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How much do meals cost at I-95 service plazas?

How much do meals cost at I-95 service plazas?

Meal combo prices at McDonald’s restaurants along Connecticut highways remain high, despite a recent pledge by the company’s president to “focus on affordability.”

“Americans across the country are making tough choices about where to spend their hard-earned money,” McDonald’s President Joe Erlinger said in a recent open letter to the public. “And while we’ve worked hard to ensure our fans have great reasons to visit us, it’s clear that we — along with our franchisees — must remain laser-focused on value and affordability.”

McDonald's at the gas station northbound in Darien along Interstate 95.

McDonald’s at the gas station northbound in Darien along Interstate 95.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

Erlinger also said that media coverage of the $18 meals didn’t paint an accurate picture. In March 2023, CT Insider found that a Big Mac combo meal cost $16.89 at a gas station on Interstate 95 in Darien. The gas station menu showed prices for other sandwich and burger meals that were more than $19. According to the Connecticut DOT, tenants who operate restaurants in service plazas are responsible for setting prices.

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“Recently, we’ve seen viral social posts and poorly substantiated reports that McDonald’s has raised prices significantly above inflation rates,” Erlinger wrote. “This is false. And as a brand that prides itself on serving nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population each year, we feel a responsibility to ensure the real facts are available.”

Connecticut’s highways, however, tell a different story. Erlinger said the average price of a 10-piece McNugget meal is $9.19 in 2024. But along I-95 in Connecticut, the cheapest McNuggets you could find this June were at the southern I-95 service area in Fairfield, where the 10-piece McNuggets combo (fries and a drink) cost $14.49. Just across the road at the northern Fairfield plaza, the same meal cost $18.29. The price was the same at both I-95 service areas in Darien. At stops in Branford, Madison and Milford, the same meal ranged from $14.49 to $15.29.

And that’s not even the most expensive item on the menu. A Quarter Pounder with cheese and bacon will set you back $19.29 at the northbound Fairfield Plaza, but just $15.89 across the freeway.

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According to Erlinger, the average price of a Big Mac in 2024 is $5.29. In Fairfield, a Big Mac costs $6.89 if you’re going south on I-95 and $8.39 if you’re going north. (These prices were recorded in June.)

The companies that own the McDonald’s restaurants along I-95 also operate McDonald’s locations in multiple states; the owners could not be reached for comment. McDonald’s corporate did not comment.

Chris Hough and Katie Brickley were traveling through Connecticut when they stopped at the northern Darien service area to use the restroom on June 7. The couple flew from their native England to New York and drove to visit family in Vermont. Hough said he ended up spending nearly $40 on two meals at McDonald’s.

“It’s so expensive,” Hough said. “We paid over $36 for two meals of 10 nuggets. In the UK we usually pay maybe 20 pounds.”

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Chris Botterbusch was traveling through Connecticut with his wife and children. They expected high expenses, so he and his wife made themselves a chicken salad. Botterbusch said he went to the bathroom while his wife ordered two Happy Meals for their boys.

“I sat down and she said, ‘Don’t ask for the receipt,’” he said as he left the gas station heading north from Darien on I-95.

Connecticut has 23 service areas along I-95, Interstate 395 and the Merritt Parkway. Since 2009, all service areas have been managed by a private company, Project Service, under contract with the state Department of Transportation. There are 10 service areas along I-95 between Darien and Madison. Eight of them have McDonald’s restaurants.

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Meal prices at service points in Milford, Fairfield and Darien were collected on June 7. Point prices in Branford and Madison were collected on June 13.