Consumption of Western Fast Food in China

Vicky D. Liu | Class of 2012

With the opening of the Chinese market, more and more Western fast food consumption flooded into China. KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s have occupied their respective shares in the Chinese market. They brought Chinese people Western food such as hamburgers, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, salads, fried chicken and fried potatoes. In the meantime, they imbued Chinese people with a brand new idea of food and eating—efficient and fast eating. However, as we all know, China bears more than 5,000 years of history; many customs and habits including eating are rooted deeply in Chinese people’s minds. Can they welcome Western fast food? Who are the consumers of Western fast food? Can they afford Western fast food?

To some people’s surprise, Western fast food in China is relatively pricey. Take Pizza Hut as an example. In China, an average 9” pizza costs 55 RMB, while the average disposable personal income (DPI) per year in urban China was 15,781 RMB in 2009. Zhongxing Tang, a white-collar worker in Shanghai, said that although Western fast-food restaurants started to cut prices due to the downturn of the economy, the price is still too high for common Chinese people. Nevertheless, even so, why are Western fast-food restaurants always full on weekends, and why does Pizza Hut often have a long line? In fact, while Chinese culture and its long history might be mysterious to Westerners, Western culture is actually attractive to Chinese people. The majority of Chinese people have never been to the high-end Western restaurants in China, but nearly all of them want to see what Western food looks like. Western fast-food restaurants provide them with a window to find the answer, which gives Chinese people an idea of the staple food that Western people have on a daily basis. Although many reports have shown that quite a lot of old people take their grandchildren to these restaurants without buying food for themselves, they have the chance to see hamburgers, salads, fried chicken and so on. From this point, we can see that if Western business people can bring their products with special Western culture or life, they will be welcome in China.

In addition, Western fast-food restaurants that have already settled down in China may have never thought that their foods (very common foods in the West) can become an efficient vehicle for Chinese people to win glory in public. KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s have become well-known brands and fashionable things that Chinese people think they should follow. Carrying a big package of KFC food as a gift to visit other people in China is extremely liked. Talking with classmates of having tried the Western fast food may invite envy sometimes. Therefore, although they do realize that Western fast food is pricier compared with local Chinese food, and that it is less healthy than other Chinese food, they still prefer to pay.

Another important reason that more and more Chinese people accept Western fast food is in virtue of its sanitation and its efficiency. Ming Chang, an engineer in Beijing, said he really prefers Western fast food on the grounds that the food is clean. In urban areas in China, there is an inexorable tendency that people are busier and busier and the paces of their lives are quicker and quicker. Under this circumstance, Western fast food can absolutely fit their needs.

Furthermore, I should also point out that Chinese people are always startled by having the same taste, the same service and even the same price in every Western fast-food restaurant in China. Although some local Chinese franchises belong to nation-wide chains, the taste and service are not consistent. Wei Chow, a businessman, said he felt safe every time he went into Western fast-food restaurants that he was already familiar with. He said he needn’t worry about the changing tastes, the dismal service and inconsistent prices. Wherever he traveled, after his getting off trains, cars, or airplanes, he filled his stomach in Western fast-food restaurants first.

Simply put, Chinese people are resilient and can easily accept varied tastes and business models. They are eager to know about Western culture. Western fast-food restaurants, undoubtedly, offer Chinese people a good channel to view a part of Western culture. At the same time, they hope to get clean food, consistent service and unchanging prices.

Vicki Liu is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences and a Cultural Scholar. Write to her at