Discussion: McDonald’s Burger Pricing

I can’t complain too much when it comes to McDonald’s prices, but sometimes I kind of scratch my head and wonder… What?  Why?  (case in point, the Daily Double).  For the most part, fast food should be quick, easy and cheap in my opinion.  To make myself clear right off the bat, for the most part McDonald’s does it right.  Although McDonald’s still has me analyzing prices.  One of those “scratch my head and wonder” moments struck me a long time ago and I figured it would have a place here at GrubGrade to share and discuss.

I’m sure some of you have thought about this exact topic.  The least expensive burgers on the McDonald’s menu are the Hamburger, Cheeseburger, McDouble and Double Cheeseburger.

Less than 35-cents separate the four.  Just a little pocket change between slices of cheese and burger patties.  One of the best values in the quick-serve industry.   Let’s get in-depth and take a closer look.

The McDonald’s Hamburger:

Always delicious. Juicy 100% beef patty, tangy pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard all on a toasted bun.

In my area, the McDonald’s regular Hamburger is currently 95-cents.  The simplest burger on the menu. Usually reserved for Happy Meals, the regular Hamburger is forgotten these days amongst so many other bigger burger choices.

The McDonald’s Cheeseburger:

A slice of melty American cheese on a juicy 100% beef patty, zippy pickles and onions, ketchup and mustard on a toasted bun.

One-up from the regular Hamburger is the Cheeseburger.  The slice of American cheese upgrade is just 4-cents between the two.  How much is a slice of cheese worth to you?

The McDonald’s McDouble:

Take two. A slice of melty American cheese between two 100% beef patties, topped with pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard on a toasted bun.

Formally reintroduced as a permanent menu item in late 2008, the McDouble kicked the Double Cheeseburger off the Dollar Menu.  Simply the regular Cheeseburger with an extra burger patty… or one less slice of American cheese from the Double.

The McDonald’s Double Cheesebuger:

We make it like we always have: two slices of golden American cheese with two 100% all-beef patties, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard on a toasted bun.

The old favorite of the Dollar Menu that once was.  The Double Cheeseburger is still a steal at its current price.  That extra slice of cheese really does make a taste difference.  Now that the McDouble reigns supreme at just a buck, the sales on the Double Cheeseburger must have plunged dramatically.

If you break down the prices, here’s what you get.  Some McMath:

  • 95-cent Hamburger to 99-cent Cheeseburger: 4-cents for a slice of American cheese.

What separates them? 4-cents for a slice of American cheese

  • 95-cent Hamburger to $1.00 McDouble: 5-cents for an extra burger patty and a slice of American cheese.
  • 95-cent Hamburger to $1.29 Double Cheeseburger: 34-cents for an extra burger patty and two slices of American cheese.
  • 99-cent Cheeseburger to $1.00 McDouble: 1-cent for an extra burger patty.
  • 99-cent Cheeseburger to $1.29 Double Cheeseburger: 31-cents for an extra burger patty and extra slice of American cheese.
  • $1.00 McDouble to $1.29 Double Cheeseburger: 29-cents just for an extra slice of American cheese.

What separates them? 29-cents for a slice of American cheese

Now let’s break it down by weight:

  • McDonald’s Hamburger: Serving Size 3.5 oz (100 grams)
  • McDonald’s Cheeseburger: Serving Size 4.0 oz (114 grams)
  • McDonald’s McDouble: Serving Size 5.3 oz (151 grams)
  • McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger: Serving Size 5.8 oz (165 grams)

How tempting can a Quarter Pounder with Cheese be?  Over $3.00 for what? It’s 7.0 oz (198 grams)  Sesame seed buns aren’t that much of a draw are they?  Or how about we talk about the beloved Big Mac.  It’s 7.5 oz (214 grams) and runs well over 3-bucks too.  The extra weight comes in the form of more bread and some shredded lettuce.  Pssst… that “special sauce” can be added to anything for a small upcharge.  I found that sort of interesting.  Many “bigger burgers” have taken over the McDonald’s menu board and across the whole realm of the quick-serve industry.  Why pay $3.99 for an Angus Burger when for $4.23 you can have what I call the McValue Monster Burger

(or just the Hamburger, Cheeseburger, McDouble and Double Cheeseburger stacked upon one another for the photo-op). :)

1380 calories and 63 grams of fat for less than 5 bucks? Sold!

