Choose better fast-food meal options by not ordering the combo meals

Combo Meal - Meat Shake
Combo Meal – Meat Shake

A study by University of Virginia professor Kathyrn Sharpe in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing entitled “Consumption Effects of Bundling: Consumer Perceptions, Firm Actions, and Public Policy Implications,” says that ordering combo meals may not be good for you, health-wise.

The study found that when given a choice of ordering menu items a la carte vs ordering them as a combo meal, consumers would order the combo more often — even if the price point was exactly the same as the a la carte options.

Combo meals also make it easy for the consumer to say “super-size”, as the perceived value of adding “just $0.40 to the order” is significantly greater than if the larger-sized items were purchased separately.  In fact, those ordering the combo meals were more likely to order larger food sizes than they needed to have their hunger satisfied.  The study concluded that consumers are subconsiously told that smaller sizes are bad, larger sizes are good.   Well, when it comes to fast food, bigger isn’t often better.

The study showed that when consumers ordered a la carte, they tended to order smaller portions than if they ordered the combo.  The example given was a 12-oz beverage vs a 21-oz beverage with the combo.  Who needs 21-oz of soda (plus free refill, if ordered “for here”)?

When it came to french fries, 15% would choose the combo option that came with fries.  26% of customers who ordered the small fry a la carte would take the medium or large fry with the combo.  Those customers who would order the medium or large fries a la carte would also upsize their combo in that scenario.

The study also found that providing nutrional info did not change consumers’ decision making.

The one diet-positive item that the study did see is that restaurants should make the combo’s drink sizes smaller. Consumer satisfaction would still be present, but it also ends up cutting out up to 7% of the meal’s calories (depending on the beverage being ordered).

So what does this mean for Web Watch readers who are looking to cut calories but still end up having to eat at a fast food restaurant?  Order what you want in the sizes that you want, but order off the a-la-carte menu.  You’ll have more control over what you’re eating, and you may even save some money over the combo meals.