Fast-Food Shakeout

February 15, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 7
Can the industry keep up with changing tastes?
By Micheline Maynard


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.

An Impossible Slider (Getty Images/Drew Angerer)
An Impossible Slider, which consists of plant protein but is made to taste like a beef hamburger, sits on a table at a White Castle restaurant in New York City. Fast-food chains are increasingly modifying their menus to try to meet consumer demand for healthier food that reflects a concern for the environment. (Getty Images/Drew Angerer)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Food Safety
Sep. 03, 2021  Food Security
Sep. 25, 2020  The Future of Meat
Feb. 15, 2019  Fast-Food Shakeout
Jun. 16, 2017  Food Labeling
Oct. 03, 2014  Food Policy Debates
Aug. 31, 2012  Genetically Modified Food
Dec. 17, 2010  Food Safety
Jan. 26, 2007  Slow Food Movement
Nov. 01, 2002  Food Safety
Mar. 30, 2001  Biotech Foods
Sep. 04, 1998  Food Safety Battle: Organic Vs. Biotech
Jun. 04, 1993  Food Safety
Jun. 12, 1992  Food Irradiation
Nov. 08, 1991  Fast-Food Shake-up
Nov. 18, 1988  How Safe Is Your Food?
Dec. 11, 1981  Controversy Over Salt in Food
Dec. 08, 1978  Fast Food: U.S. Growth Industry
May 12, 1978  Food Additives
Dec. 26, 1969  Food Additives
Dec. 04, 1968  Synthetic Foods
Jan. 20, 1960  Food Safeguards
Feb. 09, 1952  Chemicals in Foods
Dec. 18, 1934  Revision of the Pure Food and Drugs Act
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Labor Standards and Practices
Obesity and Weight Control
Popular Culture