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Fast food getting pricier

(ran SP, TP editions)

Hoping you won't notice, fast-food chains are slowly increasing their prices, the Chicago Tribune reports. After being mired in one of retail's most vicious price wars for most of the 1990s, fast-food outlets are raising their prices by 3.1 percent this year, the paper says.

That's the first time in seven years that fast-food prices are outstripping the rate of inflation, says the National Restaurant Association.

Because a steep price increase could chase customers to a competitor, the entry-level price to get them in the door is still 99 cents for Big Macs and Burger King's Big Kings.

The increases are showing up in the cost of combination meals.

The lunch crunch: Speaking of fast food, 56 percent of working Americans take 15 minutes or less for lunch, down from 29 minutes last year, according to a recent nationwide study done for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Sixty-three percent skip lunch entirely at least one or two times a week, with 20 percent skipping three to five times a week.

Survey-takers cite the combined pressures of heightened demands at work and increased commitments at home.