The Best Value Meal Deals at 50 Chains Across the Country
Cheap eats aren't quite what they used to be. In the past couple of years, fast-food chains including Wendy's and McDonald's have axed dollar menus in favor of pricier rosters of value-focused fare. And some casual-dining chains have pulled back on coupons and other offers that hurt their bottom line as the economy improved, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
It's also worth noting that fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera Bread have forgone value meals and menus almost entirely. In 2015, the fast-casual segment grew 10.4 percent, almost double the rate of the restaurant industry as a whole, according to The Motley Fool. They simply haven't needed value promotions to lure customers.
There are still great offers out there that can help consumers stretch a buck. But remember that many of the best deals are offered only for a limited time, as restaurants opt for seasonal deals over fixed value menus. Prices also may vary by location.
Related: Cheap Eateries You Have to Try in All 50 States
The nation's largest fast-food chain has long tried to provide a lot of bang for the buck. While its much-loved Dollar Menu is no longer around, recent deals have included the McPick 2, which varies by market. Some restaurants have featured a two for $5 deal that includes the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Filet-O-Fish and 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, while others have offered a two for $2 or two for $3 menu.
Wendy's has also ditched its dollar menu in favor of the more extensive Right Price Right Size Menu. Items range from cheeseburgers and four-piece chicken nuggets for less than $1 to chili and a Double Stack for $2.09. The best deal right now might be the "4 for $4," which lets customers choose a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger or Crispy Chicken BLT, along with a four-piece nugget, small order of fries, and small drink.
Wisconsin-based Culver's -- found mostly in the Midwest, Florida, and Arizona -- has developed a loyal following with menu favorites like cheese curds and frozen custard. If you're eating there on a budget, a $5 Snackpak value meal will get you chicken tenders or one of the chain's famous ButterBurgers, crinkle-cut fries, and a small drink.
It's easy to eat for cheap at Taco Bell any time of day. The Morning Value Menu features at least seven $1 items, including a grilled breakfast burrito, mini skillet bowl, and breakfast soft taco. A dollar will also get you plenty at other times of day, including a shredded chicken mini quesadilla, triple-layer nachos, and a cheesy bean-and-rice burrito.
Found mostly in the western United States, Del Taco is another reliable bet for cheap, fast Mexican eats. The chain's Buck & Under menu has more than a dozen items, including bean-and-cheese burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, and breakfast tacos. A dollar can also buy a small iced coffee, strawberry lemonade, or 30-ounce iced tea.
In the battle of the pizza chains, Domino's latest value offering is a menu of $5.99 items that includes medium two-topping pizzas, chicken wings, oven-baked sandwiches, stuffed cheesy bread, salads, and brownies. The catch: You have to order at least two items. If you just want one pizza, a large three-topping pie is $7.99 every day as long as you forgo delivery.
Grab a friend before heading to Sonic: The drive-in is offering two cheeseburgers, crispy chicken sandwiches, or foot-long Coney dogs, plus two drinks and two tots or fries, all for $9.99. Wings are also buy one, get one free after 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. An Everyday Deal menu has more than a dozen items under $2, including a double cheeseburger, chicken strip sandwich, and sundae.
KFC is offering another deal made for two: Its $10 Chicken Share lets customers choose six pieces of chicken, nine chicken tenders, 12 hot wings, or a bucket of popcorn nuggets. If you're flying solo, a $5 Fill-Up menu offers plenty of options, including a pot pie, two pieces of chicken, or three chicken tenders, plus sides, a cookie, and a drink.
Steak 'n Shake offers one of the best deals around for a sit-down meal. Choose from two dozen options for just $3.99, including a triple steakburger, grilled foot-long hot dogs, a beef taco salad, chicken fingers, chili, and much more. All meals are served with fries. Shakes and drinks are also half-price from 2 to 5 p.m. every weekday.
Those famous $5 foot-longs are long gone, but Subway still offers a good deal for anyone who appreciates variety. For $3.50, you can get a different 6-inch sub every day. The full menu is available on Subway's website. Some restaurants may let you add a drink and chips or a cookie for $5, but this varies by location.
