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May 8, 2010

A fast food observation

Fast food is food cooked in bulk and in advance and kept warm, or reheated to order. Many fast-food restaurants are part of restaurant chains or franchise operations, and standardized foodstuffs are shipped to each restaurant from central locations. There are also simpler fast-food outlets, such as stands or kiosks, which may or may not provide shelter or chairs for customers.

Because the capital requirements to start a fast-food restaurant are relatively small, particularly in areas with non-existent or poorly enforced health codes, small individually-owned fast-food restaurants have become common throughout the world. Restaurants such as Culver’s and Noodles, where the customers sit down and have their food orders brought to them, are also considered fast food.

Although fast-food restaurants are often viewed as a representation of a day by day family outing, the concept of “ready-cooked food to go” is as old as cities themselves; unique variations are historical in various cultures. Ancient Roman cities had bread-and-olive stands, East Asian cultures feature noodle shops. Flat bread and falafel are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Popular Indian “fast” food delicacies include Vada pav, Papri Chaat, Bhelpuri, Panipuri and Dahi Vada. In the French-speaking nations of West Africa, meanwhile, roadside stands in and around the larger cities continue to sell- as they have done for generations- a range of ready-to-eat, chargrilled meat sticks known locally as “brochettes” (not to be confused with the bread snack of the same name found in Europe).

Typical interior of an Automat. This one was built in New York in 1930, at the height of their popularity.

The modern history of fast-food in America began on July 7, 1912 with the opening of a fast food restaurant called the Automat in New York. The Automat was a cafeteria with its prepared foods behind small glass windows and coin-operated slots. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart had already opened an Automat in Philadelphia, but their “Automat” at Broadway and 13th Street, in New York City, created a sensation. Numerous Automat restaurants were quickly built around the country to deal with the demand. Automats remained extremely popular throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. The company also popularized the notion of “take-out” food, with their slogan “Less work for Mother”. The American company White Castle is generally credited with opening the second fast-food outlet in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, selling hamburgers for five

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