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Fast food is food which is prepared and served quickly at outlets called fast-food restaurants. It is a multi-billion dollar industry which continues to grow rapidly in many countries.

A fast-food restaurant is a restaurant characterized both by food which is supplied quickly after ordering, and by minimal service. Often this food is referred to as  fast  food.  In  response to  increasing

Potato Scallops and Chicken Pieces

been trying to move the public away from that term over the past ten to fifteen years, shifting to the term quick service restaurant (QSR for short). Despite the industry's efforts, consumers continue to refer to them as "fast-food restaurants".

The food in these restaurants is often cooked in bulk in advance and kept warm, or reheated to order. Many fast-food restaurants are part of restaurant chains or franchise operations, and standardized foodstuffs are shipped to each restaurant from central locations. There are also simpler fast-food outlets, such as stands or kiosks, which may or may not provide shelter or chairs for customers.

Because the capital requirements to start a fast-food restaurant are relatively small, particularly in areas with non-existent or poorly enforced health codes, small individually-owned fast-food restaurants have become common throughout the world. Restaurants such as Culvers and Noodles, where the customers sit down and have their food orders brought to them, are also considered fast food.

Although fast-food restaurants are often viewed as a representation of modern technology, the concept of "ready-cooked food to go" is as old as cities themselves; unique variations are historical in various cultures. Ancient Roman cities had bread-and-olive stands, East Asian cultures feature noodle shops. Flat bread and falafel are ubiquitous in the Middle East.

The modern history of fast-food in America is connected with the history of the hamburger, as the earliest fast-food outlets sold hamburgers as their primary product. The American company White Castle is generally credited with opening the first fast-food outlet in Topeka, Kansas in 1921, selling hamburgers for five cents apiece. Among its innovations, the company allowed customers to see the food being prepared. White Castle later added five holes to each beef patty to increase its surface area and speed cooking times. White Castle was successful from its inception and spawned numerous competitors. In recent decades, Mexican-style food like tacos and burritos, as well as pizza, have also become staples of fast food culture.

McDonald's, the largest fast-food chain in the world and the brand most associated with the term "fast food," was founded as a barbecue drive-in in 1940 by Dick and Mac McDonald. After discovering that most of their profits came from hamburgers, the brothers closed their restaurant for three months and reopened it in 1948 as a walk-up stand offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries, shakes, coffee, and Coca-Cola, served in disposable paper wrapping. As a result, they were able to produce hamburgers and fries constantly, without waiting for customer orders, and could serve them immediately; hamburgers cost 15 cents, about half the price at a typical diner. Their streamlined production method, which they named the "Speedee Service System" was influenced by the production line innovations of Henry Ford. The McDonalds' stand was the milkshake machine company's biggest customer and a milkshake salesman named Ray Kroc travelled to California to discover the secret to their high-volume burger-and-shake operation. Kroc thought he could expand their concept, eventually buying the McDonalds' operation outright in 1961 with the goal of making cheap, ready-to-go hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes a nationwide business.

Wendy's, opened in Columbus, Ohio in 1969 by Dave Thomas, a protégé of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Col. Harlan Sanders, is credited with pioneering the use of the "drive-thru" window to allow consumers to purchase fast food without having to park or exit their cars; it was first introduced in 1972, and copied by McDonald's in 1975.

Fast food has been available in America for 80 years, and in the year 2000, U.S. citizens spent 110 billion dollars on fast food.

The "fast" in fast food
Fast-food outlets are take-away or take-out providers, often with a "drive-thru" service which allows customers to order and pick up food from their cars; but most also have a seating area in which customers can eat the food on the premises.

Nearly from its inception, fast food has been designed to be eaten "on the go" and often does not require traditional cutlery. Common menu items at fast food outlets include fish and chips, sandwiches, pitas, hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries, chicken nuggets, tacos, pizza, and ice cream, although many fast-food restaurants offer "slower" foods like chili, mashed potatoes, and salads. However, even though Western-style Chinese cuisine is most often served as take-away, it is seldom considered to be fast food.

