Updated every Monday!   Subscribe to free weekly newsletter.

Wendy’s UN-Announces “Surge” Pricing

Last week’s biggest consumer story was Wendy’s plan to introduce electronic menuboards in their restaurants that would allow them to implement “surge” pricing. In other words, to charge more during peak times.

Best we can tell this story was based on a financial presentation made to investors in early February during which the company’s CEO announced a $30-mil investment to deliver “significant restaurant margin expansion” by installing digital menuboards with “dynamic pricing & menu offerings:”

Wendy's menuboards

After a flood of news stories and negative consumer reaction to the prospect of having to pay more for the same food that was cheaper earlier in the day, Wendy’s issued a statement in its blog denying the plan.


Wendy's statement

To MrConsumer, the idea of a restaurant jacking-up its prices during peak times is just plain nasty. Will the items that are being surcharged be noted on the menuboard so customers know which ones they are?

And what about prices during off peak times? Will they be discounted below the current regular price? In other words, if a “Dave’s Single” burger is currently $4.99, will the peak price be, say, $5.99, but the off-peak price will be $3.99?

What do you think of the idea of a restaurant charging more during peak times?

Share this story:
All comments are reviewed before being published, and may be edited. Comments that are off-topic, contain personal attacks, are political, or are otherwise inappropriate will be deleted.

30 thoughts on “Wendy’s UN-Announces “Surge” Pricing”

  1. Seems if you want to purchase something, you consider the current price, make your decision, and go about your day.
    What the price was yesterday, or will be tomorrow, or an hour from now— if one were really so concerned about that, one would probably never buy anything.
    Pretty simple: if you don’t like the price, don’t buy it. Buy a competitor’s product, or don’t buy anything. Free market capitalism works.

    • Agreed, Matt. Ultimately, it is the customer who controls the price. Except for those NASTY utility bills and gas stations, who always seem to charge within a penny of each other, of course. But we do what we can, or want to. If one is really that concerned about price, rather than quality, pay it, or don’t. And if one is more concerned about what goes into their belly, pack a lunch that doesn’t include a laundry list of additives and questionable cooking skills that are out of sight of the fast-food counter.

    • Come on. Do you really think it’s good for customers, or for fast food restaurants, not to know what their burger and fries are going to cost until they arrive at the digital menu, and then decide? That take sounds a bit silly if I’m understanding what you mean correctly. People like and expect a certain amount of predictability in the pricing of things they need and use every day. Businesses run more smoothly too when they know what their costs will be.

      Price stability is a goal of government policy because it supports social and economic stability. I believe would see a huge pullback of consumer activity immediately if suddenly everything was rapidly fluctuating dynamic pricing.

      No one person has the bandwidth to track prices for every consumer good they need at all times, or the practical ability to buy when the efficiency curve for price and time to travel hits an optimal range for hundreds or thousands of everyday items. The retail world is not the stock market.

  2. I haven’t been to Wendy’s in a decade… but for those who do, this digital pricing board seems to have backfired.
    Although…it does make sense: Charge more during ‘rush ‘ hours. This will deter customers AND then no more rush. Then, they can lower the prices again because it’s not rush hour.
    Ummm…. not what they wanted. Lots of Bad PR for them….

  3. I think the media statement is the company hiding behind what was clearly an unpopular idea. On the one hand, it certainly isn’t illegal to due surge pricing like this, but on the other hand it’s hard to see how customers would be happy seeing a Combo #7 is $8 in the app and then driving there and see it cost $9.50.

    • And that is exactly how it is with stores. You find something at one price at home on the computer, pull into the parking lot, bring up the app, and it now costs more. Go into the store, find it on the shelf, and the price might be higher yet.

      Order for pick up from a casual dining restaurant — the price in the app for pick up will be higher than the price you pay to sit down in the restaurant. There is no good reason for this other than greed.

  4. I think it is a horrible idea of going to a restaurant and finding the price different than it normally is because of the time of day you are eating there. I would think that a restaurant would be happy to have the (so called problem) of being busy and selling their product so well. It is like wanting people to adjust their eating schedules or just go somewhere else instead. If people stop going to the restaurant at the so called SURGE time ,then they will not be a surge anymore and they will be making less sales and money,so then they will want to raise the prices to make up for their loss. It really sounds like the company is talking out of both sides of their mouth.It sounds like the great Abbott and Costello routine. Who’s on First?

  5. Seems they wanted to test the waters and see exactly if the could do this. After the backlash the marketing department must have decided it was a bad idea and backpedaled the idea. At least they never actually put it into practice to see if it would work and rather let a statement go out first that they were wanting to do this. Not a good move by marketing and whoever thought this would go over was not someone they should leave up to giving choices to in the future.
    This hurts the Franchisees the most as they have to go along with what corporate wants whether it is best for their store or not.

