History of Fast Foods

History of Fast Foods Part 1: Why Fast Food Is So Popular

American History of Fast Foods, as a topic, is directly tied to our decision-making regarding meal consumption more consciously. Keep reading to learn why fast food is so popular. This is part of our Food Articles category.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 research in progress

History of Fast Foods – Introduction to Part 1

The specifics of the history of fast foods and its industry reveals a lot about influence, compromise, stress, solutions, and success. Briefly learning the qualitative history of the fast food industry will illustrate how it goes well beyond clever marketing ads.

We routinely make the classic consumer decision of “make-or-buy” each meal, several times a day. More often than not, we make these decisions subconsciously. Some of those decisions are made due to marketing but also due to other non-marketing methods, as you’ll read in this article.

Our dining-out, carry-out, drive-thru, or eating-in decisions are impacted due to some important unknowns about the food and beverages industry that will be explained here.

I will emphasize specifically the fast food industry, using a qualitative approach, and its ties to our human behavior in making decisions.

Fast Food Popularity
Fast Food Popularity

Why read about the history of the fast food industry?

With making multiple daily decisions regarding meals, we decide repeatedly where and how to obtain them. With the added knowledge of this history, you’ll be more empowered to make significantly improved decisions regarding dining-out, carry-out, or eating-in. You’ll be more likely to make those meal planning decisions consciously. This is because you’ll be more aware of the various business methods utilized that sway your thinking away from making your own.

As an added note, to maintain the strength of the qualitative role and to avoid incorrect or unintended perceptions of companies, brand names will generally be omitted.

History of Fast Food in America

To understand the fast food history in America, we must review its early attempts and when it took a strong foothold, along with its reasons.

History of the Fast Food Industry

There were early attempts since the mid 1800s but widespread success of the fast food industry took a solid hold in the 1950s. What changed that secured the fast food industry to have a foothold and gave it such popularity?

As America began to hit a rapid growth period after World War II, the industrial age continued growing and focusing on improving productivity at work. Using an assembly line was one example of improving productivity at work. Here’s an article along this topic that answers the related question of What does Henry Ford and McDonalds have in common?

People wanted to become more productive at home as well, but for different reasons than at work. With the depression and two World Wars in the prior 20 years, people of the late 1940s wanted stability and the industrial revolution provided a large shift towards that focus. The desire for manufactured things increased due to powerful marketing methods.

What changed that secured the fast food industry to have a foothold and gave it such popularity? Basically everyone wanted to save more time and get more done. But, the reasons and methods used to fulfill these desires were very different at home compared to at work. It was a culmination of several reasons that finally set the industry on its rapid growth track. Here are some of them:

How Fast Food Started

  • Since eating was the one thing that everyone did, it seemed that making meals became recognized as a hindrance of time usage, multiple times each day.
  • The workforce was shifting again and was adding more women, the former key role of preparing meals at home. Saving time for meal preparation became a more significant necessity.
  • Prepackaged foods at the grocery store such as deli ham for sandwiches became more commonplace. This suggested that simple, thin slices of meat for a sandwich was accepted instead of a carved slice of thick ham at home.
  • Food additives empowered foods businesses to experience less spoilage losses. More reliable heavy equipment such as walk-in freezers helped inventories and volume. Several of these types of factors stabilized fast food restaurants to be able to handle both slow days and rushes. So, the reputation and reliability improved.
Fast Food Saves Us Time when Someone else Cooks
Fast Food Saves Us Time when Someone else Cooks

Marketing Overview

This industry has a significant role in balancing our lives in its efforts and methods to satisfy its markets’ defined needs. Fast Food discovered new methods of marketing to apply. With restaurants still being one of the higher business failure rates, it often required a lot of marketing strength to succeed. We’ll now review a few of those methods.

Fast Food Location Strategy

The phrase that “Location is everything” is extremely true for a fast food location strategy. Once a restaurant chain would begin to grow during expansion, the importance of identifying a specific new additional location in a city became recognized as a valid requirement. So, performing an extensive marketing analysis was extremely important. It helped reduce business losses and failures and it directly impacted maximizing sales and profits.

If a restaurant niche involved college youth, families, or upscale, the demographics was key to initial success. Also, learning the city planning was important for understanding its long-term potential for continued success. Here are some examples of new locations-related situations that led to later business issues.

