How Fast Food Works

Mass-produced Food

Consistency has become a hallmark of fast food - in each chain, restaurants look alike and meals taste the same. Different regions might have special dishes on the menu, and different countries might have different items and recipes depending on the local culture. But in general, food from a particular chain tends to taste the same no matter which restaurant you visit. There are several reasons behind this:

  • The food itself is mass produced in a factory and then frozen. Restaurants store this frozen food in large, walk-in freezers. Cooks reheat it rather than making it from scratch.
  • The factory adds artificial and natural flavors to the food to make sure it all tastes the same. These flavors are manufactured separate factories.
  • The equipment in the kitchen cooks all of the food for the same amount of time. For example, in some chains, a conveyor belt carries hamburger patties through a broiler. The broiler cooks the patties on both sides simultaneously, and the conveyor belt makes sure they're cooked for precisely the right amount of time.
  • The employees in different restaurants follow the same instructions for cooking, dressing and packaging the food.

The mass-production process requires each restaurant chain to have a distribution network to carry the food to every restaurant. Warehouses store enormous amounts of everything a restaurant needs, including food, paper products, utensils and cleaning supplies. The warehouses then ship supplies to each restaurant by truck. Warehousing and distribution, just like the management of the chain, is centralized rather than handled by each restaurant.


Often, this distribution process is the responsibility of a distribution company, not of the chain itself. Using this sort of network has several advantages. The chain can keep its entire inventory in several centralized distribution centers rather than in each individual restaurant. The chain can also purchase supplies for all of its restaurants at once rather than having each restaurant find its own suppliers. Since it's buying in bulk, the chain can negotiate lower prices than restaurants could on their own.

In some chains, managers track the restaurants' inventories of food, wrappers, cups, utensils, cleaning supplies and other necessary items. They then order everything the restaurant needs from the distribution center, which ships it to them. In other chains, this process is automated - a computer keeps track of what the restaurant has and should have on hand, or the distribution center ships the necessary items on a regular schedule instead of waiting for a request from the restaurant.

Next, we'll look at how the mass-production process affects the nutritional value and safety of fast food.