Archive for Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fast food: oft criticized, always patronized

February 25, 2014

Even though they face a lot of criticism, people world-wide like and patronize fast-food restaurants. My guess is that it would be fairly difficult to find a person who hasn’t patronized a fast food restaurant in the last couple of months.

I realize that fast-food restaurants have received a lot of the blame for Americans being overweight. That certainly hasn’t stopped persons going to fast food restaurants. According to statistics in 2012 Americans spent $160 billion at fast food restaurants. That is a tremendous growth from the $6 billion spent in 1972. One of the reasons for the growth is that the chains have changed menus and provide something for everyone. They have kept up with the times and no longer just serve hamburgers, French fries and malts.

The fast-food frenzy has spread throughout the world. In our travels to Europe, Central America and Mexico I was surprised to find the variety of American fast-food restaurants. I remember sitting in the food court at Euston Station in London and marveling at the variety of familiar fast food choices. I talked with some folks in London and they pointed out several reasons for the popularity. These reasons included low food prices, sit-down eating facilities and free restrooms. When I was in Australia in 1968 fast-food restaurants were unknown. Come to think of it they weren’t all that common here either.

I found a couple of origins for the industry. One credited Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson with founding the White Castle Restaurants in Wichita in 1921. They sold hamburgers for five cents each and were creative marketers first using a newspaper coupon in St. Louis in 1932 to attract customers.

There is no doubt that the “father” of the franchise food business was Ray Kroc who noted that the McDonald brothers’ restaurant was always packed. He persuaded the brothers to let him franchise “McDonald’s” and soon the Golden Arches and an empire was born.

Really the idea may date back to ancient Rome when persons on their way home from work stopped at food booths to buy a bowl of stew and vegetables to take home for supper.

Experts have several ideas why fast food became popular. First, the proliferation of the automobile made travel easier and motorists looked for and could depend on the same quality and service at each restaurant. In my opinion the biggest reason is that far more women are employed today and have less time for cooking, hence the popularity of fast food restaurants.

Another reason might be the marketing skills of the restaurants. Their advertising targeted the youth market with free trinkets and playgrounds. The fast-food industry changed with the times and added increased services such as breakfast and other popular food items. They are no long “hamburger stands” as they have a good variety with everything from burgers and fries to pizza, chicken, ethnic and a selection of low calorie food choices.

Another reason is people like fast-food. Yes, I know that the fast food industry is being blamed for the nationwide problem of obesity which is unfair. Those of us who have a few excess pounds have no one to blame but ourselves. We choose what to eat and besides most fast-food restaurants now cater to dieters.

The fast-food industry provides jobs for 4.1 million Americans. I was surprised to find that the largest fast-food chain was Subway with 29,722 stores. McDonald’s was in second place with 14,098 locations. There is a wide selection of choices, too. We could never get our children to agree on a restaurant, so we always stopped where there were several choices and everyone could get what they liked.

There is no doubt that fast-food restaurants have changed our dining habits and that is something that probably won’t be reversed.

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