Wendy's Vs. McDonald's: How Far Will $10 Go?

Just how far does $10 go in the world of fast food? Not as far as it could, for sure, and nowhere near as far as it used to. Back in the day, you could count on the dollar menu to provide a slew of choices. Drinks, entrees, fries — they were all a dollar, and sometimes less. Now the dollar menu has become a "value" menu where prices vary, though they're usually much more than a dollar. For hungry eaters who are working within a budget, this can present challenges when lunchtime rolls around.

We wanted to know what fast food money really means these days, so we put the challenge to two of the most popular fast food restaurants in the world: Wendy's and McDonald's. The objective was to see what $10 could get you in the world of fast and easy eating. Which of these two casual dining powerhouses gets you the most enjoyment for your money? 

Rather than hoping that these two value menus overall were comparable, we opted for something a little fairer and ordered a spicy chicken sandwich meal from each venue. It turns out the differences are limited but notable. Here's what we learned.

Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich Meal Deal

Our purchase at Wendy's was the Spicy Chicken Sandwich Meal, an option from the chain's popular Meal Deal menu. The combo included a spicy chicken sandwich, a medium order of seasoned fries, and a medium Diet Coke, which weighed in at a whopping 32 ounces. It was all priced at $9.89 before tax. The meal is a substantial amount of food, especially considering that it squeaked in at under $10.00.

As part of the chicken menu, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich is one of the original items that helped establish Wendy's legacy of chicken offerings. Introduced in 1996, it's also proven itself to be the best-selling chicken sandwich for the chain, according to a 2015 press release that sang its praises. 

The sandwich on its own was priced at $5.99 at our location. The fries were $3.19 for a small order, though the Meal Deal included a medium order, and a medium Diet Coke was $1.99. Purchased a la carte, the items would have totaled $11.17 before tax. The savings for the deal come out to a modest $1.28.

McDonald's Spicy McCrispy Chicken Sandwich Meal

Other than the name and the spices, the McDonald's version of a chicken sandwich meal is almost a mirror image of the Wendy's version. This bag contains a crispy chicken sandwich, a medium order of fries, and a medium Diet Coke, all priced at $9.09 before tax. McDonald's version of a medium beverage weighs in at 21 ounces rather than Wendy's slightly larger 32 ounces. This may account for the difference in price points between the meals.

The McDonald's chicken menu lists the Crispy Chicken at $6.99 for the sandwich, while a medium order of fries is $1.79 and a medium Diet Coke is $2.79, which brings the a la carte price of all three items in at $11.57. Priced as a meal, the savings comes to $2.48, a considerable difference overall. Though the Wendy's meal is a lower price, the McDonald's meal offers slightly larger savings against purchasing individual items instead of the combined meal.

What's the nutrition of the Wendy's meal?

Wendy's proudly shares the sources of its ingredients on its website. Its chicken sandwiches feature filets of chicken that come from suppliers Wendy's deems at or above the company's standards. Those exact standards aren't shared on the site, though it's clear that they pertain to food safety, product quality, and the welfare of the animals involved.

As for the macros in the meal, taken from the nutrition facts shown for each item, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich contains 490 calories and 20 grams of fat, 3.5 of which are saturated. It also carries 28 grams of protein. The FDA recommends keeping your sodium intake under 2300 milligrams per day, but this sandwich contains 1160, a little less than half that allotment. The medium fries add another 330 calories and 14 grams of fat, 2.5 of which are saturated, as well as 4 grams of protein. The sodium content of 900 milligrams takes the meal even closer to the recommended daily allowance. The 32-ounce medium Diet Coke adds zero calories but includes 95 milligrams of sodium. 

In total, the Wendy's meal comes to 820 calories, 34 grams of fat, and 2155 milligrams of sodium.

What's the nutrition of the McDonald's meal?

According to the food quality policies listed on the McDonald's website, the company is dedicated to reducing the use of antibiotics in the chickens it sources for its meals. While mention is made of white meat appearing in the chain's nuggets, there is no similar description of white meat included in the Crispy Chicken Sandwich. For macros on the McDonald's side of the scale, the Crispy Chicken Sandwich has 470 calories, and 20 grams of fat, 5 grams of which are saturated fat. The sandwich also brings in 26 grams of protein and 1140 milligrams of sodium. A medium order of fries has 350 calories, 17 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, and 260 milligrams of sodium. A medium Diet Coke has zero calories and 15 milligrams of sodium. 

All combined, the meal contains 820 calories, 43 grams of fat, and 1415 milligrams of sodium. So, while the Wendy's meal equals McDonald's in calories and pulls ahead of McDonald's in total grams of fat, McDonald's trounces Wendy's when it comes to putting out a lower sodium content overall.

How does the Wendy's meal stack up?

Right out of the bag, the Wendy's meal feels substantial. The chicken sandwich is thick, with a filet that extends beyond the bun. This may seem like a small detail, but when tracking the amount of food you're getting for your dollar, we think that every morsel counts. Wendy's also offers skin-on seasoned fries, which are similar to steak fries and are a very tasty version of standard fast food fries. The sogginess of bagged meal fries so often encountered at other fast food franchises was nowhere to be found here, and. The salt-to-fry ratio was spot-on, which we think is especially important in light of the other seasonings that come on these spuds. Wendy's version of Diet Coke was peppy and bubbly and, with a medium cup containing 32 ounces, there was plenty of sweet, calorie-free soda left to enjoy after the meal was finished.

Overall, the Wendy's Spicy Chicken Meal Deal provides a generous bag of relatively well-made food, in quantities that are sure to satisfy hungry diners. Fans of crispy chicken and flavored fries get to enjoy their favorite tastes while saving only slightly less cash through buying the meal than they would purchasing the items one by one.

How does the McDonald's meal shake out?

McDonald's will always be McDonald's, no matter how many fancy variations of its creations it rolls out. In the meal we ordered, the Crispy Chicken sandwich was noticeably flattened, and we suspect it's not just from production or packaging. The filet extends past the bun like the Wendy's chicken filet, but the extra circumference is canceled out by the thinness of the meat. 

Meanwhile, the french fries are ... well, McDonald's French fries. They are beloved and familiar, but nothing spectacular. Fry fans who love them for what they are will be happy to get their order but don't expect to be surprised. The real star of the show was the Diet Coke. As always with McDonald's, the soda was bright and fizzy, even if it was considerably smaller than the Wendy's version. In this instance, we think that quality beats quantity.

Even though the difference in the beverage sizes can be assigned a number, the squished nature of the sandwich patty hints that McDonald's is skimping a little in its bargain combos. For patrons who don't make the comparison to other similar meals, the difference may go unnoticed. Yet discerning diners will know the real deal.

Verdict: Which restaurant came out on top?

Wendy's was the hands-down winner when it comes to making your $10.00 go as far as possible. The food was not only larger but found that it was tastier and more creative thanks to its more interesting spices. McDonald's seems to favor familiarity over quality, which is sure to keep the chain in business for years to come. But in a side-by-side comparison where quality and quantity both count equally in the battle for your buck, Wendy's does a better job. With a larger soda, bigger sandwich, and better fries, it's clear that the equation doesn't leave a lot of room for variables. Wendy's plugs them all in successfully.

All in all, dropping a ten spot in both a Wendy's and a McDonald's location will get you a full-sized meal that quells your hunger. For the extra 70 cents that Wendy's charges for a crispy chicken sandwich and fries with added flavor, plus nearly a full can of soda extra in the beverage, your money is better spent at Dave's Place than under the Golden Arches.