The great McNugget caper: McDonald's is ripping you off

We run into McDonald's because it's easy and cheap, and that keeps us from turning on the stove. But did you know that you've also probably been turning off your brain?

The Golden Arches is pulling off a little sleight of hand in the way it prices its McNuggets. Like the best optical illusions, the truth has been right before your eyes, but most of us have never noticed it.

Depending on where you live, your nuggets cost a buck if you get them on the Dollar Menu. That's a quarter each. Get 10, and you pay around $4, or 40¢ each. Spring for the whole 20-piece banquet, and the price is more than $7, or 35¢ per bird chunk.

If you really want 20 nuggets (and I must remind you that chickens do not actually produce nuggets in nature), just buy five orders off the Dollar Menu and you can save two bucks. Two bucks! Most of us assume that the larger portion options and set meals are available because they offer economy of scale. Clearly, that's a Kroc.

As soon as I heard about this, I ran to a local Mickey D's to see if the scam was true everywhere. It's not usually easy to piece together, so to speak, because McDonald's obscures any comparison by scattering the available sizes in various locations all over the menu boards. Sometimes, the lower-priced options aren't posted on the menu at all, preventing customers from knowing the price unless they ask the clerk before ordering.

Sure enough, the McDonald's near me offered a better value for the four-piece (45¢) than it did for the six-piece (47¢). At this restaurant, though, the bigger batches did offer a better deal: 36¢ each for the 10-piece or 29¢ each for the gargantuan 20-piece. However, given that the meal-sized six-piecer is probably ordered more often than the four-piecer, I can't help but suspect that my McDonald's is pulling a fast one to wring more money out of the most popular version of the fried dish.

I also checked a local Burger King and a Wendy's. Burger King passed, with nuggets worth about the same however they came. Wendy's, though, was inconclusive. Although it offered a five-piecer for the equivalent of 28¢ each, it wouldn't sell me a 10-piece box unless I bought it as a meal, with fries and a drink.

Jennifer 8. Lee, the octo-named New York Times writer, first noticed the scam. She clearly has an eye for inauthentic menus, having recently published a digestible history of the Americanization of Chinese cuisine.

Come on, Ronald. Am I gonna have to bring a calculator to the counter next time? I can see now why the Hamburglar turned to a life of crime.
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