Do you know how to talk about fast food in English?
Fast-food restaurants are in almost every country of the world now. We can see their brightly coloured shopfronts in every shopping area or mall.
On the high street and in town centres.
But what is fast food exactly? And how to order it?
Let’s dive in and take a look…
What is Fast Food?
Fast food is a term used to describe food that is
- served quickly
- convenient to find
- relatively cheap
- simple food
- found in most towns and cities of the world
- a recognizable brand
If a restaurant or type of food fits into most of the categories above, then it is probably fast food.
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Do you know any restaurants or food outlets in your country that fit into the above categories?
Try to think of food outlets that serve food quickly or are convenient to find.
What kind of restaurants are these outlets?
What kind of restaurants in your hometown are cheap?
What kind of food outlets serve simple food?
Talk about these kinds of restaurants and the food they serve.
Which ones have all the categories?
Examples of Fast Food
Take a look at the items of fast food below. Do you know what they are?
Talk about the items of fast food above.
- Have you tried this kind of food?
- Do you like it or dislike it? Why?
- Do you know any brand names of restaurants that serve this food?
Main Fast Food Vocabulary
Let’s start by looking at some words that you might hear in a fast-food restaurant. Or in a discussion about fast food.
to eat here
Eat-In/To Eat Here
This means that you wish to eat the food you buy on the premises. There are tables and chairs in the fast-food restaurant and you can sit wherever you wish to eat your food.
Take Out/Take-Away/To Go/Carry Out
These are just different ways to express that the customer buys the food and takes it outside of the fast-food restaurant.
You may eat the meal at home, in your car or just sit outside in a park somewhere.
If you want to do this, you need to tell the server.
In an attempt to make fast food even faster, companies introduced the idea of the drive-through.
The customer drives into a special lane next to the restaurant. Then you order your food by speaking into a machine.
The server communicates with you via the machines and takes your order.
Then you drive to a window to pay and collect your food.
The word ‘THRU’ is a non-standard Americanised spelling of through.
This is a business term. Someone may buy a fast-food franchise. The fast-food company, in return, gives them the premises and stock to help them build their business.
Many people operate very successful franchises from fast food companies.
Nearly all fast-food restaurants are chains.
This is a kind of business where the customer can see outlets in every town and city. Many shops operate in chains.
Fast-food restaurants were some of the earliest chains to appear in America.
What kind of restaurants in your hometown offer take out or carry out meals?
What kind of food do they serve?
Are there any drive-through restaurants in your hometown?
What kind of food do they serve there?
Are there any franchises or chain restaurants in your country?
Are they from your country or another country?
What kind of food can people eat in these places?
What are the Main Fast-Food Outlets?
There are many fast-food outlets in the world today.
Over 35,000 restaurants around the globe. That’s a lot of calories!
All of these fast food companies are known as chains. In that, they are like a chain of restaurants joined together.
But each country has its own fast-food brands. It’s just that America has so many fast food brands that often become international.
The main fast-food outlets are from America.
Take a look at the names of fast-food restaurants above.
- Do you recognise any of these names?
- Do you have any of these restaurants in your country?
- What kind of food do these places serve?
Fast Food — the Food and the Drink
Below are the main types of food you can find in fast-food restaurants.
Many fast-food places serve the same kind of food.
But companies want the customers to think only of their brand. So they make up new names and words that you will only associate with the one company.
So if we hear the word Big Mac, we know that is from McDonald’s.
Same with other words like McNuggets or McMuffin. And with Happy Meal.
And in Burger King, they have their own special jargon. The food there is called Whopper, Big King. Or they use the term BK before certain food on the menu.
All fast food companies do this. That way, you don’t just order a cheeseburger, you order with a special brand name.
But these are the main kinds of food you can find in fast-food restaurants.
Do you know what these kinds of food are?
Have you tried any of these kinds of fast food?
What do you think of this kind of food?
Try to describe each food item in the table above.
Let’s look at the word burger as an example.
A burger is a kind of fast food. It is mainly a beef patty between two pieces of a bun with a garnish of lettuce and tomato, and maybe some other ingredients.
Now you try with all the other words.
- Do you know all these drinks?
- How do they taste?
- Do you like them? Why/why not?
Drinks in fast-food restaurants are referred to as beverages. It became a standard word used for all drinks in fast-food restaurants.
Beverages are soft drinks, tea or coffee. Fast-food restaurants never serve alcohol.
Soft drinks mean beverages such as cola, soda, orange juice, etc.
Fast-food restaurants often give the customer an empty carton or cup and then you help yourself to drinks at the soda fountain.
This is a special machine with taps attached. You can help yourself with whatever soft drink you want.
The drinks are:
- orange juice
- iced tea
Other drinks include milkshakes, slushies, tea and coffee — but the server will prepare this for you.
