Fast food

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Fast food

Fast food is the term given to food that is prepared and served very quickly, first popularized in the 1950s in the United States. While any meal with low preparation time can be considered fast food, typically the term refers to food sold in a restaurant or store with preheated or precooked ingredients, and served to the customer in a packaged form for take-out/take-away. Fast food restaurants are traditionally separated by their ability to serve food via a drive-through. The term "fast food" was recognized in a dictionary by Merriam–Webster in 1951.

Outlets may be stands or kiosks, which may provide no shelter or seating,[1] or fast food restaurants (also known as quick service restaurants). Franchise operations that are part of restaurant chains have standardized foodstuffs shipped to each restaurant from central locations.[2]


The concept of ready-cooked food for sale is closely connected with urban development. In Ancient Rome, cities had street stands that sold bread, sausages and wine.

Pre-modern Europe

In the cities of Roman antiquity, much of the urban population living in insulae, multi-story apartment blocks, depended on food vendors for much of their meals. In the mornings, bread soaked in wine was eaten as a quick snack and cooked vegetables and stews later in popina, a simple type of eating establishment.[3] In the Middle Ages, large towns and major urban areas such as London and Paris supported numerous vendors that sold dishes such as pies, pasties, flans, waffles, wafers, pancakes and cooked meats. As in Roman cities during antiquity, many of these establishments catered to those who did not have means to cook their own food, particularly single households. Unlike richer town dwellers, many often could not afford housing with kitchen facilities and thus relied on fast food. Travellers, as well, such as pilgrims on route to a holy site, were among the customers.[4]

United Kingdom

In areas with access to coastal or tidal waters, 'fast food' frequently included local shellfish or seafood, such as oysters or, as in London, eels. Often this seafood was cooked directly on the quay or close by.[5] The development of trawler fishing in the mid-nineteenth century led to the development of a British favourite, fish and chips, and the first shop in 1860.[6] A blue plaque at Oldham's Tommyfield Market marks the origin of the fish and chip shop and fast food industries in Britain.[6]

British fast food had considerable regional variation. Sometimes the regionality of a dish became part of the culture of its respective area; examples include among other the Cornish pasty and deep-fried Mars bar.

The content of fast food pies has varied, with poultry (such as chickens) or wildfowl commonly being used. After World War II, turkey has been used more frequently in fast food.[7]

As well as its native cuisine, the UK has adopted fast food from other cultures, such as pizza, kebab, and curry. More recently, healthier alternatives to conventional fast food have also emerged.

United States

As automobiles became popular and more affordable following World War I, drive-in restaurants were introduced. The American company White Castle, founded by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, is generally credited with opening the second fast food outlet and first hamburger chain, selling hamburgers for five cents each.[8] Walter Anderson had built the first White Castle restaurant in Wichita in 1916, introducing the limited menu, high-volume, low-cost, high-speed hamburger restaurant.[9] Among its innovations, the company allowed customers to see the food being prepared. White Castle was successful from its inception and spawned numerous competitors.

Franchising was introduced in 1921 by A&W Root Beer, which franchised its distinctive syrup. Howard Johnson's first franchised the restaurant concept in the mid-1930s, formally standardizing menus, signage and advertising.[9]

Curb service was introduced in the late 1920s and was mobilized in the 1940s when carhops strapped on roller skates.[10]

The United States has the largest fast food industry in the world, and American fast food restaurants are located in over 100 countries. Approximately 4.1 million U.S. workers are employed in the areas of food preparation and food servicing, including fast food in the USA.[11] Worries of an obesity epidemic and its related illnesses have inspired many local government officials in the United Sates to propose to limit or regulate fast-food restaurants. However, some areas are more affected than others. In Los Angeles County, for example, about 45% of the restaurants in South Central Los Angeles are fast-food chains or restaurants with minimal seating. By comparison, only 16% of those on the Westside are such restaurants.[12]

On the go

Fast food outlets are take-away or take-out providers, often with a "drive-through" service that lets customers order and pick up food from their cars, but most also have indoor or outdoor seating areas where customers can eat on-site.

Nearly from its inception, fast food has been designed to be eaten "on the go," 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, onion rings, chicken nuggets, tacos, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream, though many fast food restaurants offer "slower" foods like chili, mashed potatoes, and salads.

Filling stations

Convenience stores located within many petrol/gas stations sell pre-packaged sandwiches, doughnuts, and hot food. Many gas stations in the United States and Europe also sell frozen foods, and have microwave ovens on the premises in which to prepare them.

