Communities large and small often have at least one significant fast food establishment that can serve up a meal when needed. These restaurants, which are grouped together into the QSR (quick-service restaurant) category, make it possible to purchase a meal at an affordable price for the average household in the development world.
There are numerous brands that operate companies in this space, including independently owned and operated franchises, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Arby’s. You will also find local and regional businesses, like Dick’s Drive-In in the Seattle metroplex area, that also fit in with this industry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the average adult in the United States receives over 10% of their calories every day through the consumption of fast food. This change in eating habits is typically due to three primary reasons: scheduling, convenience, and cost.
These are the fast food pros and cons to consider if you’re looking for new ways to improve your diet.
List of the Pros of Fast Food
1. Fast food provides affordable access to needed calories.
You will not find a better deal on the total number of calories that fast food offers at the cost charged to customers. It is necessary to make smart purchasing choices to gain this advantage, but it is possible. You can fill up on cheeseburgers at McDonald’s to get 300 calories for each $1 spent. If you go to a McChicken, then it is 350 calories per dollar. Although there are high levels of fat and salt to consider in this diet, you cannot find a similar result with other foods.
Even at McDonald’s, you’ll only receive 73 calories per dollar if you purchase a grilled chicken sandwich. If you were to shop for fresh foods at the local supermarket, you might achieve 40 calories per dollar on a good day.
2. You can save time with your eating needs with fast food.
Most meals are delivered within minutes when you choose a quick-service restaurant for your food. The average location will only have you waiting in line for a few minutes at most as well. That means you can grab your meal, eat, and get on with your day without an excessive time commitment. Even when you compare fast food to casual dining, the time it takes to order and eat is about 50% faster. Most families are finished in under 30 minutes.
3. Drive-thru options are available with fast food restaurants.
If you don’t feel like cooking at home one evening, then you can stop by your favorite fast food restaurant to pick up a quick meal. The Drive-thru line available at most locations allows you to place an order from the convenience of your vehicle. Then pull up to the window to pay. You’ll be handed a bag with your selections that you can then enjoy in the comfort of home. Just remember to check that the customer service representatives got your order right before pulling away to ensure you’re not left with an unpleasant surprise when you get home.
4. There are healthy choices available on most fast food menus.
You can pull up to the average fast food location to purchase healthy items if you’re trying to be conscious about the foods you eat. Numerous locations offer products that are 400 calories or less without being too expensive. You can even stop at a place like Shake Shack to get a burger with the works at that calorie level. There are salads, baked potatoes, apple slices, oatmeal, and a growing selection of alternative or limited-time foods from which to choose as well. Fast food has the reputation for being the place to grab a greasy burger, but it only offers that as one possibility.
5. It offers a complete meal at an affordable price.
You can purchase a taco, a side dish, and a drink at Taco Bell for under $4 (including tax) if you order from their menu strategically. Combination meals are usually priced at $7 or less. You can even order premium food items at some locations in the $9 range that would be double that price at other restaurants. If you have a large family and are traveling, this dining option is light on the budget while helping to ensure you don’t drive away hungry.
6. You receive consistent services with the industry’s top brands.
One of the best reasons to consider fast food as a dining option is the consistency of the experience. You can walk into a Wendy’s anywhere in the world and expect a certain level of service, quality, and pricing. The food products often ship from similar vendors, even when the locations are independently owned, which means you’re eating the same items when you order. Even policies on bathroom cleanliness are similar at each location, allowing you to walk in with a specific set of expectations for the money you’re about to spend.
7. You have access to all the nutritional information.
Fast food establishments are just like any other restaurant when it comes to following the requirements of posting ingredients and nutritional information. You have the right to know what is in your food before you order it. Many locations are required to post calorie counts for each menu item too. The top brands in the industry post their entire menu online for you to review with this information if you wish. Although there are some exceptions that apply to small chains or individual restaurants, this data makes it easier for the average person to make a healthier heating choice.
8. Fast food locations provide local jobs and skill training.
Many teens get their first job at a fast food restaurant because there are skills to learn and money to earn. Although the pay rate isn’t high in most locations, the wages are enough to make the work seem meaningful. There are advancement opportunities for everyone in the industry as well, including general manager positions which earn competitive wages against the national median. When the flexible hours and tuition reimbursement benefits are included as well, it is easy to see why older adults are also looking to this industry as a way to earn some supplemental income.
9. It gives you an opportunity to experience foods from different cultures.
Fast food items are more than just convenient. They also offer you an opportunity to try different items from various cultures that may not be available to you otherwise. There are numerous chains and independent QSR locations that offer Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Chinese dishes that are served with the same speed as a burger and fries.
