American fast food has a bad reputation: unhealthy, low quality, and destructive to the environment (from packaging or farming/livestock methods). You’re often told by travel snobs that they will never visit an American fast food restaurant when traveling. Why would you when you can get that at home?
There are times when it can be useful and even fun.
- In Panama City, Panama, every McDonald’s I saw had playground attached. You don’t see that often in the US anymore, probably because of two reasons: property size and injury liability. If you can be sued (and lose) because your coffee was too hot, imagine if kids injured themselves (or each other) on a McDonald’s playground (despite signs absolving themselves of responsibility).
- Surely you’ve heard of the Big Mac Index (wiki definition)? Back in 2005, the Tahiti airport McDonald’s offered the Big Mac for the equivalent of US$15. Of course, airports are usually more expensive (and Tahiti imports everything from France), but that’s ridiculous.
- People sometimes want a taste of home to remember why they travel (or just something familiar).
- To see how they do things differently – Australia McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s offers a burger with beetroot in it (try it at home, it’s quite good). Supposedly, the potatoes used for the fries are a different species as well, leading to a potentially different flavor. I’ve seen McDonald’s in Hawaii with saimin on the menu and pizza in Canada.
- They are often open later than normal restaurants. In 2003, I was in Honolulu, walking around Waikiki at 11pm, and still had not had dinner. The only place that was nearby that was still open was McDonald’s, and as expected, the same food items in Waikiki were more expensive than on the mainland, except for the Dollar Menu. A good size meal for $4 beats a sub-standard restaurant burger for $9, especially when you’re not yet hungry.
- Backpackers love to do things on the cheap, and fast food fits the budget. Even if you’re not a backpacker, sometimes you just don’t feel like spending $20-30 on a forgettable meal.