Fast food is the term given to food that is prepared and served very quickly, first popularized in the 1950s in the United States. While any meal with low preparation time can be considered fast food, typically the term refers to food sold in a restaurant or store with preheated or precooked ingredients, and served to the customer in a packaged form for take-out/take-away. Fast food restaurants are traditionally separated by their ability to serve food via a drive-through. The term "fast food" was recognized in a dictionary by Merriam–Webster in 1951.
Outlets may be stands or kiosks, which may provide no shelter or seating, or fast food restaurants (also known as quick service restaurants). Franchise operations that are part of restaurant chains have standardized foodstuffs shipped to each restaurant from central locations.
In the cities of Roman antiquity, much of the urban population living in insulae, multi-story apartment blocks, depended on food vendors for much of their meals. In the mornings, bread soaked in wine was eaten as a quick snack and cooked vegetables and stews later in popina, a simple type of eating establishment. In the Middle Ages, large towns and major urban areas such as London and Paris supported numerous vendors that sold dishes such as pies, pasties, flans, waffles, wafers, pancakes and cooked meats. As in Roman cities during antiquity, many of these establishments catered to those who did not have means to cook their own food, particularly single households. Unlike richer town dwellers, many often could not afford housing with kitchen facilities and thus relied on fast food. Travellers, as well, such as pilgrims en route to a holy site, were among the customers.
In areas with access to coastal or tidal waters, 'fast food' frequently included local shellfish or seafood, such as oysters or, as in London, eels. Often this seafood was cooked directly on the quay or close by. The development of trawler fishing in the mid-nineteenth century led to the development of a British favourite, fish and chips, and the first shop in 1860. A blue plaque at Oldham's Tommyfield Market marks the origin of the fish and chip shop and fast food industries in Britain.
As automobiles became popular and more affordable following World War I, drive-in restaurants were introduced. The American company White Castle, founded by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, is generally credited with opening the second fast food outlet and first hamburger chain, selling hamburgers for five cents each. Walter Anderson had built the first White Castle restaurant in Wichita in 1916, introducing the limited menu, high-volume, low-cost, high-speed hamburger restaurant. Among its innovations, the company allowed customers to see the food being prepared. White Castle was successful from its inception and spawned numerous competitors.
Franchising was introduced in 1921 by A&W Root Beer, which franchised its distinctive syrup. Howard Johnson's first franchised the restaurant concept in the mid-1930s, formally standardizing menus, signage and advertising.
The United States has the largest fast food industry in the world, and American fast food restaurants are located in over 100 countries. Approximately 4.1 million U.S. workers are employed in the areas of food preparation and food servicing, including fast food in the USA. Worries of an obesity epidemic and its related illnesses have inspired many local government officials in the United States to propose to limit or regulate fast-food restaurants. However, some areas are more affected than others. In Los Angeles County, for example, about 45% of the restaurants in South Central Los Angeles are fast-food chains or restaurants with minimal seating. By comparison, only 16% of those on the Westside are such restaurants.
The National Employment Law Project wrote in 2013, "...according to a study by researchers at the university of California-Berkeley, more than half (52 percent) of front-line fast-food workers must rely on at least one public assistance program to support their families. As a result, the fast-food-industry business model of low wages, non-existent benefits, and limited work hours costs taxpayers an average of nearly $7 billion every year". They claim this funding allows these workers to, "...afford health care, food, and other basic necessities..." 
On the go
Fast food outlets are take-away or take-out providers, often with a "drive-through" service that lets customers order and pick up food from their cars, but most also have indoor or outdoor seating areas where customers can eat on-site.
Nearly from its inception, fast food has been designed to be eaten "on the go," often does not require traditional cutlery, and is eaten as a finger food. Common menu items at fast food outlets include fish and chips, sandwiches, pitas, hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries, onion rings, chicken nuggets, tacos, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream, though many fast food restaurants offer "slower" foods like chili, mashed potatoes, and salads.
Convenience stores located within many petrol/gas stations sell pre-packaged sandwiches, doughnuts, and hot food. Many gas stations in the United States and Europe also sell frozen foods, and have microwave ovens on the premises in which to prepare them.
