What is a Value Meal?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A value meal is a menu item which offers several items grouped together at a low cost. Buying the items separately would cost more than purchasing a value meal, which acts as an incentive to encourage people to opt for the value meal. Paradoxically, although value meals are offered at a discount, they encourage patrons to spend more, which is why they are a common feature on the menus of fast food restaurants and other establishments which offer cheap food.

Hamburgers are often part of a value meal.
Hamburgers are often part of a value meal.

In a classic example of a value meal, a fast food restaurant might offer a hamburger, fries, and drink together at a low price. People may also be allowed to pay a small fee to “supersize” the meal, making the fries and drink larger. In fact, at some fast food establishments, employees are encouraged up upsell supersizing options, encouraging customers to spend more, thereby increasing the profit margin for the business.

Value menu items are often unhealthy.
Value menu items are often unhealthy.

From the point of view of a business, there are a number of advantages to the value meal. They tend to increase customer loyalty, and they attract customers, as customers see advertised meal deals and decide to stop to survey the options and order food. The costs of production are also quite low; while the restaurant may take a loss on the main value meal item, the additional items have a high profit margin, and therefore make up for the loss.

Value meals also create a perception of a deal for customers; a customer might come in wanting to order a burger and fries, but get the value meal with a drink since it costs roughly the same. While a small sum might not make a difference to a single customer, such sums add up over the course of the day, especially since value meals tend to appear at establishments with very high turnover. Over the course of a day, customers spend much more with value meals than they would otherwise.

Value meals have been criticized by some nutrition advocates who argue that they encourage people to eat more. Faced with buying a standalone menu item or a value meal for a slightly increased price, many people will opt for the value meal because they believe they are getting a better deal. This means that they consume more food than they might have otherwise. Nutritionally, value meals are often not a terrific choice, because they can be very high calorie and they can include calories from sources which may be less healthy, such as certain types of fats.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

What is your guys favorite value meal? I like Wendy's the most but Burger King is not bad and who doesn't like some McDonald's from time to time?
I am a big fan of the Subway fresh value meal. I think for what you get it is the best deal in fast food.

It is also just about the only healthy value meal that there is. If you do not want to eat burgers and fries or big pieces of fried chicken a subway sub is about your only healthy option. I know they are not the greatest sandwiches in the world, but for the value they are good.


Gosh, when I go to heaven I hope that God can tell me how many value meals I have eaten in my life. If he told me something like 10,000 I would probably not be surprised. I have worked in the trades all my life and most lunches are a value meal from whatever fast food place is closest, usually McDonald's.

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