Street vendors and concessions

Traditional street food is available around the world, usually from small operators and independent vendors operating from a cart, table, portable grill or motor vehicle. Common examples include Vietnamese noodle vendors, Middle Eastern falafel stands, New York City hot dog carts, and taco trucks. Turo-Turo vendors (Tagalog for point point) are a feature of Philippine life. Commonly, street vendors provide a colorful and varying range of options designed to quickly captivate passers-by and attract as much attention as possible.

Depending on the locale, multiple street vendors may specialize in specific types of food characteristic of a given cultural or ethnic tradition. In some cultures, it is typical for street vendors to call out prices, sing or chant sales-pitches, play music, or engage in other forms of "street theatrics" to engage prospective customers. In some cases, this can garner more attention than the food.


Modern commercial fast food is often highly processed and prepared in an industrial fashion, i.e., on a large scale with standard ingredients and standardized cooking and production methods. It is usually rapidly served in cartons or bags or in a plastic wrapping, in a fashion that minimizes 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.

Because of commercial emphasis 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.


Chinese takeaways/takeout restaurants are particularly popular[where?]. They normally offer a wide variety of Asian food (not always Chinese), which has normally been fried. Most options are some form of noodles, rice, or meat. In some cases, the food is presented as a smörgåsbord, sometimes self service. The customer chooses the size of the container they wish to buy, and then is free to fill it with their choice of food. It is common to combine several options in one container, and some outlets charge by weight rather than by item. In large cities, these restaurants may offer free delivery for purchases over a minimum amount.

Sushi has seen rapidly rising popularity in recent times[where?]. A form of fast food created in Japan (where bentō is the Japanese variety of fast food), sushi is normally cold sticky rice flavored with a sweet rice vinegar and served with some topping (often fish), or, as in the most popular kind in the West, rolled in nori (dried laver) with filling. The filling often includes fish, seafood, chicken or cucumber.

Pizza is a common fast food category in the United States, with nationwide chains including Papa John's, Domino's Pizza, Sbarro and Pizza Hut. Menus are more limited and standardized than in traditional pizzerias, and pizza delivery is offered.

Kebab houses are a form of fast food restaurant from the Middle East, especially Turkey and Lebanon. Meat is shaven from a rotisserie, and is served on a warmed flatbread with salad and a choice of sauce and dressing. These doner kebabs or shawarmas are distinct from shish kebabs served on sticks. Kebab shops are also found throughout the world, especially Europe, New Zealand and Australia but they generally are less common in the US.

Fish and chip shops are a form of fast food popular in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Fish is battered and then deep fried, and served with deep fried potato strips.

The Dutch have their own types of fast food. A Dutch fast food meal often consists of a portion of french fries (called friet or patat) with a sauce and a meat product. The most common sauce to accompany french fries is fritessaus. It is a sweet, vinegary and low fat mayonnaise substitute, that the Dutch nevertheless still call "mayonnaise". When ordering it is very often abbreviated to met (literally "with"). Other popular sauces are ketchup or spiced ketchup ("curry"), Indonesian style peanut sauce ("satésaus" or "pindasaus") or piccalilli. Sometimes the fries are served with combinations of sauces, most famously speciaal (special): mayonnaise, with (spiced) ketchup and chopped onions; and oorlog (literally "war"): mayonnaise and peanut sauce (sometimes also with ketchup and chopped onions). The meat product is usually a deep fried snack; this includes the frikandel (a deep fried skinless minced meat sausage), and the kroket (deep fried meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs).

In Portugal, there are some varieties of local fast-food and restaurants specialized in this type of local cuisine. Some of the most popular foods include frango assado (Piri-piri grilled chicken previously marinated), francesinha, francesinha poveira, espetada (turkey or pork meat on two sticks) and bifanas (pork cutlets in a specific sauce served as a sandwich). This type of food is also often served with french fries (called batatas fritas), some international chains started appearing specialized in some of the typical Portuguese fast food such as Nando's.

A fixture of East Asian cities is the noodle shop. Flatbread and falafel are today ubiquitous in the Middle East. Popular Indian fast food dishes include vada pav, panipuri and dahi vada. In the French-speaking nations of West Africa, roadside stands in and around the larger cities continue to sell—as they have done for generations—a range of ready-to-eat, char-grilled meat sticks known locally as brochettes (not to be confused with the bread snack of the same name found in Europe).


