Why Do Fast Food Restaurants Charge More In Black Neighborhoods?

I was in a hurry today so I stopped at McDonalds. I ordered fries so of course, I asked for ketchup. The lady at the window told me with a straight face, "You know you have to pay for ketchup, right?" I've seen a lot in my day but never a fast food joint charging for ketchup! I happen to live on the South Side of Chicago -- in a very Black neighborhood -- and have seen this trend increasing over time but seemingly only in Black neighborhoods. What's that about?

One block east of the McDonald's is a Popeye's Chicken that, for some reason, doesn't carry honey. I don't mean they are out of honey today, I mean they are glad to sell you a biscuit but as a matter of policy, do not stock honey in that store. I called a few other Popeye's in non-Black neighborhoods and they all provide honey at no charge. I called a few McDonald's today and of course, they gladly give their customers ketchup. So in practice, Black consumers at these establishments are asked to pay more for less -- a very old practice in America with an ugly history.

If you study the Great Migration you'll find that Black folks who moved north were effectively paying more for housing that was substandard (relative to their non-Black counterparts). If you study the mortgage crisis of the 2000's you'll find that Black borrowers were given pricier loans, regardless of credit score or income. You've probably heard tons of stories about disparities in insurance costs, based on your zip code. There is no shortage of examples -- Black consumers are routinely asked to pay more for less. Not only does this help to explain, in part, why inequality exists in America, it is also downright hurtful and offensive.

Explaining the particulars of these two restaurants in my neighborhood isn't really important. I do not know who the franchisees are and I don't really care because on today I made the mistake. A few blocks west of that McDonald's (and just three blocks from my house) is one of my favorite restaurants, Tastee Cafe. The sister who owns it makes a burger far better than anything McDonald's has, with much higher quality ingredients and at a very reasonable price. No, they don't offer drive-thru service but ultimately, I would have been better served by calling in my order and picking it up there.

I thought about calling the McDonald's corporate office and complaining. I thought about calling for a boycott. But why spend the energy? Why waste my breath and stress myself out when I can simply get a much better burger next time, from a wonderful sister in my own neighborhood? The question isn't why do they charge more for less. The real question is, why did I allow myself to be a victim?

1 comment

  1. Gladys Jackson 27 March, 2019 at 21:29 Reply

    True story, I live on the south side of Chicago and have had the same problem McDonald’s charge for ketchup and on the North side, you can get more than one free. Same thing with Poppyes Chicken up the street from McDonalds you can’t get honey for free or if you offered to pay.

    I visit my daughter on the North side and in the burbs and have no problem getting ketchup or honey. WHATS UP WITH THAT? I have also stopped going there.

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