Despite the harsh realities of fast food that have surfaced thanks to books like “Fast Food Nation,” documentaries like “Super Size Me” and the infamous behind-the-scenes peek at “pink slime,” Americans continue to spend a good chunk of their earnings eating at fast food restaurants. In fact, a December 2012 Monmouth University poll revealed that one-third of Americans eat lunch or dinner at a fast food restaurant at least once a week.
Fast food chains not only make mealtime extremely convenient for consumers on the go, but also make saving money a cinch thanks to value meals and dollar menus. QSR Magazine, a leading source of information and insight for quick-serve and casual dining restaurants, asked Americans what they felt was the most important factor when choosing a fast food restaurant in its 2008 Survey of Consumer Attitudes and Preferences in Quick-Service Restaurants, and found that cost was ranked second most important attribute with convenience coming in at third place.
We’ve wrangled up a few of the best secret menu hacks ever devised to bring you the best savings and even better value.
#1. McDonald’s Secret Menu: Poor Man’s Big Mac
As a child, my favorite McDonald’s item wasn’t the standard cheeseburger or chicken nuggets options that come with the kid’s meal — it was the Big Mac that stole my taste buds. But I soon found out that my “refined” taste came at a premium cost.
At my local McDonald’s location, the price of the Big Mac alone is $4.59, plus tax, which is enough to get me to settle for cheeseburgers despite my fondness of the double-decker burger. That is, until I found a McDonald’s secret menu creation that mimicked the taste of a Big Mac at more than a 50 percent discount.
McDonaldsSecretMenu.com reveals that by purchasing a McDouble without pickles and ketchup, and adding on the Big Mac’s special sauce, lettuce and extra onions (all for free), you can essentially recreate the taste of a Big Mac for less. How much less? A McDouble at my local McDonald’s costs a mere $1.29, plus tax — a total savings of $3.30.
Extra McFlurry? — yes, please. (Photo: Pointnshoot)
#2. Chipotle Secret Menu: Extra Meat, Not Extra Money
Despite the already massive portions at Chipotle, some days your appetite calls out for a little more of everything. While Chipotle servers are very generous with add-ons like salsa, fajita veggies and lettuce, the price of adding extra meat to your meal could leave you walking out the door with a grumbling stomach.
A local Chipotle restaurant revealed that adding extra meat onto any order costs an incredible $2.35. Now granted, this fast food restaurant is among the most expensive on the list — but$2.35 is a lunchtime budget-buster for those who just want a little bit more, especially since a steak burrito bowl already costs about $7.
The guys at Thought Catalog have discovered a workaround for this pricing dilemma: Fractions. They recommend saving money on meat by asking for half steak and half chicken, for example. The argument is that the measuring scoop servers use isn’t a precise measurement of a half portion, so more often than not you’ll get some extra meat for free. This option may not guarantee a specific amount of extra meat, but you can’t beat free.
Total savings for this Chipotle secret menu trick: $2.35.
Added tip: They’ll give you warmed tortillas on the side if you purchase a burrito bowl, which you can use to wrap leftovers in for a second meal. (Photo: jronaldlee)
#3. Starbucks Secret Menu: Iced Latte for Less
One of the joys of working at a coffee shop while in college was knowing what ingredients were required for barista drinks. If saving money on your morning or afternoon iced latte is a challenge at the moment, consider the following Starbucks secret menu idea to gradually cut back on the expense.
The price of a grande iced latte at my neighborhood Starbucks is $3.55, but why get charged that much when you can make it yourself?
You read right — simply buy a double-shot espresso in a full cup of ice for $1.95 instead, and head over to the milk and sugar bar to top off the cup with the dairy item of your choice. The result is exactly what you’re craving — an iced latte — for a savings of $1.60. (Photo: Paul Davidson)
#4. In-N-Out Secret Menu: (Domestic) Animal Style Fries
Everyone knows about the famed In-N-Out secret menu, but one thing I never really considered was that some special orders, like the animal style fries (includes cheese, grilled onions, thousand island dressing on top of french fries) costs a lot more than regular fries.
Priced at $3.71 from my local In-N-Out location, animal style french fries are too wild for my wallet. I was told that the extra cost was for the cheese and labor needed to make the special fries, but a pared-down version of animal style fries (without the cheese) is still possible at the standard cost of regular fries ($1.64) — with a bit of creativity.
When you order a burger, the server typically asks if you’d like onions. At this point, request whole grilled onions on the side and ask for extra thousand island dressing packets as well — these should come at no additional cost. Cut the whole grilled onion at your table and toss over your regular order of fries, then drizzle the dressing on top. It doesn’t have the same clumping, gooey effect as traditional animal style fries, but considering that you’ve saved yourself considerable calories from this secret menu alternative and retained savings of $2.07, it’s not a bad way to save money when eating out.
Pricing may vary between locations, but there’s no denying that a little ingenuity can go a long way (beyond the dollar menu) when it comes to saving money on fast food. (Photo: HeatherHeatherHeather)
Feature Image: jbcurio
Follow me on Twitter: @Go_Jenn