Fast Food Restaurants Are Trying Really Hard to Not Be ‘Fast Food’ Restaurants

Burger and burritos chains are playing linguistic gymnastics in an attempt to distance themselves from the greasy insinuations of fast food.
January 13, 2016, 10:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Joey

The winds of change are blowing through food courts and strip malls across America.

The golden arches, once thought to be the unconquerable overlord of fast food, are struggling to stay relevant in a market swarming with better-branded and more competitively priced competitors.

Sandwich giant Subway, which boasts almost 30,000 locations across the country, has been facing dwindling sales for the last couple of years, long before the company had to face a very serious image crisis involving their longtime pitchman Jared Fogle.

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Clearly the fast food market is not what it was ten, or even two years ago. Or, to use more Biblical language: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And speaking of language, words seem to be the next frontier in the rapidly-shifting fast food battleground.

The term "fast food" is a very loaded one. It's a staple of the American diet, yet is associated with low wages, industrially processed food, and predatory marketing. Still, the appeal of inexpensive, quick food means that small food chains have to brand themselves in a way that differentiates from the big heavies like McDonald's and Burger King while still putting price and convenience at the forefront.

This marketing challenge has lead to chain restaurants, whose customers also order and pay at the cash register, to use linguistic gymnastics in an attempt to distance themselves from the greasy insinuations of fast food, the Associated Press is reporting.

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Among the labels being self-applied by burger and burrito chains are "fast casual" for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Panera Bread Co., and "fine casual" for Shake Shack, who defined the seemingly contradictory term in a recent SEC filing: "Fine casual couples the ease, value and convenience of fast casual concepts with the high standards of excellence in thoughtful ingredient sourcing, preparation, hospitality, and quality grounded in fine dining."

Sliced meat chain Arby's opted for the "fast crafted" title, following a company-wide "brand camp" in 2014, while Del Taco has referred to itself as a "QSR-plus," (quick service restaurant plus) in an apparent attempt to position themselves as the Atheism+ of fast food.

The Associated Press also quoted BrandSimple Consulting founder Allen Adamson, as calling the term "fast food" the "death star" of the food industry, which no longer sees speed as being paramount.

Amid all of this uncertainty, and the fast food rules literally being re-written, one thing is certain: the era where restaurants proudly flaunted being cheap and fast is over.