California Customers Condemn $21 Subway Sandwich Amid Minimum Wage Hike

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jun 09, 2024

Since its inception in 1965, Subway has been one of America’s favorite fast food chains. It’s more than 20,000 restaurants across the country provide a somewhat healthy and affordable quick meal to millions of Americans.

However, in recent years, and especially this year, Subway has become increasingly expensive. When one customer wrote on social media that they paid $21 for a Subway sandwich, the internet chimed in to condemn the corporation. While some people blame inflation, others say the biggest influence on price is the country’s ever-increasing minimum wage.

Subway Used to Be Affordable for Everyone

Only 30 years ago, Subway was widely cheaper than it is now. In the 1990s, a six-inch sub with a drink and a bag of chips cost somewhere between $2.99 and $3.99.

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A Subway menu from the 1990s showing the far more affordable prices

Source: Reddit

However, prices began to rise shortly after the new millennium. By the 2010s, those same meals cost customers between $4.99 and $8.99. While prices vary by state and even specific locations, today, the average price is between $6.99 and $8.99, and that’s only for the six-inch sub. Drinks and chips cost several dollars more.

Subway’s $5 Footlong Promotion Increased Sales by 50%

During the 2000s and 2010s, when prices were slowly increasing, Subway came up with what many consider to be the most successful promotion of all time: the $5 Footlong.

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A promotional poster for Subway’s $5 Footlong promotion

Source: Reddit

The corporation started offering the deal in 2008; at that time, customers paid only $5 for one of Subway’s many offerings. The deal was immediately a huge hit. While some stores saw a 35% or even a 50% increase in sales, others far surpassed 50% more in annual revenue.

Why Did Subway Stop Offering $5 Footlongs?

Subway officially stopped the $5 Footlong deal in 2016. The company claimed they simply could not offer their twelve-inch sandwiches at such a low price and continue to turn a profit.

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A photograph of a Subway sandwich being prepared for a customer

Source: Reddit

Many people forget that inflation hits businesses just as it does individual consumers. From increased rent on commercial spaces to a higher price point for ingredients, labor, and transportation, Subway had to admit that $5 was just too low.

Subway’s Footlongs Now Cost Four Times What They Used To

As of 2024, a twelve-inch Subway sandwich can cost anywhere from $10.99 to $16.99, and that still doesn’t include chips or a drink. Therefore, if customers want a full meal, they’re paying anywhere between $15.99 and $22.99, or even more if they want a cookie.

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A photograph of the menu at a Subway restaurant

Source: Reddit

Of course, Subway prices vary by state and location, so there are still some restaurants around the country with a lower price point. But for those who live in populated states like California or Massachusetts, this is the new normal.

One Reddit User Paid $21 for a Subway Sandwich

Although the prices at Subway are no secret, a post by a Reddit user has brought national attention to the outrageous cost of a fast food sandwich.

Screenshot of a Reddit post that reads “I bought a Subway Sandwich for 21 bucks”

Source: Reddit

The user @waldorsockbat wrote, “I bought a Subway Sandwich for 21 bucks. Guess my parents were right, we do have food at home.” The post has since gone viral, and thousands of people have commented their opinions on the matter.

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Only Specialty Subway Sandwiches Are Over $20

Several Reddit users commented to say that only Subway’s specialty sandwiches cost more than $20. One person wrote, “If you build your own sandwich and pick only one protein, you can usually get a footlong for around [$]11-12.”

A split photograph, on the left, a Subway employee prepares a sandwich; on the right, the completed sandwich

Source: Reddit

Another said, “I managed to get a foot long for like $10-11 bucks with a coupon last week.” But the majority of users who commented were simply appalled by the fact that any sandwich, specialty or not, could cost $21.

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Subway Offers Discounts on Its App

One Reddit user, @throwaway_248163264, wrote, “Download the app. They have 50% off one Footlong right now,” highlighting the various discounts on Subway’s Rewards App.

A promotional photo of a hand holding a smartphone open to the Subway app outside

Source: Subway

The Subway Rewards App can certainly be helpful for frequent customers, but they need to purchase sandwiches in order to get redeemable points for discounts. Essentially, unless someone eats at Subway quite frequently, the app doesn’t offer much.

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Why Is Subway so Expensive?

It’s not hard to understand that, with the nation’s inflation as it is, Subway can no longer afford to offer a $5 sandwich, but things aren’t so bad that they need to charge $20.

A yellow road sign that reads “Minimum Wage Increase Ahead” against a blue sky

Source: Adobe Stock

Some experts agree that inflation is the sole influencer of Subway’s price jumps, whereas others simply blame corporate greed. Still, some say that the ever-increasing minimum wage for fast food workers is forcing companies to spend far more on labor and, consequently, charge more for their products.

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The Minimum Wage Increase in California Is Evidence for This Theory

There is certainly sufficient evidence for the minimum wage theory, specifically in California. On April 1, 2024, Governor Gavin Newsom’s law increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers from $16 to $20 went into effect, and there have already been significant consequences.

A photograph of California’s Governor Gavin Newsom looking disappointed

Source: @PBS NewsHour/YouTube

Within less than a month, several companies, such as McDonald’s, Chipotle, and Subway, told the press that they would have to raise their prices, lay off employees, or even close down some locations to maintain their current revenue because of the bill.

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The Fast Food Industry Is Losing Customers

The idea that fast food chains could and will be raising their prices even higher to combat the increasing cost of labor will affect the American people and could even devastate the industry.

A photograph of a blurry fast food restaurant and electric menu

Source: Adobe Stock

Millions of people across the country are tightening their purse strings as the cost of living increases, and for many, that means skipping any expensive extras. As prices are now, over 80% of Americans consider fast food a luxury. If they go up any more, Americans may stop eating fast food altogether.

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Will Subway Lower Its Prices in 2024?

In response to this reality, several chains, like McDonald’s, have decided to offer nationwide deals and have promised to lower their prices (everywhere but California, of course). And many are wondering if Subway will do the same to keep its sales from declining.

The sign and menu of a Subway restaurant

Source: Adobe Stock

However, while Subway has announced new menu items, celebrity endorsements, and various other marketing campaigns, the company has not commented on its prices and certainly hasn’t announced any potential decrease. Subway customers can continue to expect the same, or even higher prices, over the next year.

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