I think that we will see the industry change over the next few years for a variety of reasons. Most jobs in this “fast food environment” have a learning curve of a few minutes. No job is complicated and most ingredients come prepared or prepackaged from a central distribution location to make preparation of the final products quick and easy. Pricing is based upon a consistent product. An Egg McMuffin has a specific muffin size and even the egg is prepared to a specific size. All that may be required is to heat the sandwich and wrap it in a pre-designated piece of paper. Even the paper or cardboard holder for the French fries is set to accommodate a certain amount of fries or onion rings. The fact that the learning curve is so short means that workers can be moved from job to job as the product selection changes during the day. Which brings us to the second challenge.
Many years ago when there were more manufacturing jobs and products were actually made in America, there was more opportunity for workers to move up to a higher paying job. Jobs within the fast food industry had a high turnover, hence the limited learning period. With that opportunity gone, many workers have to consider their fast food job as permanent especially those workers with a limited education or a minimum skill level. Thus, the current push to raise the wage level from $5.00 to $7.00 to $15.00 per hour. With a very limited learning curve, many jobs hardly demand $15.00 per hour, but if the fast food franchisees have to pay this higher wage, pressure will be put on them to become more profitable within this higher wage structure. Prices can go up but only so far as Big Macs will not sell at $8.00 or $9.00 each as competition with other foods will drive sales down. Restaurants with a larger menu selection will become more attractive. Chicken sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, even sandwiches made with sausage or ham or pork will become attractive with many priced well below the Big Mac.
Most food in fast food restaurants has not been known for its outstanding cuisine or desirability by weight conscious customers. The infamous Whopper came in at one time around 1200 calories. Fast food products are known for their high sodium content and the infamous Taco at Taco Bell was loaded with fillers in lieu of beef. Keeping this in mind, a steady diet of fast food products is not recommended for a healthy lifestyle. The fast food industry cannot sell food that is expensive to buy or to prepare or its prices will have to move up along with its higher labor cost. The selection of items on most fast food restaurants is high in calories and sodium. There are 197 calories in a small (85 gram) serving of French fries along with 199 grams of sodium. A small hamburger contain 310 calories and add cheese and you are looking at 360 calories.
Future fast food restaurants are going to have to move away from the “fast” part of their service and offer a wider selection of food that is also healthier. Prepackaged food has its limitations. When fast food was inexpensive, consumers accommodated the shortfalls as they were “in and out” in minutes but as prices go up, they will demand better food and service for their money. Survival will depend on offering a clean restaurant with a variety of healthier food prepared by well-trained employees at competitive prices.