Cafe Reviews

Jack in the Box's 3 for $3 and the Battle for Economical Satisfaction

You're hungry, on the road, and have just a few bucks in your wallet. The fast-food giants are waving value menus and dollar deals in your money-starved face. Will most of us bite? Sure, we will. Grab a burger for a buck and a regular-size soda and we're on our way.

A bargain? Not so much.

Sodas and sides are what fast-food financial folk call high-margin items. Translation: They're cheap to make, but the prices we pay for them make the accountants' calculators happy. It's like ordering a "bargain" breakfast along with $2 for coffee.

So when it comes to discounts at fast-food joints, Fry Girl's a low-margin diva. Coffee with my $1 sausage muffin with cheese? No thanks, Ronald, I brought java with me. A large Diet Coke with a Whopper Jr.? I'll have it my way by grabbing a D.C. from the vending machine or simply going without.

Until recently, Jack hasn't lured me with his dollar menu. With his new "Pick 3 for $3," methinks Mr. Jack is hoping to crack the net-margin-draining nut by letting guests customize their value meal instead of buying dollar items à la carte.

How? Let's break it down: Choose any three of eight menu items, including three sandwiches (Chicken Sandwich Jr., Bacon Cheeseburger, and Hamburger Deluxe), four sides (small fries, onion rings, egg rolls, and mini churros) and a small drink. Jack's a genius because most people are likely to include a high-margin side or drink. C'mon, Jack, a small drink and small fries for a buck each? Who's the clown here?

Can you beat the Box's "Pick 3 for $3"? Sure, and Fry Girl's gonna help you do it, in three easy steps:

1. Avoid high-margin hefties: Small drink and fries, you're outta here.

2. Pass up poor-tasting fare: Goodbye, flavorless chicken, bland onion rings, and the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger's disagreeable duo of barbecue sauce and mayo.

3. Bag these tasty bargains: Jack's egg rolls are $1.39 each, but three of the crispy tubes of pork and vegetables for $3 are the ultimate Box beater. Or add one to a Hamburger Deluxe or five-piece bag of sugary-good mini churros, which squirt cinnamon goo when you bite into them — fun! Tripling up, doubling up plus one, or going with one of each should foil Jack's high-margin high jinks.

Value menus? Dollar deals? Only if you know how to work the system. When they ask how you did it, tell 'em you learned from Fry Girl.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld