Surging Hawaii Fast Food Prices Amplify Travel Costs

Hawaii travelers on a budget may be shocked to find that fast food here may not be a way to save money on your vacation. Those of us who have been to the Honolulu Airport are often shocked to see food prices for that Whopper. In fact, Burger King charges the most anywhere for their product in Hawaii. If you want to see just how the prices compare with other places, read on.

Burger King is among the fast-food joints you’ll find most ubiquitous through the islands. It hearkens back to Florida in 1954 and is popular here. You’ll find that it is the fast vendor of choice (along with Starbucks) at Hawaii airports, like Honolulu, which is in part why we mentioned it here. We’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of finding it to be the only thing open at HNL on Oahu. There, a family of four can easily expect to spend north of $100 for burgers.

You’ll pay at least an extra 34% for Burger King in Hawaii.

Hawaii, being isolated geographically among other issues, gets the very worst deal on Burger King, with it costing 34% over the national average and 15% more than the second-most expensive state, California. In our experience, prices are far worse than the study indicates.

We were first reminded of this with a comment from Mark from San Francisco. He said, “Outrageous restaurant pricing! It’s unbelievable how dining out has gotten in Hawaii, even fast food is so much more than in San Francisco!” So this certainly impacts visitors as well as locals.

In fact, if you’re craving fast food and are somewhere other than Hawaii’s airports, you may find yourself doing better with a McDonald’s Hawaii sandwich. There interestingly, the most expensive Big Macs are actually at an eatery in Massachusetts, while overall, the highest Mcdonald’s prices will be found in Alaska, which is 24% higher than the national average. Hawaii, on the other hand, is just 10% higher than the national norm, making Alaska far worse in terms of prices than McDonald’s Hawaii.

Image: netcredit.com

What is going on with Hawaii’s fast food prices?

There are factors contributing to the high cost of fast food in Hawaii to be aware of. These include Hawaii’s geographic Isolation. Being in the mid-Pacific, ingredients come with significant transportation costs. Shipping items across vast distances increases expenses for suppliers, which are ultimately passed on to consumers.

In addition, there is no food production in Hawaii that supports fast food operations. Almost all fast food ingredients aren’t available to be sourced locally, resulting in expensive imports from the mainland. Not only that, but real estate used for fast food locations is scarce and expensive. Hawaii fast food chains contend with steep rent and other location specific costs, which ended up in the menu prices.

Moving further, the cost of labor in Hawaii is high, reflecting the high cost of living here. Fast food restaurants must pay their employees more, which contributes to higher operational expenses.

Hawaii tourism also drives fast food demand and cost.

It’s no surprise that Hawaii visitors often opt for fast food from the standpoint of convenience, familiarity, and arguably lower cost compared with alternatives. That demand leads to higher prices and increased demand.

Limited competition is another factor. Visitors help create a captive market for fast food operations. That provides more opportunity to set higher prices.

Look for quick bite flavors at Hawaii fast food chains.

If you decide to bite into that fast food meal, there will be some unique taste options to justify the higher prices. In the Aloha State, you’ll find Hawaii specialties, including rice, Spam Musubi, different egg dishes, soy sauce on the side, something with seaweed, and coconut pudding haupia pies. What about a McDonald’s Saimin?

You’ll have to decide if these are good plate lunch alternatives and better than Rainbow Drive-In, Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, Zippy’s, or a local family dinner spot.

What’s your experience with the cost of fast food in Hawaii?

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36 thoughts on “Surging Hawaii Fast Food Prices Amplify Travel Costs”

  1. Went to the Burger King drive thru yesterday across from Lahaina Cannery Mall yesterday. Wanted to grab a soft drink for the ride back to Central Maui. I ordered a 30 ounce drink and when she said “that will be $5.74” ($5.49 plus tax), I thought she was joking.

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  2. In regards to the above mentioned McDonalds Saimin,
    On June 29, 2022, McDonald’s Hawaii announced that it would no longer offer saimin on its menu. The item was discontinued because Okahara Saimin, the chain’s supplier, closed due to its owners’ retirement at the end of May.

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  3. I love this article – An informative and entertaining piece. But I couldn’t help thinking as I read all the way through: “If you can’t afford fast food prices in Hawaii, you can’t afford to be there in the first place.”

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  4. We love Zippy’s!! We have been to everyone there is, we recently made a trip to Las Vegas to visit the first one on the mainland (though it was different than the island ones).

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  5. We eat at L & L, Chicken in a Barrel, Da Crack and Chalupa’s food truck on Kaua’i, Steak Shack on Waikiki, Zippy’s, Leota’s, Las Islitas Tacos Y Mariscos food truck, Coconut’s Fish Cafe and many other local places. No reason a vacation to Hawaiʻi needs to break the food budget if you know where to eat.

    Oh, and Foodland for sandwiches on beach picnic days.

    Aloh, BOH!

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  6. Seems that the Isalnds don’t reaally want tourists. Not everyone is rich who goes ot Maui.
    We love Maui but more and more the Governor is ruiing it wiith his ignorance of people’s needs to have a vacation that is cheaper and less stressful.

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  7. As an expat, I know the price of many things are higher in Hawaii. As for fast food, Kamaaina have created alternatives that I find much more satisfying and, in many cases, are healthier. Frankly, the idea of fast food is somehow contrary to the reason that most people say they visit. Hawaii is an experience to be soaked in and savored, not gobbled up as your car cruises down the road. Try the local okazu-ya (Google it) or a loaf of fresh bread with cheese and fruit while you sit on the sand and watch the ocean. Why would you deprive yourself of a memorable experience like that?

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