Fast Food Items That Are Seriously Overpriced

When you want to grab a quick bite to eat, you might have your work cut out for you. According to IBIS World, America currently boasts over 200,000 fast food restaurants across the country, and experts predict those numbers to continue to rise. With all of these options at your fingertips, finding the right meal to scratch that craving proves harder than ever, especially if you want to pinch some pennies and get the best value for what you pay for.

According to Business Insider, you can generally save the most money when you buy individual items off a menu instead of ordering a value combo. Additionally, make sure to order for quantity over quality when possible. Finding the best deals when hunger strikes takes a bit of patience, but once you know what to look for, you can get the biggest bang for your buck from any fast food establishment. When you need to eat smart, always make sure to watch out for these overpriced items. By avoiding them, you can make sure your dollar goes the furthest it possibly can when you make your next fast food trip.

Panda Express fried rice might not be worth the price

When you want some quick Chinese-American grub, Panda Express makes grabbing an order of General Tso Chicken or Egg Rolls that much easier. According to Globe Newswire, the chain brought their signature fried rice back to menus nationwide due to popular demand back in 2013. The restaurant's full order of fried rice typically goes for $7.80, and while you can definitely fill up on the dish, you also guarantee to lose some money on this Panda Express menu item (via Fast Food Menu Prices).

When you want to indulge in some hearty fried rice, compare the cost of the meal at Panda Express to the cost of making the dish at home. According to Pennies & Pancakes, you can make this classic staple at home for the measly cost of 49 cents per cup. Thanks to Panda Express inflating the price of this simple dish, anyone who decides to purchase an order of fried rice at the restaurant should expect to lose money. Do yourself and your wallet a favor and don't get tempted by this extremely overpriced meal, especially when you can make it at home at a much more affordable price and tailored to your liking.

Chipotle's guacamole is an overly pricey add-on

Everyone has heard that they can save a few bucks by skipping that avocado toast when ordering out, and unfortunately, this saying might hold some water when it comes to adding some extra guacamole to your order at Chipotle. This Tex-Mex fast food giant changed the way we picture fast casual food in America, thanks to its revolutionary burrito assembly line and high-quality ingredients that go into every dish (via Fast Company). While Chipotle continues to stick around thanks to serving up delicious burritos and tacos, certain add-ons don't make sense if you need to keep an eye on your budget. 

Guacamole comes in as one of the worst fiscal offenders you can indulge in at Chipotle. According to Priceonomics, a serving of guacamole on a burrito costs 52 cents, but retails around $2 on menus. This equates to a 285% markup, making this a very poor add-on if you need to keep to the financial straight-and-narrow. When you need to treat yourself right, give yourself that extra guac, but keep the high price tag that comes along with this addition in mind.

Panera mac and cheese isn't priced for a side dish

Finding good macaroni and cheese can prove challenging. This iconic staple has won pasta lovers over for centuries, but the dish really took hold thanks to its low cost, when other foodstuffs had to get meticulously rationed during World War II (via Business Insider). One of the greatest charms of mac and cheese comes in the fact that you can fancy it up to your heart's content while never breaking the bank. On the low end, this dish goes for 88 cents per serving and up to about $2.77 per serving when you make it at home (via Bon Appetit). 

When you visit Panera Bread, you have the opportunity to grab this beloved comfort food dish, but after checking the price tag, you might think it's best to walk away if you're looking to save some money. According to Fast Food Menu Prices, the small size of mac and cheese at Panera Bread comes in at $4.99, a large costs $7.99, and a bread bowl of mac and cheese sets you back $5.99, which could get you a full meal at some fast food joints. Even if you order the small size, you can expect to face almost a 200% markup on this super affordable classic. Do your bank account a favor and don't get tempted by this cheesy treat next time you have to make an order at Panera.

You'll pay an unhealthy price for Papa John's Veggie Pizza

If you make pizza at home, you can always save a ton of cash. On average, your standard takeout pizza with a few meat toppings has an actual cost of $1.90 but retails for $14, resulting in a whopping 636% markup (via Small Business Chronicle). If this number already has you in shock, you definitely don't want to hear about the high markup Papa John's assigns to their veggie pizza. 

