Sunday, January 12, 2003

Fast-food wars whittle burgers to just a buck

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to eat this week for $1:

At McDonald's you can get a Big N' Tasty Burger for $1. Until Jan., 20, a Burger King Whopper is 99 cents.

It's the burger wars, and it means dirt-cheap lunch.

The two biggest burger chains are duking it out, as they try to grab customers from each other in a fast-food slump. Burger King was reluctant to do it, but when McDonald's put its big quarter-pounder on a Dollar Menu with seven other items, Burger King had to follow suit. Both the burgers usually sell for more than $2.

It's ironic. There has been loud criticism lately of McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants for selling cheap, fattening food. Calorie taxes have been proposed that would treat burgers and fries like cigarettes, taxing them and using the money for anti-obesity campaigns. There have even been tobacco-style lawsuits, blaming McDonald's for causing an individual's obesity.

So what do the fast-food chains do? Make the fattening food even cheaper.

To McDonald's credit, it also included healthy items, such as a side salad and snack-size yogurt and fruit parfait, on the Dollar Menu. It also includes McValue fries, McChicken sandwich, two pies, sundae and a medium soft drink.

So which is the best deal?

You can put together a $3 meal of burger, fries and drink at McDonald's. (Forget the McChicken. It's a dismal excuse for a sandwich, with a wimpy breaded cutlet and chopped lettuce.) But the Whopper Meal at Burger King is $2.99, so neither wins the war on price. And, to be honest, the difference in taste between the two burgers is pretty thin, though I'll stick my neck out for the superiority of Burger King fries.

Any burger for a buck is pretty amazing, so why quibble? And it may not be the end of the wars, as both restaurants are battling slipping profits.


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