Street vendors and concessions
Traditional street food is available around the world, usually from small operators and independent vendors operating from a cart, table, portable grill or motor vehicle. Common examples include Vietnamese noodle vendors, Middle Eastern falafel stands, New York City hot dog carts, and taco trucks. Turo-Turo vendors (Tagalog for point point) are a feature of Philippine life. Commonly, street vendors provide a colorful and varying range of options designed to quickly captivate passers-by and attract as much attention as possible.
Depending on the locale, multiple street vendors may specialize in specific types of food characteristic of a given cultural or ethnic tradition. In some cultures, it is typical for street vendors to call out prices, sing or chant sales-pitches, play music, or engage in other forms of "street theatrics" to engage prospective customers. In some cases, this can garner more attention than the food.
Modern commercial fast food is often highly processed and prepared in an industrial fashion, i.e., on a large scale with standard ingredients and standardized cooking and production methods. It is usually rapidly served in cartons or bags or in a plastic wrapping, in a fashion that minimizes cost. In most fast food operations, menu items are generally made from processed ingredients prepared at a central supply facility and then shipped to individual outlets where they are reheated, cooked (usually by microwave or deep frying) or assembled in a short amount of time. This process ensures a consistent level of product quality, and is key to being able to deliver the order quickly to the customer and eliminate labor and equipment costs in the individual stores.
Because of commercial emphasis on quickness, uniformity and low cost, fast food products are often made with ingredients formulated to achieve a certain flavor or consistency and to preserve freshness.
Chinese takeaways/takeout restaurants are particularly popular[where?]. They normally offer a wide variety of Asian food (not always Chinese), which has normally been fried. Most options are some form of noodles, rice, or meat. In some cases, the food is presented as a smörgåsbord, sometimes self service. The customer chooses the size of the container they wish to buy, and then is free to fill it with their choice of food. It is common to combine several options in one container, and some outlets charge by weight rather than by item. In large cities, these restaurants may offer free delivery for purchases over a minimum amount.
Sushi has seen rapidly rising popularity in recent times[where?]. A form of fast food created in Japan (where bentō is the Japanese variety of fast food), sushi is normally cold sticky rice flavored with a sweet rice vinegar and served with some topping (often fish), or, as in the most popular kind in the West, rolled in nori (dried laver) with filling. The filling often includes fish, seafood, chicken or cucumber.
Pizza is a common fast food category in the United States, with nationwide chains including Papa John's, Domino's Pizza, Sbarro and Pizza Hut. It trails only the burger industry in supplying children's fast food calories. Menus are more limited and standardized than in traditional pizzerias, and pizza delivery is offered.
Kebab houses are a form of fast food restaurant from the Middle East, especially Turkey and Lebanon. Meat is shaven from a rotisserie, and is served on a warmed flatbread with salad and a choice of sauce and dressing. These doner kebabs or shawarmas are distinct from shish kebabs served on sticks. Kebab shops are also found throughout the world, especially Europe, New Zealand and Australia but they generally are less common in the US.
Fish and chip shops are a form of fast food popular in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Fish is battered and then deep fried, and served with deep fried potato strips.
The Dutch have their own types of fast food. A Dutch fast food meal often consists of a portion of french fries (called friet or patat) with a sauce and a meat product. The most common sauce to accompany french fries is fritessaus. It is a sweet, vinegary and low fat mayonnaise substitute, that the Dutch nevertheless still call "mayonnaise". When ordering it is very often abbreviated to met (literally "with"). Other popular sauces are ketchup or spiced ketchup ("curry"), Indonesian style peanut sauce ("satésaus" or "pindasaus") or piccalilli. Sometimes the fries are served with combinations of sauces, most famously speciaal (special): mayonnaise, with (spiced) ketchup and chopped onions; and oorlog (literally "war"): mayonnaise and peanut sauce (sometimes also with ketchup and chopped onions). The meat product is usually a deep fried snack; this includes the frikandel (a deep fried skinless minced meat sausage), and the kroket (deep fried meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs).
In Portugal, there are some varieties of local fast-food and restaurants specialized in this type of local cuisine. Some of the most popular foods include frango assado (Piri-piri grilled chicken previously marinated), francesinha, francesinha poveira, espetada (turkey or pork meat on two sticks) and bifanas (pork cutlets in a specific sauce served as a sandwich). This type of food is also often served with french fries (called batatas fritas), some international chains started appearing specialized in some of the typical Portuguese fast food such as Nando's.
