Old commercial fast food is highly processed and prepared on a large scale from bulk ingredients using standardized cooking and production methods and equipment. It is usually rapidly served in cartons or bags or in a plastic wrapping, in a fashion which reduces operating costs by allowing rapid product identification and counting, promoting longer holding time, avoiding transfer of bacteria, and facilitating order fulfillment. In most fast food operations, menu items are generally made from processed ingredients prepared at a central supply facilities and then shipped to individual outlets where they are cooked (usually by grill, microwave, or deep-frying) or assembled in a short amount of time either in anticipation of upcoming orders (i.e., “to stock”) or in response to actual orders (i.e., “to order”). Following standard operating procedures, pre-cooked products are monitored for freshness and disposed of if holding times become excessive. This process ensures a consistent level of product quality, and is key to delivering the order quickly to the customer and avoiding labor and equipment costs in the individual stores.
Because of commercial emphasis on taste, speed, product safety, uniformity, and low cost, fast food products are made with ingredients formulated to achieve an identifiable flavor, aroma, texture, and “mouth feel” and to preserve freshness and control handling costs during preparation and order fulfillment. This requires a high degree of food engineering. The use of additives, including salt, sugar, flavorings and preservatives, and processing techniques may limit the nutritional value of the final product.
A value meal is a group of menu items offered together at a lower price than they would cost individually. They are common at fast food restaurants. Value meals are a common merchandising tactic to facilitate bundling, up-selling, and price discrimination. Most of the time they can be upgraded to a larger size of fries and drink for a small fee. The perceived creation of a “discount” on individual menu items in exchange for the purchase of a “meal” is also consistent with the loyalty marketing school of thought.
In order to make speedy service possible and to ensure accuracy and security, many fast food restaurants have incorporated hospitality point of sale systems. This makes it possible for kitchen crew people to view orders placed at the front counter or drive through in real time. Wireless systems allow orders placed at drive through speakers to be taken by cashiers and cooks. Drive through and walk through configurations will allow orders to be taken at one register and paid at another. Modern point of sale systems can operate on computer networks using a variety of software programs. Sales records can be generated and remote access to computer reports can be given to corporate offices, managers, troubleshooters, and other authorized personnel. Food service chains partner with food equipment manufacturers to design highly specialized restaurant equipment, often incorporating heat sensors, timers, and other electronic controls into the design. Collaborative design techniques, such as rapid visualization and parametric modeling of restaurant kitchens are now being used to establish equipment specifications that are consistent with restaurant operating and merchandising requirements.