Lots of questions to ponder here and I’m far from an economist.  I’m a simple consumer and in the end, I waste a lot of money on a lot of consumables.  Will the spare change here and there really hurt my bottom-line?  No, but when you break it all down, what’s it worth to you?  Discuss!

50 comments on “Discussion: McDonald’s Burger Pricing

  1. Steven says:

    Hah! Some McDonald’s in Wichita are selling double cheeseburgers for $2.19 – YES – $2.19. Other locations in town it goes for around $1.69.

    You can order a McDouble with extra cheese for $1.30 which is exactly the same thing. The franchise here that is doing this ridiculous overpricing is capitalizing on the double cheeseburger name. A DCB for $2.19 is a complete RIP OFF.

    Is the DCB priced weird elsewhere I wonder?

  2. Matt says:

    It seems to me that it’s just an issue of smaller serving sizes generally costing more (per unit measure). A 20oz bottle of pop cost barely less than a 2 liter, and you can get an entire case for a few dollars more. I agree it might make some sense for the individual burger & cheeseburger to be slightly less- maybe 69/79 cents instead of 95/99 cents but then you’d run into the issue where they’re pricing their burger at nearly the cost of a White Castle burger. Which may or may not be a good thing. In any case, I can’t imagine why anyone other than a senior citizen or a 6 year old would order ONLY a hamburger or cheeseburger. If you have any kind of appetite at all you’re going to inevitably one one of the double burgers

  3. Asdf Z. Qwerty says:

    It’s a trick question. Those aren’t actually hamburgers. They are a strange conglomeration of protein and carbohydrates microwaved to perfection and glued together with a space-age yellow plastic.

  4. Chefprotoss says:

    I don’t feel like doing the math, so I am going to guess that for McDonald’s it all evens out as if all four burgers were just one sandwich. The over priced hamburger enables the double to be so cheap etc… I still want to know why the big mac isn’t $1.69, damn it! Bread and iceberg lettuce cost a fraction of the extra slice of cheese the double gets. I never go to McDonald’s for this reason. I love the Big Mac, but at the price, I’d rather go elsewhere and pay a couple more bucks for way more. I love my novelty food, but if the price increases to that of an authentic joint, I’m going for the real deal every time. I’m talking to you too Taco Bell.

    Great post Ryan.

  5. Ali says:

    I can get a double cheeseburger meal at my local McDs for $3.55 after tax, which is pretty much the same price as a cheeseburger Happy Meal, except I get more of everything (but no toy to give to nephews).

    I was traveling last year and bought a single cheeseburger while on the road – it was about $1.25. Guess I should have gotten the McDouble off the value menu. Couldn’t figure that one out.

  6. TJ says:

    At my local McDonald’s, a hamburger is $1.09. So basically, you’re paying them 9 cents to remove a slice of cheese and a burger patty from a McDouble.

    I’ve ordered a McDouble without cheese before, that’s still a dollar. If I asked for a McDouble without cheese and with one less burger patty, I wonder if they’d do it lol.