In the United States, consumers spent $160 billion on fast food in 2012 (up from $6 billion in 1970).[13][14] In total the US restaurant industry had projected sales of $660.5 billion in 2013.[15] Fast food has been losing market share to fast casual dining restaurants, which offer more robust and expensive cuisines.[16]


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 4.1 million U.S. workers are employed in food preparation and serving (including fast food) as of 2010.[11] The BLS's projected job outlook expects average growth and excellent opportunity as a result of high turnover. However, in April 2011, McDonald's hired approximately 62,000 new workers and received a million applications for those positions—an acceptance rate of 6.2%.[17] The median age of workers in the industry in 2013 was 28.[18]


In 2006, the global fast food market grew by 4.8% and reached a value of £102.4 billion and a volume of 80.3 billion transactions.[19] Global fast food sales are projected to reach $239.7 billion in 2014.[20] In India alone the fast food industry is growing by 41% a year.[21]

McDonald's is located in 126 countries on 6 continents and operates over 31,000 restaurants worldwide.[22] On January 31, 1990 McDonald’s opened a restaurant in Moscow, and broke opening day records for customers served. The Moscow restaurant is the busiest in the world. The largest McDonald’s in the world, with 25,000 feet of play tubes, an arcade and play center, is located in Orlando, Florida, USA[23][clarification needed]

There are numerous other fast food restaurants located all over the world. Burger King has more than 11,100 restaurants in more than 65 countries.[24] KFC is located in 25 countries.[25] Subway is one of the fastest growing franchises in the world with approximately 39,129 restaurants in 90 countries as of May 2009,[26] the first non-US location opening in December 1984 in Bahrain.[27] Pizza Hut is located in 97 countries, with 100 locations in China.[28] Taco Bell has 278 restaurants located in 14 countries besides the United States.[29]


Fast food chains have come under criticism over concerns ranging from claimed negative health effects, alleged animal cruelty, cases of worker exploitation, and claims of cultural degradation via shifts in people's eating patterns away from traditional foods.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43] [44][45]

The intake of fast food is increasing worldwide. A study done in Jeddah has shown that current fast food habits are related to the increase of overweight and obesity among adolescents in Saudi Arabia. [46] In 2014, the World Health Organization published a study which claims that deregulated food markets are largely to blame for the obesity crisis, and suggested tighter regulations to reverse the trend.[47]


  1. ;
  2. Stambaugh, John E. (1988) The Ancient Roman City JHU Press ISBN 978-0-8018-3692-3 pp. 200, 209.
  3. Martha Carling, "Fast Food and Urban Living Standards in Medieval England" in Food and Eating in Medieval Barbie, pp. 27–51.
  4. 6.0 6.1 The Portuguese gave us fried fish, the Belgians invented chips but 150 years ago an East End boy united them to create The World's Greatest Double Act Mail Online. Retrieved 21 September 2011
  5. 9.0 9.1
  6. See Honk for Service by Lou Ellen Mcginley with Stephanie Spurr (Tray Days Publishing, 2004)
  7. 11.0 11.1 " Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers"
  10. "It's harder to get a job at McDonalds's than to get into Harvard"
  11. Christian Owens, "Trying to Raise a Family on a Fast Food Salary". 29 August 2013.
  13. [1]
  14. Jeffery, Robert, Baxter, Judy, McGuire, Mauree, Linde, Jennifer. "Are fast food restaurants an environmental risk factor for obesity?". International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Published: 25 January 2006.
  15. Freeman, Andrea. "Fast Food: Oppression through Poor Nutrition". California Law Review. Vol. 95, No. 6 (Dec., 2007), pp. 2221-2259. California Law Review, Inc.
  16. Adams, Ronald. "Fast Food and Animal Rights: An Examination and Assessment of the Industry's Response to Social Pressure". Business and Society Review. Volume 113, Issue 3, pages 301–328, September 2008. Article first published online: 8 SEP 2008. First published online: 8 SEP 2008.
  17. Singer, Peter and Mason, Jim. "The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter". Holtzbrink Publishers. 2006.
  18. Singer, Peter. "Animal Liberation". HarperCollins. 1975.
  19. Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Harper Collins Publishers. 2001
  20. Smith, Vickie. "The Fractured World of the Temporary Worker: Power, Participation, and Fragmentation in the Contemporary Workplace". Social Problems Vol. 45, No. 4 (Nov., 1998), pp. 411-430 Published by: University of California Press Article Stable URL:
  21. Kiyah J Duffey, Penny Gordon-Larsen, David R Jacobs Jr, O Dale Williams, and Barry M Popkin. "Differential associations of fast food and restaurant food consumption with 3-y change in body mass index: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study1,2,3". 2007 American Society for Clinical Nutrition.
  22. Simone A French Mary Story and Robert W Jeffery. "ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES ON EATING AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY". Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 22: 309-335 (Volume publication date May 2001). Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota, 1300 South Second Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454.
  23. James F. Sallis, Karen Glanz. "The Role of Built Environments in Physical Activity, Eating, and Obesity in Childhood". The Future of Children Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 2006 pp. 89-108 | 10.1353/foc.2006.0009.
  24. Nell Cassey. "Wage Theft and New York City's Fast Food Workers: New York City's Hidden Crime Wave". Fast Food Foreword. April 2013.
  25. "Fast Food" Food Empowerment Project. 2013.
  26. Walshe, Sadhbh. "How America's fast food industry makes a quick buck, The gulf between CEO pay and staff McWages is shockingly wide: a strike serves this system of super-exploitation right". 10 April 2013
  27. Michelle M. Mello, Eric B. Rimm and David M. Studdert. "The McLawsuit: The Fast-Food Industry And Legal Accountability For Obesity". Health Affairs. November 2003. vol.22 no. 6 207-216.
  28. Shanthy A. Bowman, PhD*, Steven L. Gortmaker, PhD‡, Cara B. Ebbeling, PhD§, Mark A. Pereira, PhD§, David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD§. "Effects of Fast-Food Consumption on Energy Intake and Diet Quality Among Children in a National Household Survey". PEDIATRICS Vol. 113 No. 1 January 1, 2004 pp. 112 -118
  29. Mohammad Hossein Rouhani,1,2 Maryam Mirseifinezhad,1,2 Nasrin Omrani,1,2 Ahmad Esmaillzadeh,1,2 and Leila Azadbakht1,2. "Fast Food Consumption, Quality of Diet, and Obesity among Isfahanian Adolescent Girls". 1.Food Security Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran 2.Department of Community Nutrition, School of Nutrition and Food Science, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran. Journal of Obesity Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 597924, 8 pages. Received 2 January 2012; Revised 11 March 2012; Accepted 19 March 2012.
  30. Study finds deregulation fuelling obesity epidemic. Reuters. 2 February 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2014.

