This Is Why You Can’t Find Dollar Menus Anymore

Dollar menus used to be found at almost all of your favorite fast-food restaurants—but they've been increasingly discontinued or repackaged as "value menus" or "value deals" with items costing more than a dollar. What gives?

Concept of mock up burger, potatoes, sauce, chicken nuggets and drink on red background. Copy space for text and logo.nazarovsergey/Shutterstock

When McDonald’s launched its Dollar Menu in 2003, it seemed like a good idea. People were already drawn to the fast-food giant’s Big Macs and fries, and giving customers a break on price seemed like a smart way to drum up business. Plus, the concept had worked for some of their competitors. Wendy’s launched the first version of a dollar menu in 1989, which included a junior hamburger, fries, or a drink for 99 cents. You won’t believe how much these classic fast-food items used to cost way back when either.

“We had the idea of rather than selling one of our big items at 99 cents, creating a whole menu with 99-cent items,” Denny Lynch, a senior vice president of communications for Wendy’s, told QSR in 2010.

Burger King launched its own value menu in 1998 and McDonald’s followed suit five years later. All three chains tweaked the menus over the years, adding and removing items.

But the Dollar Menu hasn’t worked out so well for McDonald’s. McDonald’s was losing money on it and in 2013, the fast-food chain dropped the concept. Yet, the company struggled to bring back those value-minded consumers in the wake of killing off the original Dollar Menu, so McDonald’s created a new iteration of the dollar menu in 2017: the $1, $2, $3 value menu. McDonald’s menus have gone through many changes over the years, but here are the most popular menu items of all time.

That idea hasn’t resonated as well with customers, however. In retrospect, McDonald’s may have “focused too strongly” on the Dollar Menu, analysts say. “This does drive some traffic, but the message is both tired and drives people to trade down rather than to explore higher-priced options,” Neil Saunders, the managing director of GlobalData Retail, said to Business Insider.

The latest strategy to attract budget-conscious customers? McDonald’s and several other major fast-food chains are now trying a different tack: bundling. In November, McDonald’s launched a $6 Classic Meal deal, which includes an entree, drink, small fries, and an apple pie. Burger King released a similar product with its new $6 King Box. Taco Bell has also gotten into the concept with $5 Cravings boxes, as has Wendy’s with its “4 for $4” bundle. Can’t get enough of these value picks from your favorite restaurants? Sink your teeth into some of these new fast-food items heading our way this year, too.

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.