Next time you're at a fast-food restaurant and you're thinking of going with one of their "value meals" (or whatever they call them), think twice and make sure it really is a good deal.
McDonald's currently has a dollar menu where you can order a number of individual items for just one dollar. For example, you can order 4 Chicken McNuggets for $1. Get 8 for $2. 12 for $3. And so on.
One of their value meals (#10 at the McDonald's we visited) was for 10 Chicken McNuggets, an order of fries, and a soda. There were two prices listed. The lower price was $3.99. Turns out, this price is only for 10 Chicken McNuggets, and that the higher price ($6.39) includes the fries and the soda.
McDonald's is trying to sell 10 Chicken McNuggets for $4 through their value meal menu (which is, not suprisingly, front and center on their menu with big, pretty pictures of the meal), yet you can buy 8 for $2 or 12 for $3. Why would you ever buy 10 for $4? Doesn't make sense.
Value meals are quick and easy to order, and their name "value meal" (or similar) implies that they're a good deal. So it's easy to understand how consumers get tricked into ordering them. In some cases, they are good deals. But not always.
Furthermore, during this recent trip to McDonald's, we could not find the price for a hamburger, a cheeseburger or french fries anywhere on their menu. While we understand space is limited, it seemed to us like they were deliberately trying to hide the prices so you couldn't do the math to see whether it makes more sense to order a la carte or to go with a value meal.
Prices and menus at McDonald's vary by restaurant, so the above examples may not be the case elsewhere. In fact, we checked a McDonald's in another state and found different prices for the same value meals, and we also found examples where going a la carte made more sense than buying the value meal.
We don't mean to just pick on McDonald's here, as many other fast-food restaurants promote similar meal deals that aren't always the best value. But we do think it's a good idea to approach value meals at any restaurant with a bit of skepticism and make sure you're really getting a good deal.