Fast food restaurants are incredibly prolific. According to IBISWorld, the United States has 201,865 fast food restaurants in 2023. That doesn’t even count the rest of the world! If you’re contemplating opening a restaurant in this style, what are the pros and cons of that decision?
Here are some of the pros and cons of fast food restaurants:
- Open late
- Easily accessible
- Not the highest quality
- Could be healthier
- Could contribute to obesity
This article will be chock full of pros and cons of fast food restaurants. By the time you’re done reading, you can decide with confidence whether you want to open such an establishment.
The Pros of Fast Food Restaurants
Often Locally Operated
Fast food restaurants are traditionally franchises that issue restaurant ownership opportunities to franchisees.
When you walk into a local McDonald’s or Domino’s Pizza, even though it’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation, it’s still operated by a local owner in your community.
This can strengthen community ties, as the neighborhood might feel better about ordering fast food when they know they’re supporting a local business owner.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t an advantage to the restaurant owner themselves or their staff, but consumers definitely adore the late hours of most fast food restaurants.
Some fast food establishments keep their doors open until midnight, while others are open 24 hours. If a person has a craving for fast food first thing in the morning or late at night, they can oblige their craving.
It’s about more than cravings, though. Imagine coming home on a late flight. You’re starving, but it’s the middle of the night. You don’t want to cook, so you look for what’s open.
At that hour, it’s likely either fast food or diners, and fast food is a lot quicker to get something to eat. Fast food also costs less.
Although late hours will cause you to have to schedule workers on several shifts, the longer your restaurant is open, the more profit you can drive.
More Convenient Than Cooking
One of the primary motivators for eating fast food? Convenience!
The Barbecue Lab found that 83 percent of families in the US eat fast food at least once a week for the very reason of convenience.
While most people know that cooking is the smarter, more balanced, and more nutritious option, that doesn’t always mean they have the time or the resources to prepare home-cooked meals, and certainly not seven nights a week.
The availability of fast food allows families to put a hot meal on the table, even if they didn’t prep it themselves. They can use the energy and time they didn’t allocate to cooking elsewhere, such as on childcare, house care, or even self-care.
Another major advantage to fast food restaurants that inspire consumers to sit in the drive-thru line is the cost.
Even before the major grocery inflation costs that drained everyone’s wallets in the early 2020s, groceries were always costly.
According to financial resource GOBankingRates, in 2021, the average United States household spent $438 a month or $5,259 a year on groceries.
That’s a lot of money!
Fast food, by comparison, is a much cheaper alternative.
If you can feed your family for $10 or $20, it feels like you’re pocketing more cash. When you consider the speed and convenience of fast food on top of that, it’s no wonder it’s such an appealing alternative to cooking at home.
Although the low costs of selling fast food might give you pause if you’re considering opening a quick-service establishment, remember that your restaurant will stay open longer than most, which should elevate your revenue in little time.
If you live in most American cities, you only have to drive three to five minutes before voila, you come across a fast food establishment. In strip malls and shopping mall food courts, the rate of fast food restaurants increases.
McDonald’s has 13,438 restaurants in the US as of 2021, notes GlobalData, while data resource ScrapeHero reports that the US has 15,874 Starbucks establishments as of 2023.
The sheer number of fast food establishments in this country and their locality to just about everyone makes fast food an even more alluring option.
You don’t have to go far to get it, and the closest fast food restaurant may even be nearer to your home than the local grocery store!
Offers Healthy Menu Items
Fast food restaurants have been vilified for decades because of their unhealthy offerings. Slowly, these establishments began offering healthier fare.
Everyone laughed when McDonald’s introduced fresher, lighter menu options, but today, that healthier food is the norm at Mickey D’s.
Today, establishments like Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, Subway, and Chipotle all have healthier menu items that you can feel good about eating if you don’t want to ingest a lot of empty calories.
These healthier menu options can eliminate the guilt that some people feel about eating fast food, making the menus of these establishments even more accessible!
The Cons of Fast Food Restaurants
The first downside on our list is aimed at restaurant owners.
Although franchising a major restaurant name like a McDonald’s or a Domino’s Pizza may sound very appealing to you, remember our point from before about the proximity non-issue of fast food restaurants.
Literally, in some neighborhoods, there’s a fast food restaurant everywhere you turn. These aren’t even necessarily different establishments, but possibly all McDonald’s or Starbucks.