"Fast food" is also available in other places. For example many petrol/gas stations have convenience stores which sell pre-packed sandwiches, donuts or hot food. Supermarkets often include their own cafe with a prepared food service counter. Some, like Asda and Walmart may even include a well-known fast food chain within their own store, such as McDonalds.

Food preparation
The convenience of traditional street food around the world, from Vietnamese noodle vendors to Middle Eastern falafel stands to New York hot dog carts, lies in serving one or two basic ingredients that can be cooked in batches and served quickly on the spot. Modern commercial fast food, by contrast, is often highly processed and prepared in an industrial fashion, i.e., on a large scale with standard ingredients and standardised cooking and production methods. It is usually rapidly served in cartons or bags or in a plastic wrapping, in a fashion which minimises cost. In most fast food operations, menu items are generally made  from processed  ingredients


prepared at a central supply facility and then shipped to individual outlets where they are reheated, cooked (usually by microwave or deep-frying) or assembled in a short amount of time. This process ensures a consistent level of product quality, and is key to being able to deliver the order quickly to the customer and eliminate labor and equipment costs in the individual stores. All in all fast food is a very reliable source to get convenient and cheap food.

The Big Mac from McDonalds


Consumer spending
In the United States alone, consumers spent about US$110 billion on fast food in 2000 (which increased from US$6 billion in 1970)<1> . The National Restaurant Association forecasts that fast-food restaurants in the U.S. will reach US$142 billion in sales in 2006, a 5% increase over 2005. In comparison, the full-service restaurant segment of the food industry is expected to generate $173 billion in sales. Fast food has been losing market share to so-called fast casual restaurants, which offer more robust and expensive cuisines.

McDonald's and other major brands
McDonald's, a noted fast-food supplier, opened its first franchised restaurant in 1955. It has become a phenomenally successful enterprise in terms of financial growth, brand-name recognition, and worldwide expansion. Ray Kroc, who bought the franchising license from the McDonald brothers, pioneered many concepts which emphasized standardization. He introduced uniform products, identical in all respects at each outlet, to increase sales. At the same time, Kroc also insisted on cutting food costs as much as possible, eventually using the McDonald's Corporation's size to force suppliers to conform to this ethos.

Other major American fast food chains are Wendy's, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Chick-fil-A, and the portfolio of restaurants owned by Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands, including A&W Restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

As well as most of the major American fast food restaurants, Canada has several fast food chains native to Canada such as: Boston Pizza, Mr.Sub, Tim Hortons, Swiss Chalet, and the recently internationally expanded New York Fries.

UK chains included EasyPizza, and Pizza Express.
Many fast food operations have more local and regional roots, such as White Castle in the Midwest United States, along with Hardee's (owned by CKE Restaurants, which also owns Carl's Jr., whose locations are primarily on the United States West Coast), Krystal restaurants in the American Southeast, Raising Cane's in Louisiana, and the famous In-N-Out Burger & Tommy's chains in Southern California. In Canada pizza chains Toppers Pizza and Pizza Pizza are primarily located in Ontario. Coffee chain Country Style operates only in Ontario, and competes with the famous coffee and donut chain Tim Hortons.

International chains
The fast-food industry is popular in the United States, the source of most of its innovation, and many major international chains are based there. Seen as symbols of US dominance and perceived cultural imperialism, American fast-food franchises have often been the target of Anti-globalization protests and demonstrations against the US government. In 2005, for example, rioters in Karachi, Pakistan, who were initially angered because of the bombing of a Shiite mosque, destroyed a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.

Multinational corporations typically modify their menus to cater to local tastes and most overseas outlets are owned by native franchisees. McDonald's in India, for example, uses lamb rather than beef in its burgers because Hinduism traditionally forbids eating beef. In Israel the majority of McDonald's restaurants are kosher and respects the Jewish shabbat, there is also a kosher McDonald's in Argentina. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all menu items are halal. However, these concessions to local practice have not quashed criticism.

