Fast Food vs Full-Service Restaurants: Which is Better?

By Jim F

2497-mcrunner-training-with-mcdonalds.jpgNew research shows that people who live in areas with more full-service restaurants tend to be thinner.

Those who live in areas with a high ratio of fast-food restaurants tend to be heavier.

So it seems it’s not just about eating out – it’s the way we are eating out.In 1940

  • 15% of food dollars were spent at restaurants

In 2005

  • 40% of food dollars spent at restaurants (three-quarters of which were at a fast-food restaurant).

The research (abstract) looked at data from over 714,000 people. The following conclusions were made (emphasis added):

[…]it is the availability of fast-food relative to other away-from-home choices that appears salient for unhealthy weight outcomes. Areas with a high density of full-service restaurants were indicative of a more healthful eating environment, suggesting a need for research into the comparative healthfulness of foods served at different types of restaurants.

Full-service restaurants serve food that is calorie-dense (what kind of chef counts calories?) – but we eat the food differently. Fast-food is served quickly – and eaten quickly – and tends to be highly processed.

Fast-food is all about supply and demand. Those counties that are overrun with fast-food outlets obviously enjoy eating it. So who is to blame? But then who can compete with the colossal and overbearing marketing efforts that assail us daily from the fast-food giants?


  1. Jonathan

    I’m glad to find at least one article comparing fast food restaurants to full-service ones since the two are often sloppily lumped together in the discussion over obesity in the United States. However, I’m somewhat disappointed that the article does touch on how the debate has changed in recent years. As Lee points out, greaer emphasis is now being paid to portion, and not simply calorie intake.
    Personally, I rarely enjoy eating out at full-service restaurants, and I almost never go. I find that I spend too much and always overeat. Although the price of eating out is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I end up with tomorrow’s meal already paid for and cooked, I end up throwing out the leftovers. (I suspect that many of the commenters find themselves doing the same.)
    I’ve long felt that fast food restaurants end up getting the bad rap even thought it’s easier to order food in smaller portions than it is at full-service restaurants. Of course, part of this may be that consumers generally have a better idea of the size of the meal at fast food restaurants because they frequent them more often. (Unless you’ve eaten out at a specific full-service restaurant regularly, it’s easy to get an inaccurate picture of the portion sizes.) I’m not trying to defend the practices of fast food restauants (some of which are dubious), but I feel plenty of them are just as good options as full-service restaurants, provided you take the time to think out what you’re going to order. I’ve never felt like I overate after eating out a fast food restaurant, and that has to count for something.

  2. Nikki

    1 for fast food! its fast and cheap
    but sit downs r healthier
    im doing an essay on it

  3. TylerS

    I am a personal trainer. In my personal view you are right about they are both bad; However, when you go to a fast food resteraunt they have a evil thing called the dollar menu. Even i cant resist sometimes to get 2 doubles a thing of chicken nuggets a drink and fries. Usually when you go out to eat at a resteraunt you eat mindfully and normally you get something you like to eat.

    Where im going with this is treating yourself 2 times a week to resteraunt food and 2 times to fast food doesn’t hurt as much as you think.

    Personally i go with restaruaunts being better for you. unless you order soemthing extreme (outbacksteakhouse aussie fries 2300 calories) you are overall happier sitting down not always in a rush like at fast-food.

    Just my professional opinion

  4. tragaperras

    Though i live in philipines and heard so much about Indian foods from my Indian friends and online chat mates. But never tried Indian food except “Rajma Chawal”. I had it once when one of my Indian colleague bought that in the lunch time. Your recipe has again generated and curiosity to have one on one with the delicious Indin food.
    Keep posting ! I’ve been happily poring through your archives over the last few days. I was so pleased to discover your site.

  5. Christy

    I can’t believe there’s only one comment here about economic status– if this study is about people in areas with more fast food restaurants, it could be very related to urban areas with lower income residents. It’s why you see so many childhood obesity billboards in Oakland, but maybe not so much in San Francisco. There’s way more going on than just a “does Chili’s food have more calories than McDonalds” type inquirity.

  6. Skiles90

    I’m living in Ukraine as an exchange student(American) and it’s horrible here as well. Kiev has 37, I believe, McDonald’s and the lines in them are ridiculous. People don’t just go there to get a quick bite before rushing off to work, they go there to sit down order a full meal with the entire family. I’ve noticed this done in Hungary as well. Very sad. They’re a little shocked when I refuse to eat any amount of the food, not matter how small a portion or seemingly healthy it is…

  7. Andrew

    Ummm…saying something is “the epitome of modern culture and technology” has absolutely nothing to do with whether people are forced to eat there. Even remotely.

  8. Andrew

    If you go to full-service burger joints. Something like an Indian restaurant, on the other hand…

  9. Liss

    I’m kind of a let’s get going right now kind of person. I like to get things over with and not take too much time places. Sitting down at restaurants drives me insane. If I had to choose I would definitely pick eating in the car. Even though the food isn’t the best quality, I would pick a fast food restaurant every time.

  10. C.C.

    oh, forgot to mention my “opinion” on both kinds of restaurants. i say many full-dine restaurants are healthier than most fast food. Mainly because you can have it more custom made to how you like it. chances are, its not pre-packaged food like fast food. and you don’t have to order dessert, soft drinks etc. if so, share the dessert. i do it w/ my BF on occassion. be smart about your chhoices!

  11. C.C.

    for comment above. it’s called, “craving.” one musn’tdoesn’t have to necessarily be hungry to crave a snicker, chips, or even a piece of candy…who actually eats a now and later because of hunger?? you could but…what good is that really. i eat junk in moderation and i’m nowhere near being overweight. of course i workout as well.

    And as far as restaurants vs. fast food goes. i have a dissenting opinion (in general) true most are packed in calories and/or fat but on many menus you will find low cal/fat section (although very limited) you can also request no added oils/butter etc. i often times do that. and most importantly, don’t eat it all in one sitting. (depending on portion size) thats my take on that..