Location Strategy Examples

  • During design, it was assumed that an entry point would be on one side of the building and an entry/exit point would happen on the other side. Around when construction was to begin, the city wouldn’t approve two entry points because of high traffic accidents at that corner. It allowed only one. Since the business was already far beyond a turning back point, it opened and experienced a lower market base because it lost the added entry point coming from the heavier traffic side.
  • An extremely popular fast food chain was expanding rapidly across the country. In time, it discovered that a fast growing competitor was also putting up stores across the street or nearby within about a year of opening. After a few years of that, it was discovered that the “younger” competitor was saving the high expense not needing a marketing study in a clever way. Since the initial, highly successful chain store had made the expensive, in-depth marketing analysis already, the competitor felt they didn’t have to do one. The solution later was to work closer with the city planners and try to work in some restrictions of having the same types of business near their planned new store. This same principal is also applied to shopping centers and strip malls.
  • A fast food restaurant had just opened up and was doing well. It was next to a small strip center which then had a new “pool hall & bar” small business open up. Over time, the environment nearby was considered unsightly and the adjacent customers at night were keeping the restaurant sales lower than usual. So, in the future, some chains chose to enhance their marketing studies to be further distanced from certain buildings, or they would ensure they would have a larger land area to give the customers’ a subconscious feeling of being distantly separated.

Marketing Ads

This is the more common topic known and recognized in business. In the earlier years, it would typically be via TV, radio, billboards, newspapers, and magazines. Ads in magazines could be purchased with an added feature to be positioned alongside another complementary ad. For example, an ad for a banana & orange smoothie might be placed adjacent to a health gym ad.

Or, a coffee shop ad might be placed next to a college ad. The idea is that the ads are related to having the same consumer target base. Ads would also be placed in articles that could relate to or tie in with the subject matter.

Today, of course, it’s shifted further from print and gone towards online media options. Regardless, an ad is still an ad. Today, the appearance of a particular online ad can be automated to adapt its actual content to be more aligned with the user and profile. If the user is logged in to a site compared to browsing as a site guest, the advertising methods will vary. Because being logged in will enable a more direct approach to content coverage specifically for the user, many online locations will strongly want you to create an account.

That’s why many sites will limit your exploration until you get an account and logon. This is another example of being conscious of what’s being shown to you. And that also includes news articles, which are also geared to focus on news that keeps you tied into topics and views that relate to what you’ve viewed historically. When you’re engrossed in reading a news article that was displayed to you, you might also encounter a food ad that’s tied to your news topics of interest. It’s all about profiles data. Again, just be conscious of these matters.

Ads are becoming more aligned with how we already think and eat, as opposed to being exposed to our own individual decisions for different choices. So, in seeing a fast food ad which triggers you to make a change, maybe you could partially control that changed decisions and have a hybrid fast food meal. An example is to grab fast food sandwiches on the way home and skip the drinks. But prepare your own soft drinks after getting home. That also saves some money over time.

The need for marketing data used to focus on gathering demographics. Today, it’s a combination of buying that data, along with using AI (artificial intelligence) to automate which ad will appear to a consumer when online.

When driving, if your GPS has your accumulated travel history, it will know when you’ve pulled over to certain business food locations and can tie to your profile. So, when using GPS apps, paid fast food ads similar to where you’ve eaten in the past, might appear between 10 AM through 1 PM. You might also see some lunch locations appear on the app as you’re approaching them.

Since it’s around that hungry time, and you see the ad, there will be a higher tendency to take advantage of it. It will be convenient, will save time, and (most importantly) will match your previous tracked historical behavior.

The idea here is to be conscious of triggers caused by food ads. Try to recollect what your original lunch plan was. It might be that you brought lunch, like a chicken salad sub sandwich, and it’s back at work or, you were going to skip lunch today and take off earlier. GPS food ads are triggers for quick response and immediate changes. You can be conscious of your decisions and change them on your terms with repeated awareness over time.


This has been Part 1 of planned upcoming article segments to further record some qualitative historical aspects of the fast food industry. I hope you enjoyed reviewing the contents of this article whether it’s for research needs or just plain personal or professional interest.

Here are some interesting things regarding the history of the fast food industry.

And, here are some great examples of some quality fast food recipes you can make at home:

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