Additionally, multinational fast-food chains are not the only or even the primary source of fast food in most of the world. Many regional and local chains have developed around the world to compete with international chains and provide menu items that appeal to the unique regional tastes and habits. Most fast food in the developing world, however, is provided by small individual mom and pop eateries. In the developing world, multinational chains are considerably more expensive; they usually are frequented because they are considered chic and somewhat glamorous and because they usually are much cleaner than local eateries.

In Canada the majority of fast food chains are American owned, or were originally American owned but have since set up a Canadian management/headquarters location in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Although the case is usually American fast food chains expanding into Canada, Canadian chains such as Tim Hortons and Swiss Chalet have expanded into the United States, usually into border states such as New York and/or Michigan although Tim Hortons has now expanded into 10 states.

In the United Kingdom, many home based fast food operations were closed in the 1970s and 1980s after McDonald's became the number one outlet in the market[citation needed]. However, brands like Wimpy remain, although there are far fewer outlets than in previous decades[citation needed]. In France and Belgium, Quick (website) is a popular alternative to McDonalds and Burger King. Traditional ramen and sushi restaurants still dominate fast food culture in Japan, although American outlets like Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken are also popular, along with Western-style Japanese chains like Mos Burger.

Nutritional value
Because the fast food concept relies on speed, uniformity and low cost, fast food products are often made with ingredients formulated to achieve a certain flavor or consistency and to preserve freshness. This requires a high degree of food engineering, the use of additives and processing techniques that substantially alter the food from its original form and reduce its nutritional value.

Fast-food chains have come under fire from consumer groups (such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a longtime fast-food critic) over the past decade. Some of the concerns have led to the rise of the so-called Slow Food movement. This movement seeks to preserve local cuisines and ingredients, and directly opposes laws and habits that favor fast-food choices. Among other things, it strives to educate consumers' palates to prefer what it considers richer, more varied, and more nourishing tastes of fresh local ingredients harvested in season.

Some of the large fast-food chains are beginning to incorporate healthier alternatives in their menu, e.g., salads and fresh fruit. However, some people see these moves as a tokenistic and commercial measure, rather than an appropriate reaction to ethical concerns about the world ecology and people's health. McDonald's has announced that in March of 2006, the chain will include nutritional information on the packaging of all of its products.

Several chains (lead by McDonald's) have recently, in bid for self-preservation, focused on improving the nutritional quality of their offerings. However, they have yet to achieve much progress and still contain much fat and unhealthy products in their food.

Consumer appeal
This two-person eating booth exemplifies the interior of many fast food restaurants.Fast-food outlets have become popular with consumers for several reasons. One is that through economies of scale in purchasing and producing food, these companies can deliver food to consumers at a very low cost. In addition, although some people dislike fast food for its predictability, it can be reassuring to a hungry person in a hurry or far from home.

In the post-war period in the United States, fast food chains like McDonald's rapidly gained a reputation for their cleanliness, fast service and a child-friendly atmosphere where families on the road could grab a quick meal, or seek a break from the routine of home cooking. Prior to the rise of the fast food chain restaurant, people generally had a choice between greasy-spoon diners where the quality of the food was often questionable and service lacking, or high-end restaurants that were expensive and impractical for families with young children. The modern, stream-lined convenience of the fast food restaurant provided a new alternative and appealed to Americans' instinct for ideas and products associated with progress, technology and innovation. Fast food restaurants rapidly became the eatery "everyone could agree on", with many featuring child-size menu combos, play areas and whimsical branding campaigns, like the iconic Ronald McDonald, designed to appeal to younger customers. Parents could have a few minutes of peace while children played or amused themselves with the toys included in their Happy Meal. There is a long history of fast food advertising campaigns, many of which are directed at children.