List of the Cons of Fast Food
1. The nutritional content of fast food is highly questionable.
Although you can purchase a lot of food for relatively little cash when you dine at a fast food restaurant, the quality of what you receive is often questionable. The foods are safe to eat, but they may not be healthy to consume. Most fast food menu items are high in sodium content and fat, leaving little room for other nutritional elements.
Eat This, Not That compiled the unhealthiest fast foods that they discovered in the industry. Topping that list was the Flamin’ Hot Mac n’ Cheetos that were served for a limited time, offering 390 calories and 1,170mg of sodium. The Quiznos gyros sub was a surprising addition, but the 12-inch sandwich did contain 1,330 calories, 68g of fat, and 3,550mg of sodium.
2. Prices can be deceiving when you order fast food items.
Value meals trick you into thinking that they’re cheaper for you. When you compare the cost of a meal for a single person compared to what you could purchase at the local store to make at home, the difference is night and day. Even if you spend just $7 on your burger and fries, there’s a good chance you could purchase a baked potato and a small steak. Which option is healthier?
If you shop at a store like Safeway, you can even purchase entire chickens for the same price that you’d spend on a combo meal. The only way the industry really saves you money is when you’re eating by yourself. For a family of 6, the price of eating at a QSR location is the equivalent to two days’ worth of groceries.
3. The food quality at a fast food location is usually lower.
Fast food products go through bulk production, shipping, and freezing processes to ensure that what you eat is safe. Although some brands like Wendy’s or Culver’s don’t freeze their foods before preparation, most do for convenience. That process reduces the quality of each bite that you take. Long-term storage (which includes the need for preservatives) can also enter the eating equation for some restaurants. Low prices will always limit your access to fresh produce and high-quality proteins.
4. You must remain disciplined to order healthy items at a fast food location.
It is easy enough to fool yourself into thinking that you are choosing something healthy at a fast food restaurant when you order a salad or a grilled item. If you go to Wendy’s to order a Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad, then you’re going to consume 790 calories and 51g of fat when you eat that meal with the dressing. You could eat two Egg McMuffins from McDonald’s and still come in with fewer calories.
5. The ingredients in fast food items are not always easy to find.
If you perform a basic Google search for “Big Mac ingredients,” then the first listing you receive comes from Wikipedia. Look below and you’ll see a link for the main McDonald’s site. Click on it and your browser might ask for your current location. You’ll also get a pop-up to download the company’s app. Then click on the tab to view “all ingredients and allergens.”
Each component of the Big Mac is then listed. Although the 100% beef patty contains no other ingredients, there are some interesting items found in the other components. The bun might contain “one or more dough conditioners” such as DATEM. The Big Mac sauce contains hydrolyzed corn, soy, and wheat protein. The pickles contain potassium sorbate and polysorbate 80. You’ll also get 39% of your daily value of sodium from the burger.
6. Fast food items create an addictive-like effect on the human body.
The salience of fast food creates an addictive-like impact on some individuals because it offers highly palatable items, high levels of sugar, caffeine access, and marketing presentations that encourage substance dependence. Most fast food meals are accompanied by a soda, increasing the sugar content by 10 times. This issue is thought to be one of the primary reasons why obesity is on the rise in the developed world, but it is especially strong in the United States. People are settling for eating food-like products instead of real food items.
7. The industry shifts the priority of what a meal is supposed to be.
Fast food locations are concerned about customer turnover more than anything else. They want to rush you in, serve your food, and then give you the minimum amount of time to consume it before escorting you out the door. Many locations require you to leave in 30 minutes or less, or risk being trespassed by the local police. The goal with such a policy is to limit loitering, but let’s be real here for a minute: a family with three young children will be lucky sometimes to get started eating in 30 minutes, much less finish within that time.
8. It could be dangerous to your health.
Healthline notes that there are 13 effects that happen to the human body when fast food products are consumed on a regular basis. Headaches, dental problems, high cholesterol levels, shortness of breath, acne, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke are all possible outcomes with this eating habit. Although some of these issues can be tempered with moderation, it only takes one meal to exceed your sugar and salt intake for the entire day.
9. Fast food can create adverse effects on society.
Over one-third of children between the ages of 6-19 in the U.S. are considered either overweight or obese according to their BMI. Almost 70% of adults in the United States meet that same diagnosis. The growth of fast food availability in the country has been on the same curve as obesity since 1970. Even when awareness campaigns are waged to make consumers smarter, the eating choices that people make continue with very few changes. Obesity can lead to issues with muscle mass and bone density as well.
The top pros and cons of eating fast food cannot emphasize more clearly the need for moderation. Although someone can theoretically eat any food item in a way that is unhealthy, the high caloric content, fat content, and sodium levels found in items served by the QSR industry leave little room for error. If you have any other option than fast food, then you might consider taking it to ensure that you can continue to meet your health goals.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.