A dollar doesn't buy what it used to do.
Earlier this week, Yum Brands' Taco Bell launched its new Dollar Cravings menu. Unlike many of its competitors, the items actually cost just a buck—rather than a buck and change.
Squeezed by inflation, fast-food players have hiked prices in recent years for many of their value items.
Still, value remains an essential part of fast-food chains' strategy for attracting customers.
"If you look at the economy today and how much pressure is on the consumer, I think value is at least as important as ever," said Taco Bell marketing chief Chris Brandt in a phone interview.
So what exactly can a dollar buy these days? CNBC called up numerous locations of fast-food outlets in the three largest metro areas (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) to find out.
Click ahead to see just what a buck is worth.
—By CNBC's Katie Little
Posted 23 Aug. 2014
The fast food giant's latest spin on the dollar menu offers 11 items—ranging from a chicken-and-cheese quesadilla to triple-layer nachos.
The menu replaces the company's previous three-tiered value menu, called the Why Pay More menu that offered items for 79, 89 or 99 cents.
This means that some items rose in price.
Still, Taco Bell's Brandt said its previous Why Pay More menu "existed in name only" at these prices in many stores.
Its new dollar menu, though, has been embraced by virtually all franchisees, he added.
"What we really tried to do with Dollar Cravings is there were items that people really wanted, and we weren't just trying to trade them up," Brandt said.
Despite high beef and cheese prices, none of these items are loss leaders, he added.
Like its burger competitors, showcasing its value to customers is crucial to driving business at the Golden Arches.
As part of McDonald's brand reset, it has been focusing on its value perception among consumers and improving its food quality.
Depending on the restaurant, customers can buy a lot—or not that much—for $1.
For example, one McDonald's menu didn't have a single menu item for a buck, while another in Los Angeles offered several items, including a BBQ ranch burger, grilled onion cheddar burger, parfait and a sausage McMuffin.
McDonald's launch last year of its Dollar Menu & More menu epitomizes a trend that Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, says is prevalent in the fast food industry.
Restaurants have shifted from offering strictly items that cost a buck to those in the $2 range as well.
"There's been a big shift toward broadening it…and trying to raise the bar in terms of price and the offering there," he added in a phone interview.
A range of items are available at Burger King Worldwide for $1 or less. They include the Rodeo Chicken sandwich and Rodeo Burger, along with a couple of crispy chicken sandwiches.
Like McDonald's, Burger King also rebranded its value menu relatively recently. Its King Deals menu starts at $1 and contains more than 20 items.
This fast-food giant's version of the value menu is called the "Right Price Right Size menu." While several of them will set diners back more than a buck, others fit the bill ... literally.
These include the Jr. cheeseburger, crispy chicken sandwich, the four-piece nuggets, a value soft drink and value fries.
At KFC, value comes in the form of a $5 fill up—five different meal combinations available for $5 each.
What's available for $1? It varies by store—your choice of a Chicken Little sandwich, plain biscuit, apple turnover or chocolate chip cookie.
Depending on the Dunkin' Donuts location, customers can snag a bagel, doughnut, hash browns, some Munchkins or an egg-and-cheese wrap for the buck.
On the company's last earnings call, Dunkin' Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis mentioned that today's consumer remains "in a tough spot," especially on the lower end of the income scale.
This lower-income customer has continued to struggle, which has made the value segment "highly competitive," Travis added.
A buck won't buy much at this fast-food sandwich eatery.
Diners can score a bag of chips or a cookie depending on the location, though at one restaurant CNBC spoke with nothing cost a buck or less.
Subway's value items sell for much higher price points and consist of a few $5 foot-long subs and a $3 six-inch sandwich.
"Bucks" may be in the name, but snackers will be hard pressed to find much at Starbucks for $1.
Some locations offer a banana or vanilla bean scone for that price—but not all.