Americanized Fast Food Mexican..... It is a taco joint after all. Taco Bell serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
1. McDonald's: I have had some unpleasant dining experiences at McDonald's over the years, but they get the top ranking on the value meal chart for two reasons. Reason One: Their new 1-2-3 Dollar Menu offers the most variety and the most food value. McDonald's revamped their value meal options with the debut of the 1-2-3 Dollar Menu in January of this year and it's a good menu. Reason Two: After slipping sales resulting from customer complaints of slow/bad service and cold food, the restaurant seems to have gotten its act back together. Mickey D's finally starting listening to their customers instead of taking it's top dog status for granted. The revamped value menu includes a variety of burgers, chicken sandwiches, and a breakfast burrito. Heck, you can get a Happy Meal for just $3! The Bacon McDouble is the best $2 burger in town. During the course of my Fast Food Challenge, I ate McDonald's for seven of the 21 meals consumed, the budget I set for the challenged dictated it. If that's not an indicator of food value...... The rest of the McDonald's menu is competitively priced with perhaps the most options of any other fast food restaurant. They're still King of the Fast Food hill.
Spend Wisely My Friends.....
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