The appeal of getting food fast without having to exert a lot of labor or pay high prices swept the land back in the 1950’s, and it’s still with us, though the prices are much higher in no small part because of the cost of labor.
Bragging rights go to those who remember when a buck bought a meal. “When I was a kid we would go to McDonalds and it was about a quarter for a hamburger. I remember getting a hamburger, French fries and pop for less than a dollar in the 1960’s,” says Christopher Carosa, a financial advisor and hamburger expert. Yes, he literally wrote the book on the history of hamburgers, and his reference to pop implies a residency north of the Mason Dixon line.
Carosa says a family of four may have paid $28 dollars two years ago for a carload of Value Meals but today will have to dish out northward of $40.
In 1968, a Big Mac was 49 cents. In 2015 it was $4.79. Today a Big Mac meal, which includes the fries and drink, is over $10.
The biggest problem for all fast food franchisees today is finding someone to make the fries and push the buttons at a wage that allows a profit margin, and for the past two years front line workers have been hard to find. That’s driven up prices roughly 8% in the past two years.
According to the Department of Labor, the prices for food-away-from-home have jumped 1,327% since 1953, or about $20. Fast food has historically been increasing an average of 3.99% annually ahead of general price increases of 3.46%. We pay for the convenience and the convenience of walking around eating a meal.
Carosa, who is from New York state, tells the story of the origin of the hamburger in 1885 when county fair vendors Charles and Frank Menches in Erie County, New York ran out of ground pork and switched to ground beef for a sandwich offering that customers could enjoy as they strolled the fairgrounds. It was in a town called Hamburg, and they were the first to offer the fare.
Had it not been for the geographic note of the town’s name, today we could be downing a soda and a Menches. You do want fries with that, right?
photo: Getty Images