If you want to open a franchise, you’d have other restaurants to compete with under the same brand name. Why would consumers choose your McDonald’s when there’s another two minutes down the road?
This kind of elevated competition can make it much harder to achieve your dreams of owning a franchise. You might be better off funneling your money into a unique restaurant and moving away from the world of fast food.
The Food Isn’t Very High-Quality
If you’ve gotten into the restaurant industry or you’re interested in breaking into the industry, it’s because you’re passionate about food and food service. Unfortunately, there can exist a disconnect between food service and fast food establishments.
Since these restaurants serve such a large dearth of customers, consumers always have concerns about the freshness of the menu ingredients. More so, they’re curious about the ingredients themselves.
What exactly goes into the Starbucks Pink Drink? Do McDonald’s chicken nuggets use real chicken?
A quick Google search will answer these and related questions, but the fact that people search for these queries at all speaks volumes about the quality of fast food offerings.
Fast food establishments need to keep their overhead low, and one way to do that is by spending less on food. People know they’re not getting a five-star, gourmet experience at any fast food restaurant, so it’s okay if the food isn’t the best quality ever.
If you can swallow the bitter pill that is serving lower-quality food, you might consider a future in the fast food restaurant world. However, if you’d rather prepare fresh food from scratch, it’s time to pursue another type of restaurant venture altogether.
More Expensive Than It Seems
Fast food is low-cost, right? Not exactly!
A 2023 CNET article found that the recent bout of inflation has caused fast food prices to rise by an astounding 13 percent. Groceries only rose in price by 12 percent in 2022, making fast food the more expensive option of the two.
Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s have inflated their costs the most. Other fast food giants didn’t necessarily raise the prices of everything wholesale but focused on specific menu items.
Burger King is guilty of this, as its chicken fries have become costlier.
While it’s easy to forego one or two more expensive menu items, when the whole menu becomes more expensive—as is the case with Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A—well-meaning customers might decide to take their business elsewhere.
After all, once fast food becomes more expensive than what they could buy at the grocery store, it loses a lot of its appeal.
Not Always as Healthy as It Appears
Here’s the thing about healthy fast food: it’s kind of an oxymoron. Yes, it exists, but as for how healthy it is? That’s up for debate.
For instance, Chick-Fil-A may seem healthy since many of its menu offerings are chicken, but WorldAtlas notes that the average meal from this fast food establishment contains 1,600 calories. That’s not exactly healthy eating!
Even if you can find a fast food menu with some truly healthy foods, can you resist the temptation to order a side of fries, a soft drink, or a pie or chocolate chip cookie as dessert?
If you can’t, then you’ll quickly rack up the calories (not to mention the carbs, sugars, and trans fats), negating your healthy decision-making.
May Contribute to Obesity
There’s yet one more downside of fast food restaurants, and it’s kind of a big one. It’s the risk of causing weight issues in your customers.
A 2018 report in the Journal of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene assessed 300 participants, all college-aged, in Iran. Some of them ingested fast food such as pizza, hot dogs, fried potatoes, fried chicken, and various sandwiches.
The researchers then assessed the participants’ BMI and waist-hip ratio.
Here’s what the study concluded: “Fast food consumption is strongly associated with weight gain and obesity. Fast food consumption could increase the risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases as a major public health issue. Obesity and overweight are the most important factors of non-communicable diseases related to years of life lost in cardiovascular diseases.”
That’s not to say that other cuisines outside of fast food couldn’t contribute to obesity either, but the fast food and obesity link is one that’s long since been established, with huge bodies of research confirming the connection.
Ultimately, it’s not your responsibility as a restaurant owner to make dietary decisions for your customers. It’s their choice. Plenty of people eat fast food regularly and don’t gain huge amounts of weight, either because they watch their diet otherwise or because they have a high metabolism.
Regardless, the obesity link is always there, lingering like a specter in the background. It’s food for thought!
Fast food restaurants have become ingrained in our society for better or for worse. These establishments used to have few redeeming qualities, but the healthier offerings on the menus these days continue to make fast food a beacon for those who want something fast and inexpensive.
If you’re contemplating opening a fast food restaurant, you must carefully weigh the pros and cons. The long hours make yours an appealing option when everyone else is closed, but the proximity of your establishment to others can be problematic as you try to carve out a unique franchise.
You also have to make peace with the fact that your food isn’t as high quality as standard restaurants and that your menu could contribute to customer obesity.