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A Look at the Fast Food Industry

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It's unlikely that anyone reading this has never eaten a Big Mac, a Whopper, a drumstick from Kentucky Fried Chicken, or some other kind of fast food. Eating at fast food restaurants has become a part of the American way of life. Today's young children know Ronald McDonald better than Mickey Mouse.

The United States government defines fast food restaurants as limited-menu restaurants that do not have table service. You know them as Hardee's, Burger King, Wendy's, McDonald's, Taco Bell, White Castle, Jack in the Box, Long John Silver's, and hundreds of other similar places. Most fast food restaurants are part of large, well-known chains. There are also small chains of just a few restaurants as well as single-unit operations.

The Fast Food Industry Is Growing

The current popularity of fast foods has made this segment of the food-service industry grow faster than any other kind of restaurant operation. In 1988, there were more than 100,000 fast food restaurants. Sales for that year were approximately $60 billion, which was more than an 8 percent increase over 1987 sales. The outlook for the future is promising because the population is growing and incomes are rising.

Steady sales gains are expected in the years ahead. However, these future increases will not be as spectacular as the industry has seen in recent years because there will be fewer young adults and because other restaurants and convenience stores are taking some of the fast food business.

In the middle of all this growth, the hamburger has remained king. There are more hamburger chains than any other category of fast food chains. However, there are also fast food restaurants selling chicken, seafood, roast beef sandwiches, Mexican food, Chinese food, pizza, spaghetti, donuts, ice cream, and dozens of other products.

The Effort to Capture Customers

In recent years, as the number of fast food chains has grown, competition for customers has become fierce. At first, advertising campaigns praised the company's own food items. Then the chains became more combative and began to attack competitors' food in what was called the "burger wars". Today, the American public is deluged with fast food advertising, promotions, and coupons-all designed to lure them into a certain fast food restaurant.

Advertising for fast food restaurants is everywhere. No one can escape it. The food service industry is the top advertising spender of all in the giant retail industry, and each year more is spent on advertising.

You can't turn on a television set or a radio without encountering a commercial encouraging you to eat a Taco Belle Grande, a Wendy's Big Classic, or an Arby's roast beef sandwich. Fast food restaurants spend over a billion dollars a year on television advertising.

Drive down any highway, and you will be directed to turn right at the next stop sign to find the closest Burger King, Hardee's, or some other fast food restaurant. Billboards abound with fast food advertising.

Promotions are part of the advertising picture. There was Herb, the Burger King nerd, who gave away cash to customers who recognized him. Then there are the promotions which all fast food restaurants seem to have. Customers are required to purchase a certain food item in order to buy or receive a promotional item.

One of Hardee's most successful promotions offered a hard rubber California Raisin figurine for between 99 cents and $1.99. This was such a successful promotion that it frequently doubled or tripled the sales of the tied-in menu items-solid evidence of the effectiveness of promotions.

Coupons are another part of the fight for fast food customers. Open a magazine or read a newspaper, and you will find dozens of coupons allowing you to save money at Mister Donut, Domino's Pizza, Wendy's, White Castle, or any of the fast-food restaurants spread across the country.

A Career with A Bright Future

Few careers offer a brighter future than the fast food industry. It is part of the giant foodservice industry which is the largest retail employer in the United States. This industry is expected to give rise to the largest number of new jobs of any industry by the year 2000. The National Restaurant Association estimates that by 1995, 1.4 million people will be employed as fast food workers. The number of openings for workers is increasing each year. In 1988, there were openings for 30,000 new employees in the area of fast foods.

An Opportunity for Everyone

There aren't too many careers in which an unskilled worker without any special education or training can start at the bottom and work to the top. This possibility is a reality in the fast food area. Thousands of people have started as crew workers and become restaurant managers, corporate officers, and franchise owners. A person entering this career area has an easy path up the management ladder because so many people are employed in a supervisory capacity.

High school graduates who have received academic training in the food-service field in junior and community colleges or universities have increased career opportunities. There are also opportunities in the fast food industry for people who want to enter special areas like nutrition, advertising, food chemistry, personnel and new product development. The food-service industry is employing more members of minorities each year. In 1986, nearly 20 percent of the workers in this industry were black or Hispanic. And there are more minority workers in managerial positions than in any other retail industry.

Opportunities for employment in the fast food area are open to people of all ages, from high school students to those who have retired from another job. Many people begin as part-time or seasonal workers before deciding on a fast food career. Since there is currently a shortage of workers in fast food restaurants, work hours for part-time workers are quite flexible and can be adjusted to fit most people's schedules.
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