When it comes down to it, Papa John's not only weighs in as the most expensive pizza chain out of any fast food pizza option around, but they also serve up the most expensive veggie pizza (via Cheapism). Factor in how pizza vegetables typically see a markup of 525%, and you can feel confident knowing that this particular pie serves up the most overpriced pizza experience you can get your hands on (per Priceonomics). When you need to grab a pizza, learning how to make one at home can save you the most when a craving strikes. But whether ordering in or not, if you have to watch your budget, stay away from this pizza at all costs.

McDonald's hotcakes are served at a cool price

McDonald's breakfast has had a tumultuous time as of late. Due to the 2020 pandemic, the all-day breakfast disappeared for a period of time, with the option not returning for several months, and with a simpler menu at that (via Restaurant Business). While the menu ebbs and flows, the chain's hotcakes continue to stand as a crown jewel on their breakfast menu, and they've delighted fans since their introduction way back in 1977 (via Foodbeast). While we continue to love the one-of-a-kind taste this breakfast staple continues to offer up, anyone who needs to save some money should steer clear of these treats.

Pancakes generally clock in as one of the cheapest treats to make, averaging only four cents a piece (via Pennies and Pancakes). If you compare this incredibly meager price tag against the one you get at McDonald's, you end up with an incredible 2,609% markup (via Reader's Digest). Even if you go all out, each pancake you make at home should only run you 23 cents. You can try to improve the balance by requesting more toppings on your pancakes to decrease the markup, but either way, these hotcakes could definitely fall in price and still see massive profits.

The price of Panera chicken noodle soup might have you staying home

Nothing feels as comforting as a big bowl of chicken noodle soup. This healing feeling doesn't just exist in your imagination — this classic soup traces its lineage back to ancient Greece and has genuine healing properties that scientists have observed (via Erin Nudi). Sometimes grabbing a bowl of this soup with takeout when we feel down just makes life so much easier than having to make it ourselves. But despite that impulse, which might mean getting some "homestyle" chicken noodle soup from Panera, you might want to pump the breaks if you want to make your dollar go further.

According to Reader's Digest, homemade chicken noodle soup only costs a restaurant about 30 cents to make, meaning that you can guarantee to spend far more on this soup than you might like to comfortably know about. Next time a craving strikes, opt to whip up this classic in your own kitchen to avoid the unnecessary cost inflation for this meal — while also enjoying leftovers for a couple of meals.

The price of fountain soda will have you draining money

One of the greatest small luxuries to take pleasure in comes in the form of fast food fountain drinks with unlimited refills. According to Delish, this menu item stems back to 1955, when McDonald's teamed up with Coca Cola to sell soft drinks at their restaurant. The practice eventually expanded to giving customers the ability to fill up super-sized cups with the iconic soda. While it seems like we get a great deal, especially considering some of these cups exceed the volume our stomachs can hold, anyone pedaling fountain drinks actually makes some major money at our expense. 

According to Business Insider, restaurants receive a 1,500 percent markup when they sell us fountain drinks. This price difference comes back to the fact that the drink consists of carbonated water and a high fructose corn syrup at its core, both of which don't take much money to produce. If you really want a great value, opt out of the massive fountain drink next time you visit any fast food establishment. You'll get more value for your buck, and likely a better taste, by picking up your own cans and avoiding this overpriced standard for your next fast food dinner.

Starbucks' cafe latte prices will surely keep you up

Waking up without our morning coffee feels impossible, but luckily, Starbucks always has a location conveniently nearby whenever you need an extra boost of energy. And all those locations will likely remain reliable for some time, considering that even while taking financial hit during the 2020 crisis, the chain still managed to rake in $23.5 billion in revenue that year (per Macrotrends). While Starbucks has truly tapped into our desire for to-go coffee, the company seems to rely on overpriced drinks to really drive their revenue streams — and this might not be worth it for the consumer 

Despite the costs of production and transportation, coffee doesn't cost that much. As a result, fast food restaurants can charge what feels like an arm and a leg for some of their coffee products. According to Business Insider, simpler cups of coffee, like Starbucks' Cafe Latte, can be marked up to 2,900% when compared to the cost of making the same drink at home. While you might have a chance of reducing this ratio if you order a fancier drink, don't expect to save a buck or two when you grab a coffee creation from your local Starbucks.

Any fast food cod will come with a fishy price tag

As the world continues to change, the ways in which we source our ingredients have to shift with the times. If an ingredient has a suspiciously low price or just seems off, you might have encountered a product that the seller has passed off as something it's not. This has terrible effects for us as consumers, as these mislabeled products can contain hazardous additives or allergens that threaten our collective health (via The Government of Canada).