  7. Dustin says:

    I think McDonald’s is counting on a couple of things here. They do not expect someone in the drive-thru to break it down like this. They assume with the different, somewhat nonsensical price points there is going to be something for everyone here and with it being fast food, no one is going to look too closely at a few pennies. Which brings up another point. The introduction of the McDouble was multi-purpose. Not only did it take some of the focus away from the 30 cent jump on the double cheeseburger, it also appeared to inject a little more variety into the menu by rehashing the same burger we have all been eating for years without actually providing any innovation whatsoever. Not to mention the hype of a new item on the menu generating sales on the novelty alone. It was also an opportunity to further their branding and get even more exposure with instant recognition. MCDOUBLE. No one else has that and no one else ever will, unlike the double cheeseburger, which everyone has a version of. McD’s must have had a damn good marketing staff n in 2008.

    • Thomas says:

      I guess I don’t keep up with the times.

      But I never heard any hype for the McDouble. I am sure I heard of it before on some food review sites, but I went to a McDonalds and ordered a double cheeseburger and was like wait the price didn’t match. That is how I found out lol.

  8. Jeff says:

    Plus something else you missed, most McDonalds sell a “Double Hamburger” for $1.00, which I found out about when I tried to order a McDouble without cheese. So to that effect, a McDouble is a Double Hamburger with a FREE slice of American cheese.

  9. Brandon says:

    Where I live, it is $0.69 cents for a small hamburger, and $0.79 cents for a cheeseburger. The price for the other burgers are the same, however. If I ever go to McDonalds, I only order the burger/cheese burger(s) since you can have a filling lunch for half the cost of any other burger.

  10. Robyn says:

    This is an amazing analyzis. Wonderful in its detail, associations with photos, all very well done. Congratulations. Would make a good thesis paper…..or at least form a question for a paper. Nice!

  11. Seeker says:

    That extra slice of cheese was never worth it on the double-cheeseburger for me. The McDouble has always been satisfying enough, and I’d rather spend the additional $0.25(when they enforce it) for mac sauce making it a mini-mac of sorts. Sometimes I’ve had workers suggest that that double-cheeseburger was the one I meant when I ask for the McDouble, and deny the existence of the McDouble just to charge extra for that measly piece of cheese.

    Occasionally I’ll get plain hamburgers as a cheap snack or as my fiance prefers them, but interestingly they charge $0.89 or $0.99 for one. I try to suggest going the more complicated route with a McDouble without cheese, ketchup, pickle or onions since it’s nearly about $0.10 for the extra patty, but that’s usually too much work for them.

  12. Clevegal42 says:

    Interesting – I never thought of it like that before. What really peeves me is that sometimes I just want a double hamburger – $1 is a great deal for a double hamburger considering a regular hamburger is 95 cents – but when I want a cheeseburger next time, I pay $1 for that, too. And at some McDonald’s the double hamburger is $1.29 – I know which ones those are and order a McDouble without cheese for a buck. I understand the need for franchisees to make a buck, but let’s not be ridiculous, folks.

  13. Todd says:

    That photo of the stack of hamburgers is evil. I am attempting to stay on my doctor suggested diet. Don’t ask me why I am still perusing GrubGrade. With that out of the way, I have always been a sucker for McDonalds cheeseburgers. While I have eaten plenty of Big Macs,etc but for some reason I have never liked the double cheeseburgers. It just seemed like too much meat to bread ratio. I would order two cheeseburgers instead. I think I see what my doctor was complaining about now.

  14. Carebear says:

    I think the prices especially of the least expensive burgers have more to do with what people are willing to pay as well as what prices yield the most sales than the actual products.

  15. Scrape says:

    I could never figure out why the regular hamburger and cheeseburger were so expensive compared with the McDouble or the DCB. Seems like the hamburger should be around $.65 and the Cheeseburger at $.75 to $.85. Same thing with Taco Bell, the regular old stuff that used to be dirt cheap, while still cheap, hovers at or just above a buck. Remember the $.69 regular tacos? I know the price of corn and beef went crazy the past few years (thank you, ethanol), but it seems the other more expensive item should have gone up in proportion.

    McDoubles rule!

