Fast food in North America

While part of the joy of travel is experiencing new cuisines and expanding one's epicurean horizons, sometimes a hungry traveller just wants something familiar, with consistent quality, quick service, and a low price. This is where the fast food restaurant shines. And even with fast food there are some "hidden gems" that you can't get just anywhere.


Chicago-style hot dog with everything and fries, from Gene & Jude's hot dog stand, a local landmark of River Grove

"Street food" has been a staple of civilization dating back millennia, to the dawn of cities and personal commerce, but it was only in North America that the mass-produced, quickly prepared meal moved indoors and was refined into the modern, efficient fast food restaurant of today, allowed through the industrialization of the United States, and the colonization of the "Wild West".

While it is often scoffed at by health advocates and gourmands on the one hand and by locavores, traditionalists, and promoters of local cuisines on the other, fast food is today often seen as the quintessentially American food. While fast food as a conceptor, indeed, many of its componentsare by no means American inventions (French fries were invented in Belgium, hot dogs and hamburgers have German roots, and pizza comes from Italy), American chain restaurants have undoubtedly perfected and globalized this style of food.

As is so often the case with local cuisines, the best examples of fast food are found where they were developed: in North America. While some chains are available almost everywhere, others are highly localized even within the U.S. and may only have restaurants in small parts of the country or a handful of states (for example, White Castle in the Midwest and the New York City area, Krystal in the South, and In-N-Out Burger on the West Coast). There are even today some fast food restaurants that are owned by a single family and only present in one place, with no intent to form franchises elsewhere, and those are sometimes the best fast food there is.

Traditional opportunities to taste good (if overpriced) fast food are at American football and baseball games.

Typical dishes

In-n-Out burger and Animal style fries
Love Buffalo wings? So do these attendees at the National Buffalo Wing Festival
Poutine, Québéc's contribution to the fast food scene

Types of service

A Rally's drive through restaurant
Fast food counter at a gas station

While most fast food establishments rely upon a "fast in fast served fast out" model of some sort, there is a more or less fluent transition (especially in the US) from street food on the one side via "classical" fast food to "normal" restaurants on the other side. While some companies offer several kinds of service, usually whether sitting down to eat is common is part of the brand identity and sometimes (though not necessarily always) it gives a hint towards price and (perceived) quality.

In general, most fast-food eateries do not solicit tips; the two notable exceptions are sit-down restaurants where a server brings food or drink to your table (such as a Pizza Hut) or food delivery services. A tip is intended as a reward for above-average service; a takeaway window (even if attached to what is otherwise a sit-down restaurant) or a cafeteria-style eatery is inherently self-service. Some eateries, mostly self-service sit-down restaurants that market themselves as "fast-casual", will have a "tip jar" at the checkout station, but tipping is not expected there.

Well-known chains



Customers at Tim Hortons


Value menu burgers from different chains

McDonald's and Burger King are almost the same the world over (though there are some variations to accommodate religious dietary laws and local tastes in which meat is used), so take the opportunity to try other chains.


Tacos or fried chicken?

Hot dogs


Or how about a Taco pizza?


A Papa John's employee delivering a pizza

Soup and salad

They tend to be regional rather than national chains


Beef-n-cheddar sandwich at Arby's


See also

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, April 02, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.