Many fast-food restaurants have a ‘bottomless cup’ policy on coffee. This means you can get as many refills as you wish.
A milkshake is a drink made with ice cream, milk and flavouring such as chocolate or strawberry.
And a slushie, a cold drink made with crushed ice and flavouring such as orange, lemon or strawberry.
These drinks are often high in sugar — so they are not very healthy!
In some fast-food places — Starbucks, most notably — they serve a variety of coffee drinks.
Again, the board display behind the counter tells you what these drinks are and how much they cost.
- Is coffee a popular drink in your country?
- Or maybe tea. Is tea popular?
- Are there many coffee shops in your country?
- What do you know about ‘coffee culture’?
Subway is a fast-food restaurant that serves sandwiches and subs.
A sandwich is made of two pieces of bread with some meat and vegetables inside.
And a sub is a long piece of bread cut open with meat and vegetables placed inside.
It is called a sub because it looks a little like a submarine that goes under the sea.
In Subway, they will offer you different kinds of bread.
- Are sandwiches popular in your country?
- What is the difference between a sandwich and a hamburger?
- Are sandwiches healthy? Why/why not?
Sweet Bread & Cakes
Places like Starbucks, Subway and McDonald’s offer sweet bread too.
You can find things like:
- Do you know any of the sweetbreads or cakes above?
- Can you find them easily in your country?
- What kind of bread or cakes can you find in your hometown?
Questions about Fast Food
- Have you tried any of the food above?
- What do you think of them?
- Can you see all the different kinds of fast food listed above in your hometown or country?
- Is it easy to find?
- What do you think of it?
- What do older people think of it?
Fast Food Menu
Fast food menus are bright and colourful.
You can see the menu displayed on a large board behind the servers at the counter. The board is brightly lit to draw customers’ attention to it.
All the meals have clear and beautiful pictures and prices next to each item.
There are also handheld menus which are also very colourful and full of pictures.
And there are automatic menus where people can click on items on a large screen and pay via a QR code at the end.
You can also see the menu on the fast-food restaurant app or website.
Fast food menus are different from other restaurant menus in that every meal and food item has a photograph and the prices are very clearly shown throughout.
Many fast-food restaurants serve combination meals.
For example, this could be a cheeseburger, some French fries, and a soft drink.
If you order this, you can save a little more money than if you ordered all the items separately.
The servers often try to encourage the customers to order a combination meal.
In most fast-food restaurants, they call these combination meals combos — short for combination.
And all the meals in fast-food restaurants have numbers attached to them.
So when you order your food, you can just say: Can I have a number one, please?
And the server knows exactly what you want.
This is done for convenience and speed. The customer receives their food quickly. Then they can eat quickly and leave.
Why are fast food menus bright and colourful?
Why do fast-food restaurants put the menu on a big board behind the serving counter?
Why do fast-food restaurants have pictures of all the food on their menus?
Why do fast-food restaurants put the price of the food items so clearly on the menu?
What is a combo?
How to Order in a Fast-Food Restaurant
The whole purpose of fast food is that it is served fast and conveniently.
Waiting time is minimal.
The server often greets the new customer by raising their hand and welcoming them.
They might say:
- Welcome to … How can I help you?
- Welcome to … Can I take your order?
- Good morning! How can I serve you today?
Each fast-food restaurant has a special way of greeting its customers.
The servers use the same line of greeting every time.
Here are some phrases you can use when you are at the counter and face to face with the food server.
- Can I have….
- I want…
- I’d like a…
- Can I order the…
- Can I get…
Use these phrases and just say the name of the food you want with the phrase.
Part of the food server’s job is to upsell. This means they try to sell more food or items to you.
So they might say:
- Would you like that in a large size?
- Do you want medium or large?
- Would you like fries/a drink with that?
- They may also ask you:
- What sauce would you like with that?
Then once the server has completed your order, you pay and wait at the food pick up section.
Use the phrases above — and the vocabulary from the previous sections — to make a role play.
There are two people in the role play.
1. A customer
2. A fast-food server
One of you enters the restaurant and you order a meal for yourself — and maybe for your friend too.
The other person will take the order, confirm the order and tell you how much to pay.
Maybe there is something wrong with the order! Maybe you need to change something.
But make sure everything is clear at the end.
When you are ready, you can show the class.
Fast-Food Restaurants and Staff
Fast-food restaurants have a very similar design.
The restaurant is often at street level and has a big wide glass shop front.
This is so people walking by can see inside. They may feel encouraged to go inside and buy some food.
Tables and chairs are usually arranged at the front of the restaurant by the windows. The inside is brightly lit and has very vivid colours.
Some suggest that this is to make it more appealing for children.
Then, directly in front of the entrance, is a large counter. This is where customers order their food.