  16. Bob says:

    I go to my local McD here in Dallas suburbs and order a McDouble with:
    No ketchup
    No mustard

    Add BigMac sauce
    Add shredded lettuce

    There you have the dollar Big Mac. I have never been upcharged (not yet) for the Big Mac sauce. I refused to buy a Big Mac once it passed 3 bucks. Just could not do it.

    I had my first Egg McMuffin in years the other day when I decided to treat myself. Its hard to pay 3 dollars for that sandwich no matter how much I like it. I buy that dang dollar sausage mcmuffin everytime.

  17. alexg says:

    Anyone else taste or smell Ammonia in McD’s burgers in the past? I didn’t even know about Pink Slime until now but for years I could taste or smell the Ammonia. I’ve now tried a few burgers and I don’t taste the Ammonia anymore.

  18. Kevin says:

    interesting read, nice change of pace

  19. Brad says:

    I miss the 2 cheeseburger extra value meal :(

  20. Zachary Jacob Zblewski says:

    Not to be that guy, but the idiom is “case in point”.

  21. somesteve says:

    sounds pretty reasonable.

  22. Bob says:

    I find different prices on the doubles at every md in every town.

    When I was a kid in the 70s, dad would only get hamburgers/cheseburgers at md, cuz, according to him, they made all thier money on fries and cokes.

  23. Walter Sobchak says:

    I don’t ever go to Mac-Donalds, so this is a moot point. I’d rather go to Jack in the Box, Wendy’s or even the King. Mac-Donalds is cheap food. And by “cheap,” I don’t mean inexpensive. I can get comparable food for roughly the same price that is higher quality. Why go there, unless you have a bratty kid who is brainwashed by their commercials and pretty toys?

    • Jade says:

      Really? I find Burger King to be much worse quality than McDonalds and way more expensive – BK is super overpriced. I wouldn’t mind the crappy produce as much if it didn’t cost so much.

  24. Thomas says:

    I thought this wasgoing to be a discussion on so many fastfood places trying to “up-scale” their menu with ridiculous items when they should just stick to the basics they are known for.

    But this was also a good read. It makes you wonder what their food costs are.

  25. ljay says:

    On Valentines Day in the late 1970’s we did .10 hamburgers and .15 cheeseburgers with no limit.

    Those were rocking days on the grill (back when we cooked every burger on a flat top – do they still do that?).

    (Cheese on 12? – Cheese on 12 Please! – Thank You!)

    Nice write-up Ryan. I haven’t eaten a regular burger/cheeseburger in umpteen years but it looks like their pricing model is fairly confusing. Maybe that’s intentional. It would make more sense to me to lower the price of the regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers and then package them up into the All American Meal (that was the name in the 90’s wasn’t it?) like they did in the past.

    Whatever magic they have seems to be working. I saw a news report about how Wendys passed BK last year in sales to become number two – I think 5 Guys was closing in pretty quick on those two. But McDonalds was still blowing everybody out of the water and it wasn’t even close.

  26. Jason says:

    I wish mcdonalds would bring back the all american combo meal.

    • Zachary Jacob Zblewski says:

      They have the new version of them in certain markets. Rumor is that it is going national soon. They call them “Mini Meals” and they cost $2.99. You get your choice of McDouble, McChicken, or Snackwrap with either a small soda and small fries, or apple dippers and bottled water.

      • Thomas says:

        why not just buy the pieces individually at that price…

        Meals don’t even seem to come at a discounted price anymore. It is just theitem + price of drink + price of fries lol. There is no need for the old convention/convenience of saying I’ll have the number 5 (from a customer point) over X Hamburger ComboAKA x hamburger + fires + drink at not a bundled price.

  27. kikurage says:

    Oh! An extra burger patty is one cent?!
    Surprising!Wondering!
    >99-cent Cheeseburger to $1.00 McDouble: 1-cent for an extra burger patty.

  28. Jay says:

    I just purhased mcdonalds double cheese burger 1.49 + tax at Devon and ridge in chicago. i thought they cost 1.29 + tax.. Can anyone tell me what is the real price for the double cheese burger is in chicago illinois?

