A fast food restaurant, sometimes known as a quick service restaurant or QSR, is a specific type of restaurant characterized both by its fast food cuisine and by minimal table service. Food served in fast food restaurants typically caters to a "meat-sweet diet" and is offered from a limited menu; is cooked in bulk in advance and kept hot; is finished and packaged to order; and is usually available ready to take away, though seating may be provided. Fast food restaurants are usually part of a restaurant chain or franchise operation, which provisions standardized ingredients and/or partially prepared foods and supplies to each restaurant through controlled supply channels. The term "fast food" was recognized in a dictionary by Merriam-Webster in 1951.
Arguably the first fast food restaurants originated in the United States of America with White Castle in 1916. Today, American-founded fast food chains such as McDonald's and Pizza Hut are multinational corporations with outlets across the globe.
Variations on the fast food restaurant concept include fast casual restaurants and catering trucks. Fast casual restaurants have higher sit-in ratios, and customers can sit and have their orders brought to them. Catering trucks often park just outside worksites and are popular with factory workers.
The hamburger restaurant concept which is most associated with the term "fast food" was created by two brothers originally from Nashua, New Hampshire. Richard (Dick) and Maurice (Mac) McDonald opened a barbecue drive-in in 1940 in the city of San Bernardino, California. 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.
By 1954, The McDonald brothers' stand was restaurant equipment manufacturer Prince Castle's biggest purchaser of milkshake blending machines. Prince Castle salesman Ray Kroc traveled to California to discover why the company had purchased almost a dozen of the units as opposed to the normal one or two found in most restaurants of the time. Enticed by the success of the McDonald's concept, Kroc signed a franchise agreement with the brothers and began opening McDonald's restaurants in Illinois. By 1961, Kroc had bought out the brothers and created what is now the modern McDonald's Corporation. One of the major parts of his business plan was to promote cleanliness of his restaurants to growing group of Americans that had become aware of food safety issues. As part of his commitment to cleanliness, Kroc often took part in cleaning his own Des Plaines, Illinois outlet by hosing down the garbage cans and scraping gum off the cement. Another concept Kroc added was great swaths of glass which enabled the customer to view the food preparation, a practice still found in chains such as Krispy Kreme. A clean atmosphere was only part of Kroc's grander plan which separated McDonald's from the rest of the competition and attributes to their great success. Kroc envisioned making his restaurants appeal to suburban families.
At roughly the same time as Kroc was conceiving what eventually became McDonald's, two Miami, Florida businessmen, James McLamore and David Edgerton, founded a small take-out shop in the northern section of their home city they named Insta Burger King. Inspired by a visit to the same San Bernardino McDonald's restaurant, the came to the same conclusion about the business structure as Kroc. Utilizing the same assembly line concept, but instead of fried burgers, they used an automated broiling unit invented by McLamore. Roughly a year later they dropped the "Insta" from the name and became Burger King.
While fast food restaurants usually have a seating area in which customers can eat the food on the premises, orders are designed to be taken away, and traditional table service is rare. Orders are generally taken and paid for at a wide counter, with the customer waiting by the counter for a tray or container for their food. A "drive-thru" service can allow customers to order and pick up food from their cars.
Nearly from its inception, fast food has been designed to be eaten "on the go" and often does not require traditional cutlery and is eaten as a finger food. 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.
Old commercial fast food is highly processed and prepared on a large scale from bulk ingredients using standardised cooking and production methods and equipment. It is usually rapidly served in cartons or bags or in a plastic wrapping, in a fashion which promotes reduces operating costs by allowing rapid product identification and counting, promoting longer holding time, avoiding transfer of bacteria and facilitating order fulfillment. In most fast food operations, menu items are generally made from processed ingredients prepared at a central supply facilities and then shipped to individual outlets where they are cooked (usually by grill, microwave or deep-frying) or assembled in a short amount of time either in anticipation of upcoming orders (i.e., "to stock") or in response to actual orders (i.e., "to order"). Following standard operating procedures, pre-cooked product is monitored for freshness and disposed of if holding times become excessive. This process ensures a consistent level of product quality, and is key to delivering the order quickly to the customer and avoiding labor and equipment costs in the individual stores.