One of the best deals at Little Caesars is aimed at the lunch crowd: Customers can get a lunch combo that includes a four-slice deep dish pepperoni pizza and a 20-ounce drink for $5 every weekday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The chain also offers its Hot-N-Ready pizzas all day. They start at just $5 for a large pepperoni or cheese. Offers are pickup only.
Just $5 can buy a lot at Popeyes right now. The chicken chain's $5 Boneless Wing Bash meal includes six boneless wings, a regular side, a biscuit, and dipping sauce. Another limited-time deal includes a family-friendly 10-piece meal that comes with two large sides and five biscuits for $20.
This holiday season, just $20 gets Pizza Hut customers the Triple Treat Box, which includes a medium one-topping pizza, breadsticks, and a family-size cookie or brownie. Pizza purists can get two medium pizzas with any toppings for $6.99 each, or $7.99 for a large two-topping pie if they order online and carry out.
Cook Out, a drive-through burger joint found throughout the South, offers a great deal in the Cook Out Tray. Customers can choose an entrée such as a double burger, quesadilla, chicken sandwich, or two hotdogs, then add two sides and a drink for just $4.99. Upgrading the drink to one of the chain's 40-plus milkshakes costs $1.
Rally's and Checkers double drive-throughs are trying to one-up the competition with one of the best fast-food deals around: Get a chicken sandwich, fish sandwich, or burger with fries, a drink, and an apple pie, all for $3. A value menu also offers more than a dozen items for $2 or less.
Seafood lovers can get a lot of bang for their buck at Captain D's, with its $4.99 Full Meal Deals. Choose from 12-piece butterfly shrimp, a piece of fish and eight pieces of shrimp, or southern-style whitefish. All meals come with two sides and hush puppies. Families can opt for a 10-piece fish or 14-piece chicken value pack that includes two large sides and hush puppies for $20.
If you miss Subway's $5 foot-longs, one of its main competitors, Blimpie, is attempting to fill the void with a slightly pricier deal. Just $6 buys a large sub sandwich or a regular sub combo that includes chips and a drink. Choose a BLT; ham and Swiss; veggie and cheese; or ham, salami and provolone.
Found mostly in the South, Taco Bueno offers value meals for $3, $4, and $5 every day. For $3, get two beef tacos, chips, rice, and beans. Another dollar buys a crispy beef taco, bean burrito, chips and queso, and a 22-ounce drink. Spending $5 buys a large platter of beef nachos and a drink. The chain also frequently offers 59-cent tacos and other items on certain days.
Fans of fast-food Italian chain Fazoli's can nab a cheap, filling lunch every weekday. Choose from two lunch portions of penne, spaghetti, fettuccini, ravioli, salad, pizza, or meat lasagna, and get a drink and a breadstick thrown in for $5. Customers can also get a $6.99 cheese or pepperoni pizza on Mondays, and $4 to $5 off family meals on Thursdays.
Feeding a crowd this holiday season? Buy one medium or large pizza at regular price, and get up to five medium one-topping pizzas for $5 each at Pizza Inn, located across the South. The restaurant also has an all-you-can eat lunch and dinner buffet with pizza, pasta, and dessert; prices vary by location.
If you love hot dogs, it's hard to beat the deals at Wienerschnitzel, found mostly in California and Texas. For a limited time, customers can load up on mini corn dogs for 25 cents each, or opt for five full-size chili dogs or corn dogs for $5.95. Many items on the menu are under $3 every day.
Casual-dining giant Applebee's has a great deal for two: Share an appetizer and get two full-size entrees for $20. Pick from a limited menu including wings, mozzarella sticks, a sirloin stir-fry, chicken pasta, and a burger. The restaurant is also offering a $12.49 buy-one, get-one-free deal on five entrees.
One of the best values at Olive Garden is the lunch menu: For $6.99, enjoy an Italian meatball or eggplant parmigiana breadstick sandwich; grilled vegetable piadina; or spaghetti mini pasta bowl with salad and breadsticks. Spending $1 more opens up choices like fettuccine Alfredo; $2 more buys favorites like lasagna.