  29. sam says:

    I worked for McDonalds for years the problem with the current pricing mess was caused by the dollar menu. As most Mcds are independently owned most operators have raised pricing on everything to make up for the lower dollar menu prices. Mcds has been afraid to raise dollar menu prices since its the main draw. Very few people choose Mcds for higher priced items. In my area a Big Mac is $3:89 Angus are $ 4:79 and we would sell maybe 20 of each a day but about 500 $1 Mcdoubles. The pricing is a mess and only pushes more to the dollar menu.

  30. […] for adding bacon to a McDouble is 99-cents?  Hmm, might as well just add a cheeseburger.  McDonald’s Math makes my head spin.Tags: Bacon McDouble, McDonald's Bacon McDoubleLeave a Reply Click here to cancel reply. Name […]

  31. RC says:

    One BreifLy Word Inflation.
    The Unit Of Currency In The U. S. A. Is A Dollar. Not Loose Change.
    Two Resultants
    As A Resultant Than No More Handing Than MisSubscribed Change
    Than Thinking You Are Walking ‘Getting Away’ With Something
    Else (Psychology).
    ALso No Rapidity Of Exchange (Nobody Wants To Hand Over A
    Five Dollar Item Then Receive $1.19 As Change Yecch).
    Canada Recently Eliminated Their Penney.
    The U.S. Fast Food Industry May Make Well Use Of A Three Dollar
    Bill.
    Unfortunate As Of Yet It Has Not Yet Occurred.

  32. Sharon francis says:

    what happened to the apple pie prices they were 2 for a dollar..????

  33. […] meat and cheese patties is only 49-cents more than the BK Bacon Burger has me thinking of the goofy McDonald’s value menu burger prices.  This burger has no cheese.  It’s just a burger with ketchup/mayo and a pathetic attempt […]

  34. Patrick says:

    Very interesting discussion especially interesting to hear what mcds costs in other cities. Along the line of inflating prices of other menu items to make up for the dollar menu – I recently ordered just a single filet o fish at the drivethru…they said it costs $3.99! For a fish sandwich – not a meal. (new haven, ct — not NYC).

  35. […] next for McDonald’s and the Dollar Menu.  With higher costs of doing business, the prices of our beloved McDonald’s value menu are going to take a hit over time.  McDonald’s […]

  36. julie says:

    A) u have a typo where u write “31 cents” – it’s 30.

    B) ur missing the key here; the 99c/dollar menu items are *theoretically* 20-30 cents more, and are “temporarily” on sale. it would be enlightening to work out the true prices with your patty/cheese slice triangulation (too lazy to do myself), and then list the 4 burgers with LOGICAL prices, one or two of which may have “25c off” or the like tacked on beside them.

    it’s no different than when you see a half gallon of milk in a supermarket for $2.25 sitting next to a full gallon “on sale” for $2.19. you know the full gallon is really $3.80 or something under normal circumstances.

    C) McD’s 2-for-1 coupons are a dime a dozen! is ANYONE buying the $3-5 burgers (big mac, angus, etc) at list price?

    prolly still not worth the extra $$$, but you need to at least compare apples to apples. that “$3.99″ you complain about, for example, is really about $1.99 apiece. and since the coupons don’t apply to cheapo burgers or dollar menu items, that translates directly to half the ratios that ur implying.

    D) ignoring (C) for the moment, from ur own analysis alone, a better McValue Monster would be 4 McDoubles stacked together! only 1 cent more and far more stuff total than the Monster u listed.

    [in reality, tho, you’re only getting 2 McDoubles stacked together, since the Angus is $1.99 with coupon]

    *burp*

  37. John says:

    A cheeseburger here in flint michigan only cost 79 cents and they look waaay better than the one you took a picture of. I hate double pattie burgers, I always get the 2 cheeseburger meal with mac sauce.

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