Because of commercial emphasis on taste, speed, product safety, uniformity and low cost, fast food products are made with ingredients formulated to achieve an identifiable flavor, aroma, texture and "mouth feel" and to preserve freshness and control handling costs during preparation and order fulfillment. This requires a high degree of food engineering. The use of additives, including salt, sugar, flavorings and preservatives and processing techniques may limit the nutritional value of the final product.
A value meal is a group of menu items offered together at a lower price than they would cost individually. They are common at fast food restaurants. Value meals are a common merchandising tactic to facilitate bundling, up-selling, and price discrimination. Most of the time they can be upgraded to a larger size of fries and drink for a small fee. The perceived creation of a "discount" on individual menu items in exchange for the purchase of a "meal" is also consistent with the Loyalty Marketing school of thought.
Food service chains partner with food equipment manufacturers to design highly specialized restaurant equipment, often incorporating heat sensors, timers and other electronic controls into the design. collaborative design techniques, such as rapid visualization and parametric modeling of restaurant kitchens are now being used to establish equipment specifications that are consistent with restaurant operating and merchandising requirements.
In the United States alone, consumers spent about US$110 billion on fast food in 2000 (which increased from US$6 billion in 1970). 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, a noted fast-food supplier, opened its first franchised restaurant in the US in 1955 (1974 in the UK). 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 prominent international fast food companies include Burger King, the number two hamburger chain in the world, known for promoting its customized menu offerings (Have it Your Way); Wendy's, the number three burger chain and creator of the Drive thru concept; Dunkin' Donuts, a New England based chain that emphasized and refined the commissary model of food preparation, yet is not officially considered fast food, due to its concentration on breakfast and coffee; Starbucks, Seattle-born coffee-based fast food beverage corporation; KFC, a part of the largest restaurant chain in the world, Yum! Brands; and Dominos Pizza, a pizza chain known for popularizing home delivery of fast food.
Subway restaurants are known for their sub sandwiches and Subway is the largest restaurant chain to serve such food items. The Subway restaurant chain is the fastest growing restaurant chain in the world surpassing even McDonald's. Subway has the second most stores of any chain restaurant system in the world after McDonald's, and the most locations in North America of any chain. Quiznos, a Denver based sub shop is another fast growing sub chain. With over 6,000 locations it is still far behind Subway's 28,000 locations. Other smaller sub shops include Blimpie and Mr. Goodcents, and Firehouse.
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, Bojangles', and Zaxby's restaurants in the American Southeast, Raising Cane's in Louisiana, the famous In-N-Out Burger (in California, Arizona, and Nevada) and Tommy's chains in Southern California, Dick's Drive-In in Seattle, Washington, and Arctic Circle in Utah and other western states and Burgerville in the Portland, Oregon area. Also, Whataburger is a popular burger chain in the South and Mexico, and Jack in the Box located in the west and south. Canada pizza chains Topper's 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. Rasta Taco is a chain in Southern California with a focus on Caribbean and Mexican food.
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 some McDonald's restaurants are kosher and respects the Jewish shabbat, there is also a kosher McDonald's in Argentina. In Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Singapore all menu items are halal.
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 have expanded into 22 states in the United States, but are more prominent in border states such as New York and Michigan.
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 still remain, although the majority of branches became Burger King in 1989.
Traditional ramen and sushi restaurants still dominate fast food culture in Japan, although American outlets like Pizza Hut, McDonald's and KFC are also popular, along with Western-style Japanese chains like Mos Burger.
In Hong Kong, although McDonald's and KFC are quite popular, there are 3 major local fast food chains providing Hong Kong Chinese style fast food. These 3 major chains are Café de Coral, Fairwood Fast Food and Maxim MX. In recent years, they have been extending their operations to Mainland China also.
Some of the large fast-food chains are beginning to incorporate healthier alternatives in their menu, e.g., white meat, snack wraps, 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 announced that in March of 2006, the chain would include nutritional information on the packaging of all of its products. .
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-World War II 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 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.
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.
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 KFC restaurant.
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 the fast food industry disliked the publicity of its 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.