According to a study published in Food Security, the fishing industry falls particularly at risk to this variety of food fraud, due to the fact that sellers can pass certain fish species off as more desirable fish. And as an Oceana study explains, fish like escolar come up on menus as tuna, tilapia or pangasius gets passed off as pacific cod, and king mackerel hits menus as grouper. Restaurants might not even know that they have gotten duped, as this industry doesn't face extensive regulation to punish seafood sellers for engaging in vague sales practices (via CNN). Experts found that 21% of fish tested don't match up to their sales label, meaning that the next time you order a Long John SIlver Pacific Cod Combo or Culver's North Atlantic Cod Sandwich, you might end up eating a much cheaper fish than you pay for.

Wendy's Triple Bacon-Jalapeno Cheeseburger is as overrated as its price tag

When it comes to avoiding overpriced fast food items, quality could play a major role in determining what's worth your next dollar. And when  hunger's on the line and you need a bacon burger, you need to get a sandwich that guarantees to fight your hunger while tasting great. Luckily, you have a ton of options at your fingertips if you want to take control of your craving. According to Uproxx, at least eight different fast food chains want to compete for your bacon burger love by offering up different takes on this iconic meal. While Wendy's classic Baconator continues to impress anyone who sinks their teeth into it, we can't say the same for their Triple Bacon-Jalapeno Cheeseburger.

Compared to similar burgers from Burger King and McDonald's, Wendy's Triple Bacon-Jalapeno Cheeseburger couldn't stand up to the challenge. According to Business Insider, the meat lacks the juiciness we would hope to see in a burger of this caliber, and while you get an interesting flavor combo, it doesn't warrant the inflated price tag. Next time a bacon burger craving strikes, make sure to avoid this menu offering if you want to make your dollar go the furthest it can.

Dairy Queen's side salad isn't so light in price

Ordering a salad at any restaurant can get tricky if you want to avoid paying for an extremely overpriced item. According to Yahoo! News, you could see a price difference of 284% if you compare how much it takes to make a salad at home when compared to any fast food salad. As the cost for this healthy side continues to rise, you can guarantee to lose money if you decide to try one of these add-ons. 

And when you think of eating fresh and healthy, Dairy Queen's salad might not immediately spring to mind — and with good reason. Their three-ounce side salad, consisting of a small serving of lettuce and vegetables looking like they're past their prime, goes for $5 and won't have anyone who wants a great value coming back for more (via Delish). For what you end up getting, it feels ridiculous to order this salad. If you crave a salad that tastes great and serves up big portions for the value, you'll have to look elsewhere, as this side salad just can't cut it.

The price of a Subway tuna sandwich is also a bit fishy

Subway has stumbled into a fantastic business model. The sandwich chain set the pace for fast food restaurants that rely on an assembly-line model, guaranteeing a quick meal that consumers can see made right in front of them (via Subway). This business style also serves up massive profit margins for the brand. A good portion of the chain's sandwiches see a ridiculous markup, and even their $5 footlong promotional subs rake in a $1.20 profit per item (via Unhappy Franchise). This difference may feel minimal, but the ways that Subway potentially cuts corners has led to the uncovering of one of the most overpriced sandwiches at any fast food joint. 

In fact, in January of 2021, consumers launched a class action lawsuit against Subway, claiming that their tuna sandwich doesn't use 100 percent real tuna. This lawsuit followed similar claims made in Quebec, after scientists tested the chicken found in the chain's sandwiches and alleged it contained a slew of other additives (via CBC). If you want to make sure you get what you paid for, avoid Subway's tuna sandwich and don't overpay for mystery sandwich ingredients.

The Del Taco Macho Combo Burrito is a bit too tough on the wallet

Fast food burritos have a hard time holding their value up. According to Lifehacker, a burrito with meat has a markup of 346 percent, and if you add sour cream, you now face a 425% markup. This comes as awful news for anyone who loves Del Taco's burrito creations, particularly the Macho Combo Burrito. This item features the above mentioned meat and sour cream add-on, making it a prime item to unnecessarily blow money on (via Del Taco). 

This phenomenon haunts most Tex-Mex restaurants. According to Forbes, you most likely won't find a burrito anywhere that gives you a fair bang for your buck, due to the ridiculous markups that fast food restaurants place on their menu items. In order to avoid overpaying for your meal, make sure you stay far away from this iconic menu item and make your own the next time a burrito craving strikes.