Fast Food Menu Hacks

32 Secrets for Better, Cheaper Meals at Your Favorite Chains

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Fast Food Menu Hacks

Fast Breaks

We all stop at fast food and chain restaurants now and again, especially if we're in a hurry. But the money you're spending on all those trips to the drive-thru can add up quickly, even if you don't feel like you're spending much on each individual meal. There are always ways to save money and enhance your meals at chain restaurants; you just have to know how to game the system and find the secret menu hacks. Here are 32 tips and tricks for saving the most money and having better meals at some of America's top chain restaurants.

Mini Big Mac

McDonald's: Mini Big Mac

Known as the poor man's Big Mac, this order turns a cheaper cheeseburger into a sandwich that tastes just like the Big Mac: Ask for a McDouble with no ketchup or mustard, and add lettuce and Big Mac sauce. You'll be missing the middle bun, but depending on location, you'll save around $2.

Starbucks: Make Your Own Iced Latte
Elena K./

Starbucks: DIY Iced Latte

You can make your own lattes on the cheap at Starbucks. Order a double or triple espresso and get it on ice in a larger cup. Then just add milk and any flavorings over top at the condiment area. You'll typically save about $2 and end up with roughly the same beverage.

McDonald's Dollar Menu

McDonald's: Triple Dollar Menu

Don't get fooled by McDonald's Dollar Menu format. A triple cheeseburger is $3, but you can order three regular cheeseburgers for the same price, and get a lot more food.

McDonald's Two-For Deals

McDonald: Twofer Deals

Pay close attention to the buy-two promotions at your local McDonald's. For instance, in one area, a Big Mac is $3.99, but if you buy two of them, it's only $5. In other words, it's only a dollar more to buy two than to buy one.

Taco Bell Spicy Potato Beef Taco
Taco Bell/

Taco Bell: Spicy Potato and Beef Soft Taco

A beef soft taco at Taco Bell is $1.19, and at many locations it costs more, up to $1.49. If you're in an area with high prices, it makes sense to order the spicy potato soft taco and add beef for 60 cents. You get a heftier taco (300 calories) made with fried potatoes, ground beef, creamy chipotle sauce, lettuce, and cheese for $1.60.

Taco Bell Mini Mexican Pizza
Paras V./

Taco Bell: Mini Mexican Pizza

The same trick can be used to make a dish similar to Taco Bell's Mexican pizza. Add beef to the $1 spicy tostada for 60 cents. You get one crispy tostada shell instead of two, but you still get beans, beef, sauces, and toppings, making it a steal for $1.60, less than half the price of a Mexican pizza.

Starbucks Split a Venti

Starbucks: Venti for 2

A venti drink at Starbucks is 24 ounces, while a tall is half that, at 12 ounces. Got a friend who drinks the same thing? Order a venti along with two tall cups. It'll undoubtedly be less money than ordering two talls separately.

Order a Small Soda

Everywhere: Small Fountain Soda

If you're eating somewhere that has self-service fountain drinks or offers free refills, then always order the smallest (read: cheapest) size. You can get as much soda as you want, just in a smaller cup.

Taco Bell Grilled Burrito
Taco Bell/

Taco Bell: Grilled Burrito

At Taco Bell, you can ask for any of the burritos to be grilled at no cost. It gives them a nice, golden, crunchy crust on two sides, just like the Crunchwraps, which cost more.

McDonald's Order More McNuggets

McDonald’s: More McNuggets

It doesn't make financial sense to order McNuggets in small quantities anymore. A 10-piece is usually over $4, while a 20-piece is only $5 almost everywhere. You get double the McNuggets for less than a dollar more. 

Culver's Kids' Meal

Culver’s: Kids Meal

Ordering a kids meal is almost always a good way to save money, even as an adult. It's an especially good deal at Culver's, where you can get a single cheeseburger, fries, small drink and a scoop of custard for $4.99. That's at least $8 worth of food.

Extra Freebies
Chipotle Mexican Grill/

Chipotle: Extra Freebies

You can always ask for extra burrito fillings because most are free. Extra rice, beans, salsa, cheese, and lettuce are all free, so if you're looking to make two (or more!) meals out of one Chipotle bowl, ask for more of whatever freebies you want.

Qdoba Order on the Side
Tim C./Yelp

Qdoba: Everything on the Side

Qdoba changed its menu so that everything — even guacamole — is included in the price of a burrito. You can also get tortillas or chips on the side of a burrito bowl, so order the queso and guacamole that would normally go in the bowl on the side. They'll put it in little cups, and you can dip the chips or tortillas like an appetizer.

Arby's Sliders

Arby's: Sliders

Instead of the classic roast beef sandwich, order two roast beef sliders. The sliders are around $1.50, while the classic roast beef is around $3.29. You get more food and more calories in two sliders than you would with a classic roast beef, for less money.

Subway Share a Footlong

Subway: Footlong for 2

Got a friend who wants to eat with you? You can order one footlong sub and customize the toppings on each half. So as long as you're happy to eat the same meats and cheeses, you can take advantage of this trick.

