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.
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. However, brands like Wimpy remain, although there are far fewer outlets than in previous decades. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.