Behind the counter are the servers, counter workers or order takers. These people take your order and process the information in a cash register or till.
As they ring up your order, this information is passed to the kitchen electronically. A bill appears for the cooks to prepare your meal.
In most fast-food restaurants, the customers can see into the kitchen clearly. You can see the cooks cooking and preparing your meal.
After you pay, you then go to a waiting area where your food is served. Usually, there is no waitress service in a fast-food restaurant.
You have to go to the counter and give your order to the staff. Then you collect your food and go to a table.
The servers give you your food on a plastic tray.
Each fast-food restaurant has its own titles for its staff.
These are some of the words you might hear or see.
- Cook or Food Preparer
- Shift Manager or Supervisor
- General Manager and Upper Management
There are also bus staff and cleaners. These people clear the tables and make sure the restaurant is clean at all times.
There are bins and trash cans placed strategically around the restaurant for the customers to throw away any scraps or trash from their plastic trays.
Think about a fast-food restaurant in your hometown.
- What is the design like inside?
- What colours do they use in the design?
- Is the restaurant at street level?
- What kind of people work there?
- Is the inside of the restaurant noisy or quiet?
Make a full description of a fast-food restaurant in your hometown.
Now describe this place to the class.
See if anyone can recognise which fast-food restaurant you are talking about.
The Design and Ambiance
Fast-food restaurants are often loud, both in colour and ambience.
This is not the kind of place you come for a quiet romantic meal for two. There are no candlelit dinners here!
The design of the restaurant and the colour is all part of the brand of the fast-food chain.
So for McDonald’s the colours are red and yellow.
For Subway, they are green, yellow and white.
For Papa John’s red, green and white.
These colours are in every restaurant and in the signs outside the restaurant. They are in the logo and all advertising.
This is so that people recognise the brand immediately.
The same can be said for the design.
Go to any McDonald’s around the world, and they all look the same. The same can be said for Starbucks, Burger King and Dairy Queen.
Fast-food restaurants do not play soft background music.
They might play loud pop music. This is because most fast-food customers are young.
But also, the loud music encourages the customers to eat quickly and leave.
The whole purpose of fast-food restaurants is to make the customer order food, eat and leave in a very short period of time.
Fast-food restaurants do not want customers to stay longer than twenty minutes or so.
What do you think about the design of fast-food restaurants?
Fast-food restaurants often use very bright colours. And very simple designs. Why do they do this?
What do you think of the music they play in fast-food restaurants?
Is it nice and relaxing? Or too loud?
Give your opinions and state them to the class.
Healthy or Not Healthy?
When fast food first started, people didn’t think about any consequences to their health.
They just thought it was cheap and convenient.
It wasn’t until the 90s that people really started to think about how unhealthy fast food could be.
That was when fast food companies started marketing different ideas about the food they served. And some even changed their menus and started offering healthier options like salad.
Now many fast-food restaurants display the nutritional value of their food on all their menus. In some countries, it is a legal requirement to do this.
But also, people really want to know what they are eating!
The menu shows the calorie value of the meals, the sugar, salt and fat content.
Is fast food healthy or not? What do you think?
Which particular fast food types are unhealthy?
Is any of the food healthy?
If you had a healthy fast-food restaurant, what kind of food would you serve?
Do you think a healthy fast-food restaurant could be popular?
Are people aware of the sugar or salt content in fast food?
What should be done about this?
Is this food good for children? Why/why not?
Fast Food Questions
Do you like fast food? Why/why not?
What is your favourite kind of fast-food restaurant? Why do you like this particular one?
What kind of fast food do you dislike? Why?
Is fast food popular in your country? Why/why not?
Do you think fast food is healthy? State your reasons.
Does your country have its own fast-food brands? What are they? Introduce them to the class.
How many times a week do you eat fast food? Is this too much? Or acceptable?
Do your parents or grandparents like fast food? Why/why not?
Go through all the questions and answer them one by one.
Try to give clear answers each time. Explain your reasons for your answers.
Build Your Own Fast Food Brand
You are going to create a brand of fast food for your hometown or city.
Think about what kind of food you would serve.
Think about the design of the restaurant — the colours, the style, etc.
What is the name of your fast-food restaurant? It has to be a catchy and memorable name!
Now think of a logo for your restaurant. Look at the logos below to help you.
Design your own logo.
Does your fast-food restaurant have a slogan or saying? Use this to help customers remember your brand.
Work together in groups of four students. Think about all the items above.
When you are ready, present all your information to the class.
I hope this lesson plan can help you remember vocabulary and terms for fast food.
Remember to go through the vocabulary regularly and make notes of difficult words in your vocabulary notebook.
This will help you remember new words and phrases.
Best of luck — and as always — leave me a comment below!
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