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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.[4]

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, 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 have expanded into 10 states in the United States, but are more prominent in border states such as New York and/or 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[citation needed]. However, brands like Wimpy still remain, although the majority of branches became Burger King in 1989. In France and Belgium, Quick is a popular alternative to McDonald's and Burger King.

Traditional ramen and sushi restaurants still dominate fast food culture in Japan, although American outlets like Pizza Hut, McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken are also popular, along with Western-style Japanese chains like Mos Burger.

In Africa, Mr. Bigg's and Tantalizers are the predominant fast food chains in Nigeria, while Nando's and Steers are predominant in South Africa.

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 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. [5].

Consumer appeal

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.[6]

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 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.[citation needed]

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Neighboring fast food restaurant advertisement signs in Bowling Green, Kentucky
Neighboring fast food restaurant advertisement signs in Bowling Green, Kentucky

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)[3]. 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 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.

Regional chains

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. Also, Whataburger is a popular burger chain in the South and Mexico. 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 and Dunkin Donuts.

Innovations timeline