Chili's offers more than 15 lunch combos for $6 to $8, including fajitas, tacos, quesadillas, a double cheeseburger, flatbreads, and a BLT. All come with fries, soup, or salad. The chain also offers an anytime Three for Me deal that includes a salad or chips and salsa, fajitas, and a mini molten cake for $10.
TGI Friday's doesn't limit its best deal to lunchtime. The casual-dining chain is offering a 474 menu all day with smaller, cheaper portions: six $4 appetizers, 14 $7 entrees, and two $4 desserts. Choices include green bean fries, wings, bruschetta chicken pasta, barbecue ribs, shrimp, and Tennessee whiskey cake.
Friendly's, an East Coast casual-dining chain best known for its ice cream, offers a five-meal $5.55 value menu every day. Choices include a chicken bacon ranch salad, a double cheeseburger and fries, or a turkey cheddar melt and fries. Other good values include $9.99 combos that offer heartier entrees and a sundae.
Denny's $2 $4 $6 $8 menu lets hungry customers mix and match breakfast, lunch, and dinner favorites. Choices include a stack of pancakes or cheese quesadillas for $2; biscuits and gravy or all-you-can-eat pancakes for $4; a Southwest turkey sandwich and soup for $6; and a country-fried steak and eggs skillet for $8.
At Perkins, hungry diners can get a sit-down meal for less with the Perfect Duo or Trio menu (PDF), which offers soup, half sandwiches, side salads, and desserts. Paying $6.99 allows two choices, while $8.99 gets you three choices. Options include chicken noodle soup, a roast turkey sandwich, a chicken strips melt, a BLT salad, and nine kinds of pie including banana cream and peanut-butter silk.
Customers can grab a meal for less at Romano's Macaroni Grill if they opt for lunch instead of dinner. A three-course lunch menu offers a mozzarella fritta, Caesar salad, and four entree choices including rigatoni and ravioli, all for $10.50. It's available on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The middle of the week is the best time to eat and drink for less at Joe's Crab Shack. On Tuesdays, the restaurant offers a $2 food and drink menu with choices such as crab taters, popcorn shrimp, and raw oysters. On Wednesday, $19.99 buys four kinds of all-you-can eat shrimp, plus hushpuppies and fries.
You'll need a partner for the best meal deal at Logan's Roadhouse. Just $15.99 buys two entrees, including wood-grilled chicken, chopped steak, fried fish, and salmon, as well as two sides. Upgrade to a 6-ounce sirloin for $2 more. The offer is available all day Monday to Wednesday and 3 to 6 p.m. all other days.
If you love Italian, head to Carrabba's at the beginning of the week to save a little dough. The three-course Amore Mondays meal is $12.99 and includes favorites such as lasagna and linguine. On Tasting Tuesday, customers can mix and match three small plates for $12. Choices include bruschetta, meatballs, lettuce wraps, and stuffed mushrooms.
More than 30 combos appear on Longhorn's lunch menu for $7.99 to $9.99 Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. At the low end of the range are four soup and salad combos; spending more buys favorites including a third-pound burger or shaved prime-rib half sandwich, as well as soup or salad.
Moe's, one of Chipotle's main competitors, offers a menu of daily deals at participating locations. On Tuesdays, kids eat free; other weekdays feature $6.49 meals including a burrito on Monday, quesadilla on Thursday, and burrito bowl on Friday. All meals come with chips and a drink.
If you're on an interstate, chances are there's going to be a Cracker Barrel sooner or later. Weekday lunch specials start at $5.99 and include baked chicken and stuffing on Mondays, chicken pot pie on Wednesdays, and turkey and stuffing on Thursdays. A country house salad with grilled chicken is available every day.
Casual-dining favorite Beef 'O' Brady's offers a different value option every weekday. Enjoy a burger and fries for $5.99 on Mondays; two tacos, chips and salsa for $5.99 on Tuesdays; 79-cent wings on Wednesdays; three chicken sliders and fries on Thursdays; and $9.99 for fish, shrimp, and fries on Fridays.