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Fast-Food Shakeout

- February 15, 2019
Can the industry keep up with changing tastes?
Featured Report

Millions of Americans order hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, coffee or some other item every day from one of almost 300,000 fast-food restaurants across the country. But some fast-food chains are losing customers and closing stores as consumers flock to fast-casual restaurants that emphasize distinctive, creatively prepared food and eco-friendly production. To compete, major fast-food companies have begun offering healthier menu items in addition to the high-calorie options that remain popular with many consumers. Some restaurants also are working to reduce pollution linked to their operations. And certain chains, including White Castle, serve plant-based, meatless burgers designed to appeal to health-conscious and environmentally minded consumers. In the race to stay relevant with teens and young adults, McDonald's and other chains are relying increasingly on mobile delivery apps and buzz-worthy internet promotions. Rising labor costs, meanwhile, have led to higher prices for some fast-food items, and to predictions that the industry will rely more on robots and less on human workers in the future.

Surprising Findings

Children's Health

Antibiotic Alarms

1920s–1950sMajor fast-food chains get their start and expand rapidly after World War II.
1960s–1980sFranchises expand into low-income neighborhoods; rising numbers of working women aid fast food's growth.
1990s-PresentConsumers question fast food's health effects; fast-casual restaurants become a source of competition.

Will calorie counts on restaurant menus lead to healthier customer choices?


Margo G. Wootan
Vice President for Nutrition, Center for Science in the Public Interest.


Aaron Yelowitz
Professor of Economics, University of Kentucky; Senior Fellow, Cato Institute.


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