There is little consensus about the definition of fast food in the literature. For
example, the American Heritage Dictionary definies fast food as “Inexpensive food, such
as hamburgers and fried chicken, prepared and served quickly.” While everyone agrees
that prominent chains such as McDonald’s serve fast food, there is less agreement about
whether smaller, independent restaurants are also “fast food.”
The Census of Retail trade defines a fast food establishment as one that does not
offer table service. Legislation recently passed in Los Angeles imposing a moratorium
on new fast food restaurants in south central L.A. defined fast food establishments as
those that have a limited menu, items prepared in advance or heated quickly, no table
service, and disposable wrappings or containers (Abdollah, 2007). However, these
definitions do not get at one aspect of concern about fast food restaurants, which is their
heavy reliance on advertising, and easy brand recognition.
We constructed several different measures of fast food. Our benchmark definition
of fast-food restaurants focuses on the top 10 chains, which are McDonald’s, Subway,
Burger King, Pizza Hut, Jack in the Box, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Domino’s
Pizza, Wendy’s, and Little Ceasar’s. We have also constructed a broader definition using
Wikipedia’s list of national fast food chains (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_food).
Wikipedia considers fast food to be “Food cooked in bulk and in advance and kept warm,
or reheated to order.” Our broadest definition starts with this list, excludes ice cream,
donut, and coffee shops, and adds in all independent restaurants from our Dun and
Bradstreet list that have the words “pizza” or “burger” in their names. The definition of
“other restaurant” depends on the definition of fast food.
As discussed in the paper, we find a larger impact of the top 10 fast-food chains
than for the broader definition of fast-foods. To conserve space, we show estimates...