Saturday, July 18, 2009

You vs. MacDonald's

One of the homeschoolers I follow on Twitter linked to this analysis of home cooked versus McDonald's burgers on a cost basis, coming to the conclusion that you could make McDonald's burgers more cheaply at home.

In fairness, the guy breaks it down correctly enough to say that you could make 16 burgers more cheaply than you can buy 16 burgers from McDonald's. But then you have to eat 16 burgers. Granted, at that size, you probably could, or a family of six could, anyway--but would you want to?

There's a dual edge to this, too, that makes it kind of a pointless effort. On the one hand, if you're making burgers, why are you making them MacDonald's style? Could you, really? Wouldn't you be tempted to get a slightly better cut of meat and use a little more of it? Put on a crisp slice of lettuce and beefsteak tomato (instead of just catsup)?

What's more, if you really are going for Micky D's style, you won't make it. Your children will tell you all the ways your burger is inferior to one of those enriched-flour encased quarter-sized patties. Or, at least, that's what kids did back in my day. (They'd also trash your ravioli if it weren't Ravioli-Os.)

You'll eat (at least figuratively, maybe literally) any mistakes you make, too. And the amount of time you spend prepping, cooking and cleaning up is going to well exceed the cost in time of going to the nearest franchise.

These days, you're unlikely to be able to beat a fast food franchise for overall cost. The exception might be El Pollo Loco, because they're rather expensive. (Their chicken is a lot closer to real food, which doubtless factors into it.) There is something to economy of scale in this case. Even if you can achieve the economy of scale that allows you to make 16 burgers at once, you're probably not going to achieve it on the same scale as the billions of burgers.

On the flip side, you can't hardly miss beating them in terms of quality. And you can be very selective about where you economize.


  1. Three things I saw missing from his '16 burger' equation: 1) Cost of energy to cook the burgers; 2) cost of water and other materials to clean up afterward and 3) the cost of time to prepare, cook and clean up.

    The time to me would be the big one that puts the cost of home made over the cost of McDonalds. The difference now is what? 4 bucks? Assume you earn 12 bucks and hour (the value of your personal time may vary) but at this rate you will need to prepare, cook, and clean up from 16 burgers in 15 minutes to make the home cooked cheaper than Mickey Ds; and unlikely scenerio.

    Move up to 16 Big Macs and you can make money cooking at home, as long as you know what the 'Special Sauce' is...

  2. El Pollo Loco is a chain?? I thought it was a commenter!

  3. I've got nothing--absolutely nothing--against McDonald's philosophically or otherwise.

    But no, you don't have to eat the 16 burgers--right then, anyway.


    It's pretty easy to duplicate many chain's foods these days. It's been a number of years since the first cookbook of that type came out, they've proliferated since, and recipes are readily available online, to boot.

  4. This is true about the recipe books. But again, it goes back to "Why?"

    Do people really go to fast food places and say, "Wow, this is great except..."? Especially, "Wow, this is great except it's too expensive"?

    Maybe they do! I'm not really in tune with these kids today.

  5. But again, it goes back to "Why?"

    I can copy the Chipotle Veggie Bowl, and yes it is because Chipotle is too expensive. Plus it's fun to deconstruct a seemingly complex meal and make it yourself.

    Also, it's always good to have an extra vegan recipe (that tastes good).

  6. I love dollar menus. When I order a 350 calorie double stack from Wendy's, it almost feels like I stole it.

    I generally prefer to cook at home for all meals, but if I'm out, I always hit a place with a dollar menu.

  7. There's a reason why the phrase "loss leader" starts with the word "loss," and more than one as to why it can backfire.

  8. Too true, guys: If you stay away from the beverages, fries and other sides--and you really should--you can eat extremely cheaply.

    There was a guy in Supersize Me who ate a Big Mac every day of his life for years and years, and he had no health issues whatsoever. (And he was skinny.) But he only ate the Big Macs.

  9. Ugh, the last time I had a Big Mac (probably about 5 years ago), it had obviously been sitting around a long time.

    The sauce and the bun had become one entity. So slimy it was inedible.

  10. El Pollo Loco is a chain?? I thought it was a commenter!

    Now who would that be? ;-)

  11. I never get beverages or fries. Fries are basically deep-fried sugar. That's a dessert, not a lunch. And a beverage is just sugar and water, so again, dessert, not lunch.

    You can get the ice water for free!

  12. No fries?? Guys, that's the whole entire reason to go to McDonalds!

    Or the 2/$1 apple pies.


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