  6. The best response to a corporate behemoth like Wendys is no response. Better to just vote with your feet by not going there anymore. I will no longer buy there and warn others until Wendy’s guarantees no surge pricing. With so many fast food options it’s easy to boycott Wendys

  7. They already make more money during busy times because they’re selling more, so we’re not fooled. Changing the language so that they offer “discounts” during off-peak times probably means they’re going to increase their regular pricing, which we’ll notice. Nice shell game, Wendy’s.

  8. While Wendy’s walked-back their original statement, they refer in a subsequent statement to planned use of “dynamic pricing”. Since “Surge pricing” and “dynamic pricing” is a distinction without a difference, consumers can expect Wendy’s to introduce the very concept they deny, and for product prices to change based on so-far undisclosed policies and practices. Since most businesses keep pricing strategies hidden from consumers, it could be difficult or impossible for consumers to determine if, when and how Wendy’s implements their promise of “dynamic pricing”, and how much it may cost them. While an optimistic consumer might estimate “dynamic pricing” may result in discounts or sale prices from time to time, a realistic consumer can expect to pay more, as up-to-the-second pricing is more likely to reflect revenue targets vs. actual costs of ingredients, energy and labor required to produce products. While the concepts of “surge” and “dynamic” pricing may have their place in Uber and taxicab fares, these expenditures are discretionary. While it could be argued fast-food is also a discretionary expense and therefore rightfully subject to “surge” or “dynamic” pricing, it could be a slippery slope toward application of the same pricing strategies for virtually every product and service purchased by consumers, including groceries, school lunches, clothing and other essentials, whereby budgeting for expenses would be virtually impossible, and consumers could then expect to pay more for every item or service, whereby prices go up every second. A bad idea, made worse by corporate equivocation.

  9. People get upset at the idea of ‘surge pricing’ but don’t seem to have a problem with an early bird discount.

    • An early bird discount helps both the consumer and the establishment. Surge pricing only helps the establishment.

  10. We are seniors and have several doctors appointments monthly. We used to pick up something to eat before driving home ( 60 miles away ). We were in the McDonald’s drive thru and ordered 6 plane hamburgers and 2 large fries. Total with tax was just shy of $25. As I was pulling up to the window my wife said to keep driving, we’re not pay $25 for a few burgers. Corporate America is pushing the limit of what consumers are willing to pay and have reached the limit with us and many others.

    • IMO, these fast food giants are not transparent with their pricing and often charge a higher price than what the menu board reflects. This has happened one too many time to me at McD’s which is why I stopped going altogether.

  11. This is not a new concept, just a really poor presentation of the concept by Wendys. Like Ken mentioned, early bird specials, lunch specials, happy hour specials have existed forever. I went to cheesecake factory for dinner over the weekend and was disappointed to see that the salmon dish I usually order near my office for lunch was significantly more expensive at dinner. However, I understand that the cheesecake factory’s version of dynamic pricing (or whatever you want to call it) is what they do to get more customers over the lunch hour.

  12. Have you taken a ride on plane recently? The prices are all over the map from a low early morning flight to one costing three times that in the middle of the day. A plane that flies to a city will charge three or four more times if it’s during a holiday. Profit the stockholder, screw the customer. It’s called capitalism for Pete’s sake – you charge what the traffic will bear. If people don’t like the price, they won’t pay it and the price goes down. Fundamental.

    • That’s true. I’m getting ready for a 6 am. flight as I write this.
      The difference is, airlines have a captive audience, whereas restaurants do not. At least for now. Even then, if enough restaurants try this, some if not many people will just cook at home.

    • Well, the market didn’t bear it, people complained, Wendy’s backtracked with a damaged reputation. Market forces.

  13. Sharp Marketing could’ve implemented this and made customers see it as a good thing: Wendy’s could have another price increase on all products due to overhead, then say the new system will allow them to be flexible in offering discounts more often to help customers stretch their dollars; and for those willing to visit them in off-peak times, they’ll have a discount and faster service. Win/win!

  14. I’m a loyal Wendy’s customer. My grandkids refer to eating there as going to “Wendy’s House.” But if Wendy’s pulled this stunt, I would explain to my grandkids why we don’t go to Wendy’s house anymore. And, they’re smart enough to understand. Can someone say Dairy Queen?

  15. sometimes you must have prime time pricing. as a former wedding dj i would really get pizzed at a bride who overspent on chocolates and flowers and wanted a discount in June. But, I would gladly give a discount even 50% in January.

  16. I agree with Mr Consumer, it’s just plain nasty! I’m glad there was a big consumer push-back to discourage other corporations from the same idea.

  17. I’m glad I’m not a fast food customer. No nutrition and ridiculous prices. I don’t trust corporations do be ethical. I don’t believe they know what “ethical” means. Stakeholders companies definitely don’t like that term.

  18. Doesn’t surprise me. Capitalism at its ‘finest’! Personally, it doesn’t affect me, I haven’t eaten at a fast food place in years! I will not eat food prepared by a disgruntled teenager.

  19. Rest assured that this will eventually come to all such restaurants, so you will have no choice. Digital slavery continually encroaches.

Comments are closed.