Changes in fast food

I worked in downtown Pittsburgh a couple of lifetimes ago, and remember the man NYT fast food franchises where I grabbed a quick sandwich or burger. Apparently that is becoming less of a thing in urban locations:

When I was there (80’s) there were four McDonald’s locations, and others including Burger King, Roy Rogers, Arby’s, and less well known franchises as well.

Food trends in Downtown and in other urban centers have shifted to fast-casual concepts like Chipotle, DiBella’s, Panera and Moe’s, which are becoming the dominant segment in the market, he said.

More and more, traditional fast-food chains like McDonald’s “are predominantly on roadways and are doing at least two thirds of their business through drive-thrus. There’s typically less demand for that product in some urban environments,” he said.

The article notes that as “fast food” declines, “fast casual” is replacing it, citing Panera, Chipotle, and Moe’s as examples. (The last two are “fast food”, at least to me.)

Anyway, I was not aware of this macro “trend” in dining. All things must change, I guess.


Another factor probably is more people working from home. Fewer people downtown at lunch time. You might suspect major sales at fast food places is lunch time. How does Pittsburgh do downtown after hours? Do they roll up the sidewalks.

Plus they tell us millennials prefer city living where you can walk many places including your corner pub. They may also prefer fast casual over fast food. Fast casual usually means higher prices–sometimes for better quality food.

Another aspect in the east is the long tradition of diners. They were very big in the east. Often mom & pop businesses with a full array of menus. Their strength delayed development of fast food there for a while. Fast food tends to be more California and midwestern. McDonald’s HQ is Chicago. Several are in Indianapolis (Wendy’s, Steak & Shake).

PBS has been known to show videos of the diner story. Many were manufactured and moved to sites. Some with lots of shiny metal resembling railroad dining cars of the day. Not many surviving these days.

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Maybe it’s not “fashionable” to be seen at Micky D’s in that area?

I have commented before that the Micky D’s around here are always busy, busier than Arby’s, Wendy’s, or any other fast food place. Worst food of the lot, but crazy busy. Go figure.


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MCD needs to rethink its recipes outside of the fries. The cheapening of an already cheapo product is a risk. I get the company has had this in place for many years no surprise there really. If the trends really change the cheapness will bite them hard.