Further reading

  • Adams, Catherine. "Reframing the Obesity Debate: McDonald’s Role May Surprise You." Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics 35 (2007): 154-157. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. University of Nevada, Reno Libraries. 5 February 2008.
  • Arndt, Michael. "McDonald’s 24/7." Business Week 4020 (2007): 64-72. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. University of Nevada, Reno Libraries. 22 February 2008.
  • Berry, Leonard L., Kathleen Seiders, and Dhruv Grewal. "The Journal Of Marketing." JSTOR. JSTOR, 2002. Web. 03 Oct. 2010
  • Food and Eating in Medieval Europe. Martha Carlin and Joel T. Rosenthal (editors). The Hambledon Press, London. 1998. ISBN 1-85285-148-1
  • Growth Hormones in Food. (2010, June 14). Retrieved September 23, 2010, from
  • Hogan, David. Selling 'em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
  • Kroc, Ray with Robert Anderson. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's. St. Martin's Press, 1992.
  • Levinstein, Harvey. Paradox of Plenty: a Social History of Eating in Modern America. Berkeley: University of California P, 2003. 228-229.
  • Luxenberg, Stan. Roadside Empires: How the Chains Franchised America. New York: Viking, 1985.
  • McGinley, Lou Ellen with Stephanie Spurr, Honk for Service: A Man, A Tray and the Glory Days of the Drive-In. St. Louis: Tray Days Publishing, 2004. For photos of the Parkmoor Restaurants see Drive-In Restaurant Photos
  • Morrison Paul, Catherine J., and James M. MacDonald. "American Journal of Agricultural Economics." JSTOR. JSTOR, 2003. Web. 03 Oct. 2010.
  • Motavalli, J. (n.d.). The Case Against Meat: Evidence Shows That Our Meat-Based Diet Is Bad for the Environment, Aggravates Global Hunger, Brutalizes Animals and Compromises Our Health. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from
  • Obesity In America. The Endocrine Society; The Hormone Foundation. 27 April 2008 The Obesity Crisis: What's it all about?
  • Pacific Research Institute, Capital Ideas, Vol. 7, No. 31 August 8, 2002
  • Pollan, M. (2009). In Defense of Food: an Eater's Manifesto. New York City: Penguin
  • Robbins, J. (2010, April 18). What About Grass-fed Beef?. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from
  • Schlosser, Eric, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001
  • Schultz, Howard with Dori Jones Yang, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, Hyperion, 1999
  • Warner, Melanie "Salads or No, Cheap Burgers Revive McDonald’s." The New York Times 19 April 2006. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. University of Nevada, Reno Libraries. 5 February 2008.

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