" A study asked the public which attributes were the most important for a fast-food chain; among the respondents, cleanliness ranked first, followed by the wish to have hot food actually served hot. "The idea that fast food should be juicy (not dried out) placed eleventh on the list" (Gershman, 1990, p. 176). According to this author, Wendy's took two of its product attributes, hot and juicy, and based their entire marketing campaign around that central theme. These commercials fueled the company's success for years, but Clara Peller's "Where's the beef?" was only popular "for about a minute"; because there was no central theme line, sales began to decline for Wendy's and have never fully recovered from that time. As a result, "Advertising isn't enough any more. For at least ten years, fast food has been a battleground for market share, and that market is becoming increasingly segmented" (Gershman, p. 176). Amid the "burger wars" that prevail today, there have been some trends emerge that are discussed further below.
Current and Future Trends.
Based on the foregoing and the growing body of research to date, there are three clearly discernible trends taking place as a result of the explosive growth in the American fast food industry that will have far-reaching but largely unknown implications for the future:
1) "McDonalidizaton." The process of McDonalidization, according to author George Ritzer, is spreading capitalist business forms around the world. In his book, Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser describes the impact of the fast-food industry on life in the United States and what happened in the American fast-food business in the 1970s. According to Schlosser, "by eating like Americans, people all over the world are beginning to look more like Americans" (p. 240). The argument has also been advanced that no country that has a McDonald's restaurant has ever attacked another country with a McDonald's, but time will only tell if this pattern holds true in an increasingly turbulent world.
2) Fast Food's Impact on Health. In his essay, "Big Food Fight," John Berlau (2002) reports that "a movement of trial lawyers and public-health activists are marshaling the strategies used against tobacco to go after fast-food restaurants and food processors that sell 'fatty' food, candy, soft drinks and other consumables deemed politically incorrect" (p. 12). This author points out that the industry leader, McDonald's, has stated on its Web site that: "For both quality and safety, McDonald's has been a leader in setting and strictly enforcing high standards -- often exceeding those established by industry and government"; however, he also emphasizes that "Some of the same legal tactics, by which I mean both legislative and litigative, which worked so well against big tobacco could also work well against the issue of obesity" (p. 12).
The recent documentary by Morgan Spurlock, "Super Size Me," added further fuel to the fire as well; this movie involved the author's eating nothing but McDonald's menu items for an entire month. According to McCaslin, "The main attraction of 'Super Size Me' is watching Spurlock put on weight while he gorges on nothing but McDonald's food for a month. But eating 90 meals in a row at the same restaurant is no more realistic than so-called reality shows like 'Average Joe'" (p. A09). The reason for this criticism relates to the manner in which Spurlock approached the concept from the outset and McCaslin points out that "you can get fat eating Brussels sprouts, too," and the issue relates more to calorie consumption and exercise than to whether food is classified as "fast" or not: "Just ask Don Gorske. He's in the Guinness Book of Records for eating 19,000 Big Macs. Gorske is 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, and his cholesterol is a healthy 155" (McCaslin, p. A09).
3) Focus on Service. Finally, there has been a fundamental shift in the increasingly competitive fast food industry to a focus on quantifying and controlling the previously indefinable: "With a shift in fast food from emphasis on preparing a customer's order in the back to serving the customer in the restaurant's front area, the greatest concern today is how to control, define, and measure service" (Talwar, p. 98).
The research showed that the last half century has been the "golden era" for the "Golden Arches." The fast food industry has experienced such enormous growth that there is probably not a person alive in the world today who has not at least heard of McDonald's, and growth in this industry is expected to continue well into the 21st century. How the trends identified above will play out in an increasingly violent world remains to be seen, but the fact remains that the process of McDonaldization continues to spread the inexorable forces of capitalism and standardized food products around the world and it seems that just about everyone is eating it even if they are protesting it as soon as they are finished with their burgers and fries.
Berlau, J. (July 15, 2002). Big Food Fight: When Big Tobacco Was Taken Down by a Rash of Lawsuits, Consumers Were Assured That Other 'Bad' Products Wouldn't Be Targeted, but the Fast-Food Industry Appears to Be Next. Insight on the News, 18(25), 12.
Gershman, M. (1990). Getting it right the second time: How American ingenuity transformed forty-nine marketing failures into some of our most successful products. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
Krueger, A.B. (1991). Ownership, Agency, and Wages: An Examination of Franchising in the Fast Food Industry. Quarterly Journal of Business and Economics, 106(1), 75.
McCaslin, J. (March 23, 2004). Pass the Ketchup. The Washington Times, A09.
Newman, K.S. (Fall 1995). Dead-End Jobs: A Way Out. Brookings Review,…