In other parts of the world, American and American-style fast food outlets have been popular for their quality, customer service and novelty, even though they are often the targets of popular anger towards American foreign policy or globalization more generally. Many consumers nonetheless see them as symbols of the wealth, progress and well-ordered openness of Western society and therefore become trendy attractions in many cities around the world, particularly among younger people with more varied tastes.

Hot DogBecause of its convenience, fast food is popular and commercially successful in most modern societies, but it is often criticized for having the following shortcomings, among others:

  • Many popular fast-food menu items are unhealthy, and excessive consumption can lead to obesity.
  • Exploitative advertising and marketing are used, especially directed at children (which can have an adverse effect on their eating habits and health).
  • It causes environmental damage through excessive packaging and clearing forests for animal rearing.
  • It reduces the diversity of local cuisines.
  • It survives on a low-wage, low-benefit employment model, promoting exploitative labor practices throughout the food and food service industry
  • Its franchising scheme (royalties).
  • Its often lower quality versus sit-down restaurants.

The fast-food industry is a popular target for critics, from would-be populists like José Bové (whose destruction of a McDonald's in France made him a folk hero to some) to vegetarian activist groups such as PETA.

In his best-selling 2001 book Fast Food Nation, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser leveled a broad, socio-economic critique against the fast food industry, documenting how fast food rose from small, family-run businesses (like the McDonald brothers' burger joint) into large, multinational corporate juggernauts whose economies of scale radically transformed agriculture, meat processing and labor markets in the late twentieth century. While the innovations of the fast food industry gave Americans more and cheaper dining options, it has come at the price of destroying the environment, economy and small-town communities of rural America while shielding consumers from the real costs of their convenient meal, both in terms of health and the broader impact of large-scale food production and processing on workers, animals and land.

Schlosser's critics[6] respond that fast food companies merely provide something consumers want and that the economies of scale developed by the industry have had a net positive effect on the American and global economy. Defenders of fast food companies point out that they provide entry-level jobs to people with few skills who might otherwise be unemployed and that individual consumers should be responsible for their eating choices, not business.

Legal issues
In the high profile McLibel Case, McDonald's took two anti-McDonald's campaigners, Helen Steel and David Morris, to court for a trial lasting two and a half years—the longest in English legal history and part of a 20-year battle—after the pair distributed leaflets critical of the company and its food in London's streets. McDonald's won the case in the UK High Court, and were awarded £60,000 damages, which later was reduced to £40,000 by the Court of Appeal. However, the court ruled in favour of a number of the defendants' claims, including that McDonald's low rates of pay depress rates across the fast-food industry. Steel and Morris then made a separate but related claim against the UK Government in the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the lack of access to legal aid and the heavy burden of proof that lay with them to prove their claims (rather than McDonald's, the claimants, having to prove that the claims were false) under UK libel law breached the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. The ECHR ruled against the UK Government, which subsequently introduced legislation to change the libel laws to remedy the defects highlighted by the ECHR judgment. The libel charge and fine were overturned in an appeals case.

In 2003, McDonald's was sued in a New York court by a family who claimed that the restaurant chain was responsible for their teenage daughter's obesity and attendant health problems. By manipulating food's taste, sugar and fat content and directing their advertising to children, the suit argued that the company purposely misleads the public about the nutritional value of its product. A judge dismissed the case, but it nonetheless drew unwanted attention to the fast food industry's practices, particularly the way it targets children in its advertising. Although further lawsuits have not materialized, the issue is kept alive by in the media and political circles by those promoting the need for tort reform.

In response to this, the "Cheeseburger Bill" was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004; it later stalled in the U.S. Senate. The law was reintroduced in 2005, only to meet the same fate. This law was claimed to "[ban] frivolous lawsuits against producers and sellers of food and non-alcoholic drinks arising from obesity claims." The bill arose because of an increase in lawsuits against fast-food chains by people who claimed that eating their products made them obese, disassociating themselves from any of the blame.


This entry is from Wikipedia, the leading user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors (see full disclaimer)

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