Last week, Clara made a seemingly harmless, random comment about how expensive the Lido McDonald's is. I was shocked because AREN'T ALL MCDONALD'S PRICED THE SAME????!
Oh boy, did she open a can of worms, because the answer - as I soon found out - is no.
DIFFERENCES IN MCDONALD'S SINGAPORE MENU PRICES
McDonald's has always had a special place in my heart - like most Singaporeans from middle income families, I grew up looking forward to chicken nuggets and Happy Meals on the weekends.
So of course, I was horrified at the idea of McDonald's charging us different prices at different outlets. I needed to investigate.
There are 135 McDonald's restaurants in Singapore, and I couldn't possibly visit them all, so I decided to split 7 of them into different tiers of "atas".Photo: MoneySmart
My hypothesis (that the prices may be different for these areas) was right - in fact, prices also differed within the heartland districts and town. Let's use the heartland central prices as the "normal" one for base of comparison.Photo: MoneySmart
I'll just give you a few moments to collect yourself.
When you're done and can pick your jaw off the floor, keep scrolling for the price comparisons of each outlet.
HEARTLAND DISTRICTS - MCDONALD'S CLEMENTI MALL, TOA PAYOH LOR 1
This is the food menu for McDonald's Clementi Mall and Toa Payoh Lor 1 (excludes beverages).Photo: MoneySmartPhoto: MoneySmartPhoto: MoneySmartPhoto: MoneySmartPhoto: MoneySmartPhoto: MoneySmart
Out of the 7, only these 2 outlets had identical prices. So I'll assume that this is the "regular" menu price.
Note the iconic $5 Extra Value Meals (EVM) and $0.80 vanilla cone.
MCDONALD'S ON CAMPUS - SINGAPORE POLYTECHNIC (SP)
Let's start off with the menu prices for McDonald's Singapore Polytechnic. Understandably (and as expected), everything is way cheaper (average -31.08 per cent). For convenience, I've shortlisted the ones that are more than 40 per cent cheaper at SP:Photo: MoneySmart
Granted, I didn't expect the price difference to be this much, but I completely accept it because it's within a school.
It's reasonable that they charge less. Like school canteen mah - must pass down the savings (from cheaper rental, etc) to the students.
Like all McDonald's, this is open to public so if you live in the Dover area and are in need of a fast food fix - visit this outlet! The 9-pc box of chicken nuggets is only $3.85! (squeals)
"ATAS" HEARTLAND DISTRICTS - MCDONALD's SIGLAP
What surprised me was that even though I categorised them all as "heartland districts", the Siglap Centre McDonald's was slightly more expensive than the ones at Clementi and Toa Payoh.
And I really mean slightly (<1 per cent), because most items are the same price, with a handful that are just $0.05 to $0.20 pricier. These are the ones I'm talking about:Photo: MoneySmart
It's a bit sian because it's the inflation is so insignificant that it feels like a deliberately sneaky move to just earn that 1 per cent more or something.
I also noticed that McDonald's Siglap charges more for meals. You pay the same price for the a la carte burgers, but order the meals and you're charged a slight premium.
TOURIST SPOTS - MCDONALD'S CHANGI AIRPORT (T4)
Now, onto Changi Airport, which I kind of expected to be the most expensive of the lot. Why? Simply because it's the most affordable dining option in the airport. But surprise, surprise - the T4 Mac's is actually cheaper than Orchard SCAPE and LIDO.Photo: MoneySmart
Pleasant surprise: Most things are just $0.10 to $0.40 more expensive, which I think is an acceptable premium to pay for the convenience of it being at the airport.
If this bugs you and you really want to save that few cents, at least now you know you can eat at the McDonald's near your place before your flight.
DOWNTOWN - MCDONALD'S SCAPE
Next category - town. I expected all McDonald's restaurants in Orchard to be priced about the same, but for some reason, they're not. The SCAPE prices are actually mostly the same price as Changi Airport's. The only difference is that $5 Extra Value Meals are $5.50.Photo: MoneySmart
ATAS PARTS OF TOWN - MCDONALD"S LIDO, SHAW HOUSE
SCAPE is about 4.41 per cent more expensive when compared to the heartland prices, but LIDO is almost 3X that. Siao leh - see for yourself:Photo: MoneySmart
It's by far the most expensive restaurant of the 7, by about 11.95 per cent. Those listed above are only the items that are over 10 per cent more expensive.
Noteworthy ones include the three $5 Extra Value Meals that range from $5.95 to $6.35 at LIDO. Also, the ChocoCone is $1.60 - seriously? I don't know how I never noticed it before????!
#ProTip: If you're wise, you'll be like me and da bao Mac's from elsewhere before the movie.
BONUS - HOW DO MCDELIVERY PRICES COMPARE?
You probably already know and expect this, but for comparisons sake, let's look at the McDelivery menu as well:Photo: MoneySmartPhoto: MoneySmart
In general, you're paying about 10 per cent more, excluding the $4 delivery fee.
I suppose this one is somewhat justified because you're paying for the convenience of staying home and resting on your couch while someone picks up your food for you.
CONCLUSION - IS THE PRICE DIFFERENCE JUSTIFIED?
To be honest, I can't tell you that. Perhaps McDonald's has a really good reason for this price discrimination.
I've tried searching for an explanation in the FAQs, but couldn't find any. (If you find it, please send them my way!!!!!) The only culprits I can think of is that they either A) want to account for differing overheads like cheaper/more expensive rental prices, or B) have a franchise model.
Both are valid, I suppose. And the franchisees probably have the liberty to set their own prices and/or discounts and whatnot.
I guess it wouldn't feel so shitty if they at least had a different branding for each tier of restaurants so you know what you're getting into. Like Astons vs Astons Express vs Astons Specialties for example.
Then they can offer a slightly different menu with higher- or lower-end dishes to suit the budget of the market.
With McDonald's, you're getting exactly the same thing. Buay sai, lah.
To be fair, they do state in the fine print of the menus that prices vary between restaurants. And while I can't find an explanation on the local McDonald's site, there are FAQ answers on the UK and UAE sites. This is what the UK one says:Photo: MoneySmart
This article was first published in MoneySmart.