Kyle Woodley, InvestorPlace Assistant Editor
Fast-food companies face a two-headed monster after every New Year's Day: empty resolutions and even emptier wallets. While most people who swear off greasy-bag lunches will fall back off the wagon at some point, they'll spend January testing their self-control - and usually, their holiday overspending will help keep the debit cards sheathed, at least for a month.
So, as USA TODAYrecently reported, fast-food companies have to get aggressive. In addition to warding off the January lull, the industry is coming off a 0.6% drop in third-quarter foot traffic, and NPD Group research expects visits to be flat - in the whole first half of 2012! To you and I, that means a solid month of gooey, cheesy, melty, lettuce-y deals.
Here's a look at the best bargains at a drive-thru near you.
Taco Bell: At the behest of this Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) chain's clamoring fans across social media, the 99-cent Beefy Crunch Burrito is back. It was a hit upon its 2010 debut, and while it has come and gone at varying prices, the Beefy Crunch Burrito's originally perfect mix of "cheap," "filling" and "marginally tasty" picked up a zealous following. So much so that a man was charged with aggravated assault against a public officer in 2011 after firing an air gun at officers - all in response to discovering the burrito's price was jacked up to $1.49. In the spirit of life, Taco Bell spared us the extra 50 cents this time around.
Papa John's: The Papa's making it happen for a little less coin. Large pizzas at Papa John's (NASDAQ:PZZA) are going for $11 – even specialties! Of course, it's trumped by ...
Pizza Hut: Which is doing the exact same thing for a buck less. And that's not even Pizza Hut's best deal by a longshot! For just $9.99 more, Pizza Hut offers the Big Dinner Box - two medium one-topping pizzas, eight wings and five breadsticks. Anyone ordering "just a pizza" is being taken for a sucker.
Wendy's: The House that Dave Built marches on with its 99-cent value menu, but Wendy's (NASDAQ:WEN) most recent commercials are pushing a pair of dollar burgers that blur the line of responsibility. The Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe shows a beef patty, a slice of cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce and pickles. The Cheesy Cheddaburger eschews the ground-grown components of Junior for a "layer" of cheddar. Your reward for going veggies? More calories, more carbs, more fat. Go figure.
KFC: Speaking of healthy choices, the Colonel is hacking off $4 from the price of its 10-piece chicken buckets with "$11 Weekend Buckets." But everyone knows they get you on the sides - no one just sits down to a bucket of drumsticks and calls it a day.
Jack in the Box: The value meal is far from new, but Jack in the Box's (NASDAQ:JACK) current January deal is the stuff people in the Northeast can only dream about: A Jumbo Jack burger, two tacos, small fries and a small drink for $4.29. That's right: Burger. Tacos. Same restaurant. And more than half the country is missing out!
Of course, not everyone is trying to lull customers by pulling back prices. Among other plans in the works:
White Castle is experimenting with selling beer and wine in its locations. For those of you not in the know, beer and wine traditionally are the cause of most White Castle runs. Fish in a barrel, my friends. Fish in a barrel.
It's an Olympic year, which means McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and Subway will be hauling out the medalists to peddle their wares. Of course, Subway has a much easier time leveraging the athletic spirit since you can believe Apolo Anton Ohno or Michael Phelps might actually eat its offerings as part of a training regimen. Maybe Big Macs help athletes nap.
As of this writing, Kyle Woodley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.