Why Are UK Fast Food Chains SO Far Behind The Rest Of The World?

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Why Are UK Fast Food Chains SO Far Behind?McDonald's Instagram

Fast food in the UK doesn't always have a great rep. Often seen as somewhere to go after swimming lessons with your kids, or an ideal hangover cure or post-night out pick-me-up, I hate to say it, but the variety of flavours and options can be somewhat limited.

A fast-food ‘spicy’ pizza is usually just a bunch of jalapeños thrown on top of a regular marg, and it wasn't until October 2022 that McDonald's introduced a proper chicken burger (McCrispy we love you) you could purchase all year round.

Contrast this with the rest of the world - especially Asian countries - and fast food is a whole other experience entirely. The variety in flavours are huge, dietary options are aplenty, and innovation is kinda out of this world. Fast food chains have worked hard to curate their classic styles to match the culinary palates and cuisines of those countries - at affordable prices, of course.

Takes McDonald's India and their McSpicy burger which is available all year round (and only in the summer in the UK), and pizza puffs (a sausage roll/pasty style option).

In Italy, they have panzerottis, Philippines has spaghetti, Canada, poutine and the French have macarons (hey Emily in Paris 👋). Head over to a McDonald's in Thailand and you'll be greeted with pork nugget topped porridge at breakfast, spicy pork burgers and kaprao rice.

In pizza chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, there are items that borrow from the various street food flavours of South and South-East Asia - dumplings, momos, vada pav, etc. In Japanese Pizza Huts you can find Bulgogi pizza, sweet Taro Pies are on offer in Malaysian Burger Kings, and you could at one point grab something called a 'Dragon Twister' (a fried chicken/hoisin sauce kinda wrap) from KFC in China.

Going to McDonald's, or any other fast food chain for that matter, never feels like you're compromising your culinary experience. Compare that to offerings in the UK and even the USA, and the differences are staggering, with fast food often seen as a last resort option.

So why do people tend to look down on fast food chains in the West? According to Christina Russo, chef and founder of the Kitchen Community, it has a lot to do with the preconceived notions people have about the food quality.

“I think due to the quick fix solutions they so often advertise, it makes consumers perceive they’re getting poor service and quality in the end,” Christina tells Delish.

“Historically, people aimed criticism at fast food outlets for claims of negative health effects, cultural degradation and just general poor quality. However I think the industry has taken massive steps in addressing these concerns to make it an all round better proposition,” she adds.

In many Asian countries however, fast food is not seen as a last resort option. People like going to these places because the food tastes just as good—if not better—as a regular non-chain restaurant.

But this supposed class gap seems to be closing, as the Gen Z generation flock to chains like Maccy’s, Starbucks and Gregg’s not just for the convenience, but because they’ve bought into them as brands.

“I think over recent years this gap is being bridged a lot. Mainly due to the acceptance of all different cuisines and price ranges. The customer demographic has definitely changed in the local McDonald's now as customers have a newfound respect for a lot of fast food giants. The quality of the food has increased and has maybe encouraged a new type of demographic or ‘class’,” says Christina.

Fast food in the UK has a lot of potential if only they would diversify their menu a little more. Make those seasonal entries a regular offering. Add a little more flavour instead of just chopping up some jalapeños. Make it more inclusive based on taste, dietary preferences and flavour. Just because it is affordable, doesn’t mean it can’t be good. The rest of the world is proof of that.