In Fast Food, Five—As in $5—Is Now the Magic Number

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It’s not particularly complicated: $5 is a nice round, approachable, affordable-sounding number. At a time when popular fast-casual chains are pushing the average diner bill upward, the $5 price point is especially likely to get the attention of deal hunters. And that’s why fast food customers are seeing more and more of the fiver.

Pizza Hut recently announced that in honor of its 55th anniversary, it’s offering an extraordinary deal: $5.55 for a large one-topping pizza. (Take-out only through June 15; the price isn’t valid for deliveries or in-restaurant dining.) Consumers probably couldn’t care less about the anniversary, or any restaurant’s birthday or “historic” celebration. But a promotion with ultra-cheap prices? That gets their attention.

And while Pizza Hut came up with the special price due to its 55th anniversary, the chain seems to have landed on a very special price point for bargain-crazed consumers. “If the consumer needs something that gives them permission to experiment with a brand, $5 is the magic number,” Derek Farley, president of the PR firm DFPR, told USA Today. “It is consistently the threshold that reinforces the idea of a deal.”

Likewise, the restaurant insiders at QSR Magazine declared that Dairy Queen “hit the magic price point” with its $5 Buck Lunch, a new promotion offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. that includes a cheeseburger, chicken strips, or chili cheese hot dog, plus fries, drink, and a small sundae for, well, for you know how much.

(MORE: Summer of 2013 Must-Taste Fast Food List: The Top Ten)

Of course, five is not the only powerful number in the fast food business. One, as in the $1 menu, has been a huge draw for McDonald’s and other chains. Lately, Wendy’s and Burger King have been expanding their dollar menus, or rather transforming them into “value” menus, by including certain items that are somewhere in the $1 to $2 range. Zero—as in $0 or free—naturally gets consumers excited the most, as National Donut Day and other freebie events demonstrate.

But nowadays, the $5 mark is widely regarded as a terrific restaurant deal when it covers an entire meal for one or, even better, a few people. This is especially the case compared to the typical $7 or $8 (sometimes much more) a customer will spend to fill his belly at Chipotle, Panera Bread, or any of the emerging “fast casual” pizza chains.

Other $5 deals that have popped up include the “Big Catch” meal from Long John Silver’s (fish, hush puppies, and a side for $4.99), Taco Bell’s Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos $5 Buck Lunch, KFC’s $4.99 boneless chicken combo meal, and Pizza Hut’s recent introduction of pizza sliders that cost $5 for three.

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And we can’t forget about the most famous and most successful $5 quick service restaurant deal in recent memory: The $5 Footlong from Subway. In 2009, during the heart of the recession era, Businessweek traced the roots of the $5 Footlong, which began as a weekend gimmick in on Subway franchise and turned into a phenomenon that helped boost the company’s sales 17% when most restaurants were struggling to break even.