What Is Fast Food?

A lot of people ask me how I decide what restaurants to feature on this site. I can start by telling you the definition has some gray area, but generally here’s the criteria that I consider:

  1. Quick Serve: The chain should specialize in quick turnaround from order to food delivery. Table service (wait staff) restaurants aren’t excluded but are unlikely to be listed, even if they promote express lunch programs to lure more mid-day traffic.
  2. Drive-Thrus: If most of a chain’s locations do not have drive-thrus then I have to look more closely at the next few questions. But having a drive-thru does not automatically grant a listing (e.g. Starbucks.)
  3. Menu Category: What do they serve? Would a person typically consider them for a meal? This, again, rules out coffee chains and most “bakery” type places. Generally, we have the following main categories: Burgers/Hot Dogs/Sandwiches; Chicken; Mexican & International; Fish; and Desserts.
  4. To-Go Business: A significant part of the establishment’s daily business should be take out. This rules out predominantly sit-down chains who are joining the trend toward easier take out (e.g. Appleby’s to go, Chili’s to go). Those aren’t fast food because take out is a side business. But Boston Market is an example of a chain with a good balance between sit down and take out.

So people often look at #3 above and say “OK, so why not pizza?”

That has more to do with #1 than the food category. Fine, most people call pizza a quick meal, but is it really? I don’t think so. Unless you are getting a ready-made personal pie or going to a place that sells by the slice, you have to wait at least 5 minutes. And even in those other places, the number of pre-made pizzas is limited so the odds are good you will have a limited selection or have to wait anyway. So for now I say NO, pizza may be an informal meal but it is not fast food. But you can still talk about it as many have in our discussion forums.

You’ll also notice that the number of restaurants is not a criteria. Some of the best fast food locations are single store operations. And even McDonald’s started with one store.

So that’s my definition of fast food and how I decide what restaurants to feature.

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