A value meal is a menu item which offers several items grouped together at a low cost. Buying the items separately would cost more than purchasing a value meal, which acts as an incentive to encourage people to opt for the value meal. Paradoxically, although value meals are offered at a discount, they encourage patrons to spend more, which is why they are a common feature on the menus of fast food restaurants and other establishments which offer cheap food.
In a classic example of a value meal, a fast food restaurant might offer a hamburger, fries, and drink together at a low price. People may also be allowed to pay a small fee to “supersize” the meal, making the fries and drink larger. In fact, at some fast food establishments, employees are encouraged up upsell supersizing options, encouraging customers to spend more, thereby increasing the profit margin for the business.
From the point of view of a business, there are a number of advantages to the value meal. They tend to increase customer loyalty, and they attract customers, as customers see advertised meal deals and decide to stop to survey the options and order food. The costs of production are also quite low; while the restaurant may take a loss on the main value meal item, the additional items have a high profit margin, and therefore make up for the loss.
Value meals also create a perception of a deal for customers; a customer might come in wanting to order a burger and fries, but get the value meal with a drink since it costs roughly the same. While a small sum might not make a difference to a single customer, such sums add up over the course of the day, especially since value meals tend to appear at establishments with very high turnover. Over the course of a day, customers spend much more with value meals than they would otherwise.
Value meals have been criticized by some nutrition advocates who argue that they encourage people to eat more. Faced with buying a standalone menu item or a value meal for a slightly increased price, many people will opt for the value meal because they believe they are getting a better deal. This means that they consume more food than they might have otherwise. Nutritionally, value meals are often not a terrific choice, because they can be very high calorie and they can include calories from sources which may be less healthy, such as certain types of fats.