78% of Americans Now Think of Fast Food Meals as a ‘Luxury’

The prices are just too damn high.

<p>Food & Wine / Getty Images</p>

Food & Wine / Getty Images

Earlier this month, McDonald’s made a reassuring announcement — the return of its $5 value meal. This pocket-friendly deal includes a choice of sandwiches, a four-piece order of McNuggets, medium fries, and a drink. Not to be outdone, Burger King is also stepping up with its own $5 Your Way Meal, featuring a sandwich, chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink. And of course, Wendy’s weighed in first with its $3 breakfast meals, then with its 1-cent bacon cheeseburgers. These affordable options are a welcome respite for consumers amidst the rising fast food prices.

Although the McDonald’s meal is served with some small print — it’s only going to be offered for a limited time at a select number of locations — those deals are a welcome break for consumers, who have started to experience a bit of fast food sticker shock. A recent LendingTree survey of 2,025 Americans between the ages of 18 and 78 revealed that a significant number of people were starting to cut back on their fast food cravings because of ever-increasing prices, and more than three-quarters of respondents (78%) now consider fast food to be a luxury.

Related: Here’s How Americans Have Been Changing Their Dining Habits Due to Rising Costs

When asked whether they agreed with the statement, “fast food has gotten more expensive, and I now view it as a luxury,” more than three-quarters of respondents said yes. Additionally, just under two-thirds of survey respondents (65%) said they had been "shocked" by a recent high bill at a fast food restaurant, and that percentage jumped to 72% among parents who had children under the age of 18.

“The results make clear, regardless of the context, that most Americans now see fast food as a luxury,” North Carolina-based LendingTree found. “That’s a new phenomenon. Yes, there have always been groups of Americans who might have viewed fast food that way because of their financial struggles. However, for the vast majority of Americans to feel that way seems like a significant cultural shift, and a troubling sign.”

Related: This Map Will Show You Where All the Cheapest Big Macs Are Around America

There were also differences between perception and reality among respondents. Over two-thirds (67%) said that ordering fast food should be cheaper than eating at home, but when asked what they do when they want an “easy, inexpensive meal,” over half (56%) said they prepare something at home. By comparison, only 28% opted for fast food as the “easy, inexpensive” option.

<p>Sanamoo / Getty Images</p> Just under two-thirds of survey respondents (65%) said they had been "shocked" by a recent high bill at a fast food restaurant.

Sanamoo / Getty Images

Just under two-thirds of survey respondents (65%) said they had been "shocked" by a recent high bill at a fast food restaurant.

Interestingly, not all fast food chains are perceived in the same way. In the survey, respondents were asked to identify the most “high-end” fast food offering. Chick-fil-A emerged as the clear winner, with 25% of respondents considering it the more upscale option. Starbucks, Chipotle, and McDonald’s followed closely with 22%, 21%, and 16% respectively. On the other hand, Dunkin’ was rated as the most high-end option by a minuscule 1% of respondents, narrowly surpassing Domino’s and Burger King, who were both tied at 2%. This variation in perception adds an intriguing layer to the fast food industry.

Related: Here’s What’s Really Going on With Skyrocketing Food Prices

If the price increases continue, the chains’ perceived status may not matter as much as what we can afford to order at the drive-thru. Bring on those $5 meal deals!

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.