The history of fast food restaurants in the United States in the first half of the 20th century included New York automats, which served take-out food in vending machines, and the hamburger restaurant chain White Castle, established in Wichita, Kansas. Hamburger chains that were founded later in Southern California, however, such as McDonald's, Jack in the Box, and Carl's Jr., have had a much greater influence. These evolved from drive-in restaurants that were popular in the early 1940s. In 1948, Richard and Maurice McDonald applied the principles of a factory assembly line to their restaurant and eliminated drive-in service to dramatically reduce labor costs. Their techniques spawned numerous imitators extending far beyond California, including the Burger King Chain in Florida. In 1961, the McDonald brothers sold their business and name to Ray Kroc, who refined their methods of breaking down every task to make them more efficient and achieve consistent quality. Kroc successfully expanded the business to more than 7,500 restaurants worldwide by the time he died in 1984.
Although the top three U.S. fast food or “quick service” restaurants by sales are hamburger chains, other popular formats include fried chicken, pizza, sandwiches, and Mexican food. The majority are operated as franchises. Under this arrangement, a businessperson is primarily responsible for financing and operating a restaurant, but an initial fee and a continuing percentage of the sales must be paid to the parent company. McDonald's Corporation, the largest franchise in the world, makes most of its money not through these fees but through leasing land that it owns to its franchisees. Other fast food chains, such as Subway, rely on requiring the payment of a much higher percentage of sales (Nicole).
The fast food industry has experienced numerous mergers and acquisitions, resulting in a smaller number of corporations dominating the market. Wendy's and Arby's merged in 2008, for example, and the company currently holds a majority stake in Tim Hortons. Yum! Brands, which was once owned by Pepsico, controls Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's, and A&W. McDonald's once held a majority stake in Chipotle, Boston Market, and Donato's Pizza but had divested its ownership in these firms by 2007. The growth of the fast food industry could be viewed as having a number of positive effects. Fast food is convenient and easily accessible, particularly for residents of urban areas or those with access to automobiles. Fast food also tends to be inexpensive. Prices continue to decline as more chains are offering selected menu items for approximately $1 or providing a discount for ordering a combination of items called a “value meal.”
Rising obesity rates have led to criticism of the nutritional composition of fast food. These meals tend to be high in saturated fats, trans-fats, and high-fructose corn syrup, all of which have been associated with negative health outcomes such as diabetes and heart disease. In addition, portion size and the average number of calories in a meal have increased over time. Fast food companies have found “supersizing,” or suggesting ...