Taco Bell Raises Prices Due to California’s New Minimum Wage, But It’s Still the Cheaper Option

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Apr 23, 2024

Taco Bell has been a staple in American fast food for years. Their inexpensive tacos, burritos, and cult-favorite Baja Blast have made the restaurant an easy, delicious option that promised to not break the bank.

However, the affordable prices of the beloved chain are no longer on the menu. Taco Bell is making several changes to its menu, and a majority of Americans have something to say about it.

Fast Food Chains Raise Prices

Over the last few years, virtually every fast-food chain in the United States has gradually increased its prices. While no other chain has reached the $18 price tag of McDonald’s Big Mac, many Americans, grappling with steep inflation in their everyday lives, are noticing that fast food is no longer the affordable option it once was.

A person holding many American dollar bills.

Source: Jp Valery/Unsplash

Customers who used to rely on a $5 meal at Taco Bell are finding that this is no longer feasible.

Inflation Increase at Taco Bell

Unfortunately, Taco Bell is raising its prices, just like any other fast-food chain, as post-COVID-19 inflation continues to escalate. Prices have increased across the menu.

Sign for Taco Bell drive-thru as seen from the highway

Source: iStock

At some Taco Bell locations, the only menu item priced under $1 is the Cheesy Roll-Up. The Spicy Potato Soft Taco and Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito are both $1.19, while the Double Stacked Taco now costs $1.99.

Taco Bell Raises Prices Again

Now, Taco Bells are raising their prices again as California’s new fast food minimum wage law takes effect.

An old Taco Bell menu before prices increased

Source: Reddit

In California, fast food workers now receive a minimum wage of $20 an hour. This represents a $5 jump in hourly wage, and many fast-food owners are struggling to meet this requirement and still make a profit.

The Reaction to the Minimum Wage Increase

California implemented the wage increase to assist fast food workers in earning a livable wage, considering the significantly higher average cost of living compared to other states.

A crew of fast food workers posing with certificates at a Taco Bell

Source: Public Domain Dedication/Picyl

However, the minimum wage increase might be in vain as these fast-food chains are increasing their prices, cutting hours, or closing down stores to accommodate the change.

Taco Bell Is the Cheaper Option

According to data from Kalinowski Equity Research (via KTLA), Taco Bell has raised its prices by 3 percent. While that may seem like quite a bit to some consumers, Taco Bell has the lowest increase rate compared to the other fast food chains.

A fast food worker reaches out the drive-thru window to take money from a customer

Source: Adobe Stock

Wendy’s has hiked prices by roughly 8 percent, and Chipotle has raised prices by 7.5 percent in response to the minimum wage increase.


Taco Bell Charges For Salsa 

Taco Bell might be the cheaper option these days, but it recently made an unpopular decision that altered its existing menu. Taking a page from McDonald’s playbook, Taco Bell will now start charging for salsa.

Several packets of Taco Bell sauces lined up on a table

Source: Reddit

A single sauce package will still be provided for free with certain menu items, but customers requesting extra will be charged $0.20 for each.


Meet the New Taco Bell Sauce

The extra salsa charge comes as Taco Bell offers a new salsa to its menu. Joining the lineup of Mild, Hot, Fire, and Diablo is the Avocado Verde Salsa.

A close up photo of three packages of Taco Bell Verde salsa

Source: snackolator/Instagram

The new salsa is a replacement for the original Verde sauce, which many Taco Bell fans were sad to see go.


Appealing to Middle-Class America 

While Taco Bell is making price changes to its menu, the fast food chain seems to be the most affordable option.

Driver inside a Car on a Drive Thru

Source: RDNE Stock project/Pexels

However, the chain seems to sense the shift in its customer base and is trying to add a few more menu items that appeal to middle-class Americans.


New Roasted Options

In 2024, Taco Bell announced that it would start rolling out its new Cantina Chicken Menu. According to The Street, these will be “fried and delectable to slow-roasted and savory” options.

A spread of Taco Bell items on a wooden table

Source: Taco Bell/Instagram

Sure, these options are probably not the healthiest products by nutritionist’s standards, but the slow-roasted chicken gives the impression that the fast food chain is trying to elevate its menu.


More Chicken Options

Taco Bell isn’t stopping with slow-roasted chicken. The fast-food chain is adding more chicken options to its existing menu, like chicken nuggets and other chicken dishes.

Customer eating Taco Bell’s new Crispy Chicken Nuggets with a yellow sauce

Source: @snackolator/Instagram

“Chicken innovation has long been cooking up at Taco Bell, but the protein is a main focus for 2024,” a spokesperson for the fast food chain said.


The Future of Taco Bell

It is unlikely that Taco Bell will see a decrease in sales this year, as it remains a highly competitive fast food chain due to its lower prices. While some items might not fit everyone’s budget, the chain is attempting to attract customers with new chicken classics.

A Taco Bell combo meal with a small drink inside one of its many locations

Source: Shutterstock

It will be interesting to see how the new menu items perform. However, the new salsa has already disappointed some fans of the original Verde salsa.