During my high school years in suburban Chicago, there wasn't a whole lot to do on weekend nights. For example, this was one of our regular rituals: Hop in someone's car, drive to Wendy's, order a meal, take it to my friend Mike's house, eat said meal, play video games in his basement until the wee hours of the morning, call it a night. I'm nothing if not a creature of habit, so my meal nearly always consisted of the same four items: Two junior bacon cheeseburgers and two five-piece nuggets. All four were members of Wendy's Dollar Menu, meaning the entire meal, after tax, cost less than a five dollar bill.
It was a glorious time, not a care in the world, mighty metabolism taking care of the calorie bombs, all possible because so much could be had for so little cash. But now, the world of the dollar menu may be coming to an end. And that's a good thing.
As this report by Time explains, the reason for the possible demise of the dollar menu is not because the higher-up corporate brain trust no longer believes it's cost effective, but instead because the fast food franchise owners are sick of so many customers ordering from it:
"Only thing we are advertising is Dollar Menu & More," one owner griped, according to Burger Business. "We have 25 items on the Dollar Menu with breakfast and lunch. Why would a customer order anything else? Can get a beef, chicken, potato, soda, or coffee. It kills service time with orders of 2-3 sandwiches at a time. Cannot hit service times."
The dollar menu has become a victim of its own success. Because customers are spending their money on two or three smaller items rather than one big one (say, two Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers vs. one regular "adult" Bacon Cheeseburger), the workers in the back can't put the orders together at a quick enough pace. And if you remove the "fast" part of the equation from the concept of "fast food," there's not much of a reason to eat there.
But perhaps the biggest thing we should take away from this news is a lesson: Americans have been thinking about meat the wrong way for a long time, and it needs to stop.
Meat shouldn't cost a dollar.
Sure, items like french fries, or baked potatoes, or sodas, or apple pies, or whatever various things companies throw on the value end of the menu as a way to get customers to part with an extra chunk of cash during their trip, are all fine dollar options. But for any kind of beef, chicken, or pork product to have space on menu is indicative of the lack of respect we, as a culture, have for meat. A baconized burger should cost more than pocket change.
Growing up in the Dollar Menu Age has had significant effects for our society, ranging from obesity -- why stop at just one when they're so cheap? -- to the animal cruelty that takes place in factory farms. And one way to turn those negative trends in more positive direction is for the death of the dollar menu to take place.
Now, in reality, this death isn't going to happen anytime soon. Despite the wishes of franchise owners, as long as corporate honchos calling the shots feel that "value" offerings have a place on their menu -- and they most certainly do -- the cheap options will be right there in bright, bold lettering. As usual, it's up to us consumers to force a change. And the way to do that is through simple economics: If it's not making money, it must be discontinued.
So next time you happen to walk into a fast food restaurant (it happens to us all, even me) send a message by paying a tad extra and leaving their dollar menu alone.
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