Through the years we witness the mushrooming and evolution of the fast-food industry. As attested by the fact that in the last four decades, fast-food has penetrated every nook and cranny of American society. Who would have thought that despite humble beginnings, the fast food industry would infiltrate every corner of the nation and the world for that matter?
Fast-food industry began with a handful of modest hot dog and hamburger stands in Southern California. Now this phenomenon is apparent in every hamburger and hot dog stand worldwide. In an apparent bid for globalization, fast food is now served not only at restaurants and drive-thrus but also at stadiums, airports, college campuses and elementary schools, on cruise ships, trains and airplanes, at Kmarts, Wal-Marts, gas stations and even hospital cafeterias worldwide. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food. Last year they spent more than $100 billion on fast-food.
We are not constantly bombarded with fast-food chain advertisements but with fast-food itself. In most major cities, and even in remote places, one can find a fast-food restaurant on every corner. McDonald’s, for instance, is found in 30,000 locations in 118 countries, and in 1996, opened a new restaurant every three hours. And, Ronald McDonald is highly recognized next to Santa Claus only. About 30 years ago, fast-food expenditure was $6 billion. Now the figure is more than $110 billion on fast food in 2000, this is “more than on higher education, personal computers, or new cars”.
Fast-food industry got the necessary shove when essential changes took place in the U.S. economy. Women entered the work force in record numbers, often motivated less by feminism than by a need to help pay the bills. In 1975, about a third of American mothers with young children worked outside the home; today about two-thirds of such mothers are employed. The entry of women into the nation’s work force has greatly increased demand for the types of services that housewives traditionally performed: cooking, cleaning and child care. The fast-food industry has benefited from these demand by supplying at low cost the meals no longer prepared in the home and hiring at low wages millions of young women in need of extra income.
The rapid growth of the fast-food industry contributes to the positive growth of the American economy. Take for instance The McDonald’s Corp. McDonald’s has become a powerful symbol of America’s service economy, the sector now responsible for ninety percent of the country’s new jobs. In 1968, McDonald’s operated about 1,000 restaurants. Now it grows to 23,000 restaurants worldwide and opens roughly 2,000 new ones each year. One in every eight Americans has worked at McDonald’s. The company trains more new workers than the U.S. Army. McDonald’s is the nation’s largest consumer of beef and potatoes. It is the second-largest when it comes to poultry. The McDonald’s Corp. is the largest owner of retail property in the world. As a matter of fact, the company earns the majority of its profits not from selling food but from collecting rent. McDonald’s spends more money on advertising and marketing than does any other brand, much of it targeted at children. (Schlosser, Screen 6).
McDonaldization is spreading as an international phenomenon. As the London _Economist_ notes, “McDonald’s reported that in 1996 and 1997 they intended to open around 32,000 new restaurants (compared to 1,787 in 1994 and 2,430 in 1995) of which around two-thirds would be outside of the USA…. [Whereas] in 1985, some 22% of units were located overseas accounting for $2.2 billion (20% of total) sales and 18% of operating profit: by 1996 these figures were $14 billion (47% of total)”.
Another positive aspect brought about by the success of the fast-food industry is to encourage other industries to adopt its business methods to achieve globalization through franchise. Businesses not only fill America’s main streets and malls with Gaps and Coconuts, Maid Brigades, Pawn Marts and HobbyTown USAs but also other parts of the world through franchise. Franchises and chain stores have in the last twenty-five years gained a forty percent share of all retail spending in the United States. Almost every facet of American life has now been franchised.
The fast-food industry has created millions of new jobs even when other businesses have been firing workers. Today it employs some of the poorest, most disadvantaged members of American society. It helps in teaching basic job skills to people even those who can barely read, who lives chaotic lives or shut off from the mainstream. But the fast-food industry’s attitude toward unions, overtime pay and the minimum wage suggests that its motives in employing the poor and the handicapped are not entirely altruistic.
Teenagers have long provided the fast-food industry with most of its work force. Teenagers in many ways are the ideal candidates for such jobs. Since most teenagers still lived at home, they could afford to work for wages too low to support an adult, and until recently their limited skills attracted few other employers. A job at a fast-food restaurant became an American rite of passage, a first job soon left behind for better things. The flexible terms of employment in the fast-food industry also attracted many housewives who needed extra income. As the number of baby boomers declined, the fast-food companies began to recruit other marginalized workers: recent immigrants, the elderly and the handicapped.
The changes prompted by fast-food happened so fast and have covered a huge range of been so all-encompassing that it is now hard to conceive of a world without hamburgers served in brightly colored paper boxes, without drive-thru windows, without the same restaurants making the same food the same way in almost every American city and town or anywhere else in the world. The basic thinking behind fast-food has become the basis for operating system in today’s service economy. Several industries pattern the retail environments from fast-food. Time and again, we learn from the cliché ‘You are what you eat’.