Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fast Food

It’s a unique American invention. And we suffer from the consequences. High calorie, bad cholesterol, high fat, and few vegetables in the food that we consume … quickly. We now suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, giant pants — all symptoms of a nation’s love for food that is fast.

The archetypical main dish is hamburgers — hamburgers and french fries. Throw in a shake and you have the entire recommended daily intake of calories in one meal. From there we drive to our sedentary jobs and park as close as we can. I get a big kick out of going to the health club. Everyone tries to get that parking space right by the door. Does that make sense?

Franchises are the heart and soul of the successful fast food establishments, although local and regional brands also purvey good food. But since I write for a national audience, and even an international one, I will discuss the largest franchises.

(I remember trips to Germany and Japan that, after a while, I truly craved some good old US food like a burger, KFC, or a pizza. Fortunately, these US franchises are over there too, although Burger King didn’t call their top dish a “Whopper.”)

I reviewed an article that listed the top 50 fast food purveyors based on sales. That’s probably a good measure of the number of restaurants and name recognition, so I’m going to use this survey to compare the different choices.

Start with hamburgers (and fries). Of course, number one is McDonalds. Never a question there. Lots of other burger joints in the top 50: Burger King and Wendy’s, of course. Also Sonic, Jack in the Box, and Dairy Queen. (Not sure to count DQ as a burger joint, although they’ve been busy redoing their brand to add sandwiches to their ice cream selections.)

Also in the list is Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s, although these two seem to be cut from the same corporate cloth. Whataburger, Steak N Shake, Five Guys, Culvers, and Checker’s/Rally’s are in the mix, although some of these are more regional than national. White Castle in the East and In-N-Out in the West are well known. Finally is Krystal … a brand I’ve never heard of … concludes the list that is, obviously, skewed to burgers.

Under the category of sandwich, first is Subway. Panera and Arby’s are in that list too. Quiznos and Jimmy Johns are next, with Jason’s Deli and Einstein Brother’s Bagels bringing up the end of the sandwich list.

In many ways, the sandwich may offer the most healthy choices and many of these vendors will give you a veggie if you’re not into meat. On the other hand, most cold cuts are very high in sodium … and fat, so take care with your choices. (Also watch the mayo.)

Most, however, are not really delis in the sense of a good New York version. I’m not familiar with Jason’s, and here in my hometown, I frequent a local butcher that does deli well. We used to have a Heidi’s Deli, which is trying to become a national brand. I don’t know how well they’re doing in that quest, but they didn’t make the top 50.

Starbuck’s sells more than just coffee, and Baskin Robins and Tim Horton add to the “snack” list. Throw in Cold Stone Creamery and that’s it for doughnuts and ice cream. I don't know why Winchell's or Dunkin' Donuts didn't make the list, nor Daylight or Krispy Kreme or even Voodoo Doughnut for you Portlandians. Those delicious little loops of deep fried pleasure. And while we're at it, wouldn't Waffle House be considered fast food? Maybe I'd better save that for another note.

In the Mexican food category, you have Taco Bell, followed by Chipotle and Del Taco. Qdoba is on the list, but our local favorite, a chain out of Wyoming, Taco Johns, is not.

Now let’s talk pizza. Not all of them are sit-down restaurants, but I like the salad bar at Pizza Hut. You can also go to Domino’s or Papa John’s (Peyton Manning, part owner). Little Caesars (Pizza! Pizza!) and Papa Murphy’s are also in the list. CiCi’s with their buffet and Sbaro in the malls round off the list.

The long-time KFC comes in number 9 on the list and introduces fried chicken as an entree. Chick-Fil-A is also known for chicken. Popeye’s and Church’s have a little more southern style recipes. Bojangles, El Pollo Loco, and Boston Market round out the category.

In the Asian fast food we find Panda Express alone in the category. Looks like some opportunity in a format that can often be more healthy, although still loaded with carbs and fat.

Long John Silver’s and Captain D’s stand alone in the seafood, fast food, but again frying is not the healthiest choice even when you eschew beef. Plus, they sell a lot of fries.

One might wonder about Italian food as a possible fast food category, although the pizza places often have pasta. There’s also a few salad fast food establishments such as the Colorado “Mad Greens.” In fact, a very large number of these franchises started in Colorado.

So there you have it. I’m not sure there are any more categories for fast food. Boston Market really sells more home cooking, than fast food, and there are a lot of cafeteria brands, especially in Texas. You all know the wide range of sit-down restaurants and their categories. I’ll save that for another day.

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