Chick-Fil-A Skip the Sandwich

Chick-fil-A: Strips Over Sandwiches

Instead of ordering two classic chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A for a bit over $6, order the four-piece chicken strips along with two toasted buns. You'll still get two sandwiches out of the deal, but it'll be about $1.50 less.

KFC Get the Combo

KFC: Combos

While this is true at most fast food places, sticking to combos is especially important to save money at KFC. The $5 Fill Ups box, for example, is one of the best deals on the menu. The side, medium drink, biscuit, and cookie would come to almost $4.50 if ordered individually, and then, of course, you get chicken, too.

Tortilla on the Side
I-Lin L./

Chipotle: Tortilla on the Side

When you order a bowl, or even tacos, you can get a large tortilla or taco-size tortillas on the side for free. Use these to make your own tacos, or get crispy taco shells and break them apart like tortilla chips.

Chipotle and Qdoba Double Wrap
Chipotle Mexican Grill/

Chipotle and Qdoba: Double Wrap

Ordering a burrito? Ask for a double-tortilla wrap. The people preparing the food layer on an extra tortilla sometimes anyway, if a burrito is especially unwieldy or has sprung a leak, so you might as well get the extra tortilla regardless.

Chipotle Go Half and Half
Chipotle Mexican Grill/

Chipotle: Half and Half

It may not work all the time, but you can sometimes get more meat by asking for, say, half steak and half barbacoa. It's harder to portion out a half serving of meat, so usually you get a bit more than you would have if you had ordered just one type of meat. The same goes for beans.

App Rewards
Source: Google Play Store

Everywhere: App Rewards

Most restaurant chains have apps now, and there's usually a reward just for downloading them. Some restaurant, like McDonald's, have coupons and deals everyday. Some give you something for free just for downloading their app. It's always a good idea to check the app before you go to a restaurant.

Check Your Receipt

Everywhere: Receipt Offers

Make sure you get a receipt at every restaurant you go to — not because they might screw things up, but because often there's an offer on the bottom for free or discounted items on a later visit. Panda Express, for example, often gives you a free individual entree on your next visit if you take an online survey.

Jimmy John's LBI
Jimmy John's/

Jimmy John’s: 'LBI'

If you order a sub at Jimmy John's, you'll notice that they scrape out most of the bread inside to make room for the fillings. But to a carb lover, that's practically a sin. Order your sandwich "LBI," meaning "leave bread in," and you get all the baguette.

Panera Skip the Spread
Panera Bread/

Panera: Tub Instead of Spread

When you order a bagel, skip the cream cheese spread. Instead, buy an 8-ounce tub of cream cheese for $2.99. That's only $1.74 more than the schmear would have cost, and now you have the whole rest of the tub to leave in the work fridge for next time.

Panera Mac and Cheese Bread Bowl
Panera Bread/

Panera: Mac and Cheese Bread Bowl

If you're looking to really carbo load, you can get Panera's mac and cheese in a bread bowl. It costs only a dollar more, and you're adding tons more calories for the money.

Dairy Queen Custom Blizzard
Dairy Queen TX/

Dairy Queen: Customized Blizzard

If Dairy Queen has the ingredients, chances are employees will be willing to put it in a Blizzard for you. Just ask for whatever you like — within reason, of course. Some popular secret menu Blizzards include banana split and chocolate cherry.

Dunkin Donuts Fruit and Cream Coolatta
Dunkin' Donuts/

Dunkin’ Donuts: Fruit and Cream Coolatta

At Dunkin' Donuts, order a vanilla Coolatta and customize it with a shot of fruit syrup. Raspberry and blueberry are almost always available, and sometimes peach is too. Even coconut would make for a delicious treat at the same price. And don't forget to have it topped with whipped cream for free, as well.

Get Fries Unsalted

Everywhere: Unsalted Fries

Some people need to order their fries unsalted for health reasons, but anyone who orders them unsalted will get a fresh batch. Grab a packet of salt from the condiment area and salt those babies yourself.

Make a Special Order

Everywhere: Special Order

Most fast food places have sandwiches premade and ready to go. So if you want to ensure that you're getting one that hasn't been sitting there for too long, order it any way besides the way it's served by default. That usually means adding or removing a topping to get a freshly made sandwich.

Burger King Fries and Onion Rings
Burger King/

Burger King: Rings and Fries Together

Can't decide between fries and onion rings? Just ask for half and half; employees are usually happy to do it. They're the same price, so you shouldn't be charged extra.

McDonald's Round Egg

McDonald’s: Round Egg

Most breakfast sandwiches at McDonald's come with a folded, omelet-like egg. But if you want a fresh egg cracked onto the griddle, order your sandwich with a "round egg" instead. It's the same thing that comes in Egg McMuffins.

Sonic's Purple Sprite
Sonic Drive-In/

Sonic: Purple Sprite

It goes by a few different names, but one of the most popular off-menu drinks at Sonic is Sprite mixed with Powerade, cranberry juice, and lemonade. It's supposedly quite refreshing during summer.