Umami Burger is the latest gussied up burger joint to take New York by storm, and it joins a long list of fast casual darlings like Shake Shack and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. And if those other spots had yet to get the point across, the arrival of the L.A.-based chain in New York cements it: Consumers expect more from quick service restaurants, including great quality food, comfortable surroundings, and lightning-fast service with a genuine smile. And that means fast food as we know it is dying a well-deserved death. Here’s why we can’t wait to usher it right out the door:
5. Fast food joints offer employees the bare minimum
If you’re headed for McDonald’s or Burger King today, take note: Fast food workers are striking across the country, and New York City’s industry members will hit the streets to protest low wages and demand the right to unionize. This is just the latest proof that fast food workers are underpaid and really pissed off about it, and we should find a way to alleviate their woes. Trying to make a living on less than $10 an hour is difficult anywhere in this country, but it’s borderline impossible here. While no one is arguing that the guy taking your burger order should be compensated like a brain surgeon, if you’ve ever been at Penn Station at 2 a.m., you know what a lot of these employees have to face. Showing the front lines a little love when it comes to a paycheck can go a long way, especially in terms of better service. There’s a difference between saying the word “welcome” and sincerely meaning it, and it’s a only a couple of bucks.
4. Marketing, not quality, was where the money went
The marketing and PR budgets for fast food corporations are significant. There’s always a new commercial telling us how putting a burger on a friggin’ pretzel roll is going to blow our minds. Remember the disaster that was the Arch Deluxe? And no matter how many commercials I see for Long John Silvers, all I see is Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Judge Reinhold throwing out catch of the day boxes in his Captain Hook outfit. (The McRib gets a pass here, since it’s annual appearance is important to those of us who think it’s too much of a pain in the ass to go to that one location in Jersey that has it on the menu at all times.) This time and money could be better spent on finding a way to create a better, healthier burger.
3. Chef Jamie Oliver convinces us that it can be better
Leave it to a naked chef to help uncover the truth about what’s used to make burgers. While Shake Shack used a Pat LaFrieda blend from day one, other chains got by on pink slime. Oliver publicly shamed McDonald’s back in 2011 for using the ingredient ammonium hydroxide, and he’s been on a tirade since, boldly lashing out at a hand that could feed him considerably well. And as a result, McDonald’s altered its recipe. Talk about payoff.
2. There’s too much competition doing things right
Quick service is still important, but people are looking for the next best thing. and that means places that are truly innovative. Chipotle offers beer and margaritas not to mention food that attracts the health-conscious customer on the go. The Meatball Shop proved meatballs served fast via full service could survive and thrive in a competitive marketplace–and it’s expanding as a result. Compare that with the big fast food franchises that are already entrenched in a brand, doomed to constantly add new menu items, specials, or slogans to survive–and novelty isn’t going to change Taco Bell from a drunken late-night decision into a daily stop.
1. They went after the children
I can deal with a lot. Roll out substandard service, high calorie counts, and questionable ingredients if you want; adults are big boys and girls who can make decisions despite what politicians think. Children, however, should be off limits. Fast food chains are built on the memories of fond childhoods spent opening cardboard boxes and receiving cheap plastic toys. From fictional clowns and smiling kings to real life old guys telling us about the merits of a fried chicken bucket, children play a big role in the growth of these chains. But then children started getting really unhealthy, and the public finally noticed and decided to give a shit. In the wake of early onset type two diabetes, fast food chains are an easy target.
Fast food will forever have a place within America’s culinary landscape, but it’s better if that place is a museum. I’m ready to let go.