When Being Served “Fast” Ain’t Good Enough

Face it; convenience is the go-to attribute for our day-to-day activities. It likely influences where you work, shop or live, as convenience usually translates to more downtime. To classify a brand or product as convenient, we rely on crisp adjectives so it’s clear what we’re getting. Think, “drive-through”, “walking-distance” or “we deliver” and time is suddenly on your side. I was recently thinking about how these adjectives even project the quality of the experience, such as “takeout” versus “fast food.” Which would you rather have for dinner?

Given how busy life has become, I rarely cook during the week. Sure, tossing a salad or reheating leftovers takes a little effort, but even those simple preparations compete fiercely against the instant pleasure of dinners to go. Whether Whole Foods’ entrees or the local Thai restaurant, those meals only require making a selection by dropping in, calling – or increasingly, a few clicks on their apps – all of which are certainly quick or “fast.” But I would never describe these culinary experiences as “fast food.” That efficiency label is strictly describes burger joints and pizza parlors, and implicitly suggests less healthy/higher calorie options. How did those distinct labels evolve and why is “fast” not as well regarded in this instance, even though it truly does describe the customer experience?

Some possibilities:

  1. Fast food was coined as a term in the 1950s, an era when people didn’t worry about their health as much. And during that time, the primary option was a burger joint – think White Castle, the original fast-food restaurant. So labeling those experiences as “fast” was initiated long ago.
  2. Convenience was less important when there were fewer two-career households or 24/7 work schedules. So it was really a fun dining-out experience that just happened quickly.
  3. The “healthier” fast-casual restaurants such as Panera have emerged more recently, in response to customer demand for such menus.
  4. Additionally, the abundant availability of prepared meals at groceries and specialty markets has fueled this “takeout” trend. Admit it: we love having this permission to skip true home cooking!
  5. Consequently today, fast can suggest lower quality, which means to select that option, you expect other benefits besides getting served quickly, such as cheaper pricing.

So the next time you frown when you hear the term “fast-food” just remember of all that extra time you gained when you elected to pick up sushi to go or waited two minutes for your caramel macchiatto!