Defining fast food

I was having a conversation recently about what makes a restaurant “fast food.” This is basically a silly and irrelevant issue, but I had fun thinking about it. I feel like there are some places (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Subway, etc.) that are clearly fast food and self-identify as such, but then there are a lot of places that are sort of borderline cases, like some of the taquerias in my neighborhood, or places that only do takeout. My friend was even insisting that Five Guys somehow isn’t fast food because it’s higher-quality than McDonald’s.

We thought up a lot of of factors that could be evidence for or against, but I was trying to come up with a simple, hard-and-fast rule. The best I could do was that a restaurant that can’t give you your food on a plate (as opposed to a tray or bag or wrapper) is fast food, while a place with plates is not. What do you think? Is there some big flaw with my rule? Do you have a rule of your own?

I consider fast food to be mass produced food sold at chain places.

I do not consider Fast to assemble from scratch food from family owned places as fast food.

I’ve been to In n Out and 5 Guys once each. It wasn’t fast. It’s been some years now but it seemed like they were almost cooked to order. When I eat fast food, it’s because I’m on the road. I want to do drive-through and have it ready as soon as I get to the “second window.” :slight_smile:

interesting question - I feel the need for a venn diagram :smiley: (no time to draw one)

1-no plates
2-mass produced

1&2 = gas station food
2&3 = frozen microwave meals
1&3 = bodega food
1&2&3 = fast food

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Falafel carts, slice joints, taco stands and chains like McDonalds are all fast food, according to me. If it takes under five minutes for me to arrive, order, get my grub and leave, it’s fast food.


There’s a good Wiki article on this. Aside from “ethnic”, the categories are

Fast food
Fast casual
Casual dining
subtype Family style
Fine dining

with a bunch of variations. A google search shows that other sites have more or less the same categories.

Myself, I wouldn’t have put “ethnic” as a separate category with the above, but one of the variations, so you can have Chinese fast food (P F Changs) or fine dining (China Village in Albany, CA).

I suspect if you asked most of my fellow Britons, they’d be likely to identify “fast food” as relating to American style places - Burger King, KFC, etc.

I suspect it’d be relatively rare that we’d actually describe, say, a fish & chip shop as “fast food”, although it is takeaway food fast. As indeed would most other takeaway outlets.

If already prepared, I’d call it fast food.

Article title should be “10 London Fast Food Restaurants…”

Although several are clearly just takeaway places not restaurants. With those sort of inaccuracies, I really wouldnt give any credit to it.

Nope. A number of them are all over the country and some number in the hundreds. Here’s more:

It feels weird to me to make being a chain part of the definition. Was the first McDonald’s not fast food? How many restaurants are needed to make something turn into fast food?

For me it’s ideally doing drive-thru although in congested cities that’s not the case. But definitely already cooked. A real treat is when McD’s fries are right out of the fryer :slight_smile:

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I just knew continuing to engage with you was going to get tiresome. If you expect to be treated seriously, pPlease try and do at least basic research before throwing out information.

Few of the places on the list would be regarded by anyone who either knew them or had even clicked on a few of the links as being fast food restaurants. Anyone who had actually given a cursory glance to the list would have spotted that an outlet that sells cookies is not a restaurant. And I’d bet that Thomasina Myers would be horrified to see her business (Wahaca) defined as “fast food” in the same list as Subway and Krispy Kreme. I leave aside drawing attention to the considerable number on the list which are American style fast food which, if you recall, was my starting point about how Britons generally define “fast food”.

I really have nothing further to contribute to this thread.

The thread is about “defining fast food.” IMO there’s no single answer.

For what it’s worth, just because a food is served quickly in Italy doesn’t mean it is “fast food.” You can order a classic Neapolitan pizza in Napoli from a hole in the wall vendor and have it served to you in a few minutes. You might get in a box to take away, or on paper plates — but it is still a “slow food.”

The Slow Food movement in Italy was started as a direct response to MacDonald’s opening outlets in Italy. It was intended to combat the “Americanization” of Italian eating tradtions by international corporations, symbolized by American “fast food”, which was deforming local agriculture to serve a mass market, creating incentives for low quality/high profit, all at the expense of the environment, flavor, tradition and community. By this definition, Red Lobster or Chilli’s is giving you fast food even if you get on a plate, or sit at a table to eat it.

Despite the movement being conceived in Italy by Italians, the English words “Slow Food” where chosen to name the movement in a direct rebuke to American food corporations and to help highlight the importance of resisting a degradation of flavor, eating enjoyment and the environment along the lines of American neo-liberal model.

Lots has been written about the Slow Food movement (not all of it correct) and of course the definition of “fast food” is not dictated by the definition of “slow food.” But thought you might find it interesting to think about in this context.


So is there “fast food”?

I’m not sure you read what I wrote, but the whole point of the Slow Food movement is recognize the destructiveness of fast food.

(Edited to add another link:

No, no. Sorry I did read what you wrote. I’m just asking if there’s “fast food” in Italy and how does one defing it. This isn’t about “slow food.” :slight_smile:

If there’s a drive-thru, it’s definitely fast food, though fast food encompasses more than that.


I think it was just a name for food made fast for the masses . Such as when Mc Donald’s and drive ins started in the early fifties .