China’s Fast Food Phenomenon

December 6, 2013

In many cultures, fast food comes with a negative connotation. You think fast food and you might then think junk, fattening, dirty and cheap.  However, in countries just starting to jump on the fast food bandwagon, their chains often end up being quite different than the imagery many Westerners may associate with it.  China is a great example of this for many reasons.

In America, when an important date is approaching you may think to celebrate at a non-chain restaurant and indulge in some expensive cuisine, like a steakhouse or romantic Italian restaurant.  Conversely, in China, a couple may think that the best place to celebrate their 1 year anniversary is at 必胜客 (Pizza Hut).  Now, don’t be too quick to judge until you see just what a Pizza Hut in China looks like.  From the outside alone, you’ll see it’s much fancier than a Pizza Hut in the U.S.  Inside you’ll find an employee behind a hostess stand, actual silverware and plates as opposed to paper and plastic, and décor more reminiscent of upscale privately owned restaurants. Unlike the big boards showing the menus in Pizza Huts in the U.S and a cashier ready to take your order after waiting in line, at a Pizza Hut in China you’ll be seated by the hostess, handed actual individual menus and waited on by a waiter or waitress. If this seems a little too formal for you, you can try McDonald’s (麦当劳) or Burger King (汉堡王) or any of the other chains you’ll learn how to say in the Huanying series Volume One, but don’t worry, they too are still a lot different than their Western versions!

Pizza Hut in China (image source:

Now you may be thinking, well, is the fast food any better? To each their own opinion, but many foreigners who have tried the same fast food chain in both Western countries and in China will agree that the food is of higher quality. However, higher quality food does come with a higher price and therefore things like the famous McDonald’s dollar menu is not used as widely as a marketing tool in China. But that’s ok because customers will even get more choices like “Chi Heart Crown Shrimp” pizza and Sweet Taro Pie.  Moreover, in cities throughout China, restaurants are graded A-D by an organization similar to the Board of Health. From Pizza Huts to McDonald’s, almost all international food chains receive a perfect A. Clearly, going out to eat at a fast food chain in China is anything other than what one would expect!

McDonalds Sweet Taro Pie (image source:

Fast food chains in China are still not synonymous with healthy.  However, at least some fast food chains moving into the country have taken on different and mostly more positive characteristics in regards to service and atmosphere. So, the next time you’re in China, don’t forget to try that green tea milk shake at McDonald’s or treat your significant other to a fancy meal at Pizza Hut!