It’s official: No sector is safe from rising labor and supply costs. Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti recently announced a 3.5% price increase on all items, on top of another 3.5% increase from just in October. Fast food once existed as a cheap and convenient option for those living a life on the go—but with the landscape of the industry shifting over the years to become more of a standard of “fast casual,” fast food prices have approached those of their religion of counterparts.
Is there anywhere a person can go to a quick a quick, albeit artery-clogging, meal without breaking the bank? Fret not, for here are five chain restaurants where it’s still possible to get yourself a meal for under $10.
Although the Five Dollar Footlong is now a thing of the past, it’s still possible to get a satisfying lunch at Subway with just a single Hamilton. Priced at $4.99, take your pick of a six-inch Black Forest Ham, Meatball Marinara, Cold Cut Combo, or Spicy Italian. Tack on a bottle of water/fountain drink at $2.19 and a choice of chips or applesauce at $1.49, and you’ll have a full lunch with enough money left over to stop by the arcade for a couple rounds of Retro Ms. Pac-Man.
America’s fastest growing chain restaurant isn’t just popular for its titular product, but also for their price point. Chick-fil-A offers a handful of combo meals under the $10 price point, including both their classic and spicy chicken sandwiches, as well as regular and grilled nuggets. Both come with a fountain soda/water, and a side of waffle fries. Chick-fil-A is definitely one of the higher quality options in the under-$10 category—just don’t get any funny ideas of tacking on a cookie or a milkshake.
I’m going to be honest with you—if you think you can walk into a Panera Bread and order any old thing off the menu for under $10, you’re sorely mistaken. But if you play the game right, you can get out of one of their weirdly dystopian dining rooms without breaking the bank. And the name of that game? Soup. Not that exciting, I know. But you’re trying to get lunch for under $10; did you really think you’d be able to get a You Pick 2?
Take your pick from their Creamy Tomato Soup, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Chicken Noodle Soup, or Mac and Cheese. Then order it in a bread bowl, choose an apple as your side, pair it with a fountain soda, and voilà! You’re eating at Panera Bread without taking out a home-equity loan.
If you haven’t eaten at McDonalds in a while, let me catch you up to speed: The dollar menu, as you remember it, doesn’t quite exist anymore. It has instead been replaced by a “value menu,” in which items are priced at either $1, $2, or $3. Disappointing? yes. But also inevitable.
Now that you’ve had some time to process this information, let’s talk strategy. The value at McDonalds isn’t in the combos—it never has been. Your best bet is to play mix n’ match with the value meal. With items such as the McChicken, McDouble, French fries, and fountain drinks on the menu, there’s a myriad of options to eat lunch for under $10. Just don’t be afraid to sub in some apple slices in place of french fries; your heart will thank you for it.
Full disclosure: This author has never eaten at Taco Bell. Honestly, he prefers Chipotle Mexican Grill. But if you think you can get out of a Chipotle Mexican Grill without spending more than $10, I have a bridge to sell you. Regardless, I’m well aware of the appeal of the Taco Bell menu; constant new items and low, low prices.
At all of the previously listed chain restaurants, you need to navigate their menu with intent and precision if you want to keep your order under $10. At Taco Bell, that is not the case. Go wild. You want a crunchy taco? Go for it. You want triple layer nachos? Heck, order two! The only limit to your Taco Bell order is your own imagination. You’ll know when you’re close to hitting the $10 threshold because the cashier will start looking at you funny.