An example of a local form of fast food in Poland is pasztecik szczeciński, a deep-fried yeast dough stuffed with meat or vegetarian filling, typical fast food dish of the city of Szczecin well known in many other cities in the country. A dish is on Polish List of traditional products. The first bar serving pasztecik szczeciński, Bar "Pasztecik" founded in 1969, is located on Wojska Polskiego Avenue 46 in Szczecin.
A fixture of East Asian cities is the noodle shop. Flatbread and falafel are today ubiquitous in the Middle East. Popular Indian fast food dishes include vada pav, panipuri and dahi vada. In the French-speaking nations of West Africa, roadside stands in and around the larger cities continue to sell—as they have done for generations—a range of ready-to-eat, char-grilled meat sticks known locally as brochettes (not to be confused with the bread snack of the same name found in Europe).
In the United States, consumers spent $160 billion on fast food in 2012 (up from $6 billion in 1970). In total the US restaurant industry had projected sales of $660.5 billion in 2013. Fast food has been losing market share to fast casual dining restaurants, which offer more robust and expensive cuisines. Due to this competition, fast food giants have seen dramatic drops in their sales. While overall fast food sales have fallen, the amount of Americans who eat in these restaurants "once a month or 'a few times a year'" has risen.
In contrast to the rest of the world, American citizens spend a much smaller amount of their income on food — largely due to various government subsidies that make fast food cheap and easily accessible. Calorie for calorie, foods sold in fast food restaurants, costs less and is more energy-dense, and is made mostly of products that the government subsidizes heavily: corn, soy, and beef.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 4.1 million U.S. workers are employed in food preparation and serving (including fast food) as of 2010. The BLS's projected job outlook expects average growth and excellent opportunity as a result of high turnover. However, in April 2011, McDonald's hired approximately 62,000 new workers and received a million applications for those positions—an acceptance rate of 6.2%. The median age of workers in the industry in 2013 was 28. Obtaining Human Resource Management diploma or diploma in Fast Food Management can help to get a job in major fast food restaurants since it is one of the most desired.
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In 2006, the global fast-food market grew by 4.8% and reached a value of £102.4 billion and a volume of 80.3 billion transactions. Global fast-food sales are projected[by whom?] to reach $239.7 billion in 2014. In India alone the fast-food industry is growing[when?] by 41% a year.
McDonald's has outlets in 126 countries on 6 continents and operates over 31,000 restaurants worldwide. On January 31, 1990 McDonald's opened a restaurant in Moscow and broke opening-day records for customers served. The Moscow restaurant is the busiest in the world. The largest McDonald's in the world, with 25,000 feet of play tubes, an arcade and play center, is located in Orlando, Florida, USA[clarification needed]
There are numerous other fast food restaurants located all over the world. Burger King has more than 11,100 restaurants in more than 65 countries. KFC is located in 25 countries. Subway is one of the fastest growing franchises in the world with approximately 39,129 restaurants in 90 countries as of May 2009, the first non-US location opening in December 1984 in Bahrain. Wienerwald has spread from Germany into Asia and Africa. Pizza Hut is located in 97 countries, with 100 locations in China. Taco Bell has 278 restaurants located in 14 countries besides the United States.
Fast-food chains have come under criticism over concerns ranging from claimed negative health effects, alleged animal cruelty, cases of worker exploitation, and claims of cultural degradation via shifts in people's eating patterns away from traditional foods.
The intake of fast food is increasing worldwide. A study done in Jeddah has shown that current fast food habits are related to the increase of overweight and obesity among adolescents in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, the World Health Organization published a study which claims that deregulated food markets are largely to blame for the obesity crisis, and suggested tighter regulations to reverse the trend. In America local governments are restricting fast food chains by limiting the number of restaurants found in certain geographical areas.
To combat criticism, fast food restaurants are starting to offer more health-friendly menu items. In addition to health critics, there are suggestions for the fast food industry to become more eco-friendly. The chains have responded by "reducing packaging waste".
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