by Nick Alberico (@)
For years, I’ve been espousing the virtues of McDonald’s and a staple of its Dollar Menu, the McDouble. It, like most of the items on that list, costs only $1 dollar. Three of those, a complementary glass of water, some house buffalo, and you’ve got yourself a nutritious and inexpensive meal. Ever since the reintroduction of the McDouble back in 2008, prices have been rock-steady at just a buck a piece. A harmonious and synergistic relationship was established between customer and merchant, fostering feelings of goodwill and trust in both parties.
This fast-food détente has come to an abrupt close, however, and a new age has befallen upon us. Off in the distance, you see, a storm is gathering. Somewhere in an ivory tower in the heartland of the American Midwest, Ronald McDonald is leaning back in a big leather office chair, one leg folded over his knee, grinning smugly. Blind to everything the McDouble represents, he has succeeded in changing the price of the sandwich from a very reasonable and evenhanded $1, to an offensive $1.19.
The move is clearly communicating two things. First: Mr. McDonald, Birdie, Grimace, and the rest of the boardroom have declined to continue a storied tradition that represented more than the value of a good. It represented the ideals of an entire nation. Second: Mr. McDonald is not fit to run a bath, let alone one of the largest corporations on the planet.
As a result, McDonald’s has no choice but to abandon the titular “Dollar Menu” listing, opting to tack on the clunky-sounding “Dollar Menu and More”. Doesn’t that just roll off the tongue? When the menu featured items that cost just a dollar, options were neat, concise, regimented. Now, just like the stomachs of those who once frequently enjoyed the simple satisfaction that came with a buck, the menu has bloated to a cumbersome 20 choices, with half costing over a dollar.
Some McDonald’s franchises are now charging $1.19 for the McChicken, another staple of the now-deceased Dollar Menu, which begs the question: in the very realistic scenario where prices creep up even further and nothing on the menu costs a dollar or less, what will it be called then? “Menu and More?” More likely, they’ll to resort to the painfully redundant “Value Menu”, in which Mr. McDonald feels obligated to explain that the foods listed have value to us. Do foods outside of this menu not share this trait? I consider the phrase “Value Menu” an insult to the intelligence of every customer who orders from it.
Other institutions dear to my heart have followed suit. Waffle House’s grilled egg and cheese biscuit, much like the McDouble, was just a dollar only a few weeks ago. There is something special about paying just dollar for the egg and cheese biscuit. Here’s this savory treat with eggs prepared to order, and you can pay for it with just the coins in your car’s ashtray. I can’t help but flash a smile every time I get one. It’s one of those few precious moments experienced throughout a day where I feel like I’m coming out on top, like I just caught a break.
When I stopped by last Sunday, however, I was floored when I got my check. My eyes began to well with tears as my vision darted across the bill, frantically reading the price of the egg biscuit again and again: $1.89. An 89% price increase. I stood up, ambled to the counter, and paid my check. When I got home I went up to my room and locked the door. Sitting at the foot of my bed, I coldly stared at the wall for what must have been two hours.
Joy is fleeting. Things taken for granted, however, will haunt you to your dying day.
Even Chipotle, the darling of millennials like myself, is capable of wrongdoing. In the employee handbook, it states quite clearly that double meat is a modest upcharge, around $2.75, depending on what meat you add. For a growing boy like me, double meat is essential. Employees recognized this, and would often let a double meat upcharge go off the books, recognizing that the positive effects of feeding a productive and industrious member of society vastly outweighed $3 dollars. This saintly practice has gone the way side, another casualty of corporate greed. Like the cheery neighborhood cop or the nurturing mother letting pies cool on the kitchen windowsill, free double meat is just a fond memory now, another page in the American zeitgeist.
Nowadays, I will occasionally reach into my wallet and pull out a dollar bill. I’ll look into George Washington’s eyes. I stare deeply, intently. His image brings an empty, cheap feeling, a reminder of how him and I once had something special, something beautiful. The whole experience is like looking at old pictures of myself with an ex-girlfriend where we were both happy, baking something together or at some party. My gaze moves down to his bulbous nose, his thin lips. His contented look brought comfort to a younger, more naïve version of myself. Now, however, I know just how cruel of a place the world is, with no room or regard for the youthful wonder the McDouble once inspired.
The Dollar Menu is dead. Bury it next to George Washington and the American Spirit.