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How We Got Here: 1950s

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The industry grappled with government-imposed pricing controls, the result of a nationwide beef shortage and tight supplies of other staples, while vying with other fast-growth industries for new employees. The business’ greater sophistication was reflected in the undertaking of several groundbreaking research studies, including “Eating Out Index and Consumer Attitudes” and “Personal Attributes of Restaurant Executives.” Both were consistent with a new national infatuation with researching everything from sexual habits to marketing effectiveness.

Focus on innovation

Post-war America’s embrace of the automobile quickly affected a business that had always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with travel and tourism. Accommodations for patrons’ cars became as much a part of some restaurants as their dining rooms. Drive-ins were the rage, a result of their popularity with the earliest members of the post-war baby boom. This early form of quick-service restaurants became a common sight in many areas of the country.

Another disruptive technology also appeared: infrared systems for cooking and keeping food hot. 

Innovation also figured into the industry’s marketing efforts. The Association produced a motion picture called “America Eats Out” to change the perceptions of the industry—not among consumers or lawmakers but other industries. Leaders hoped the effort would lead to more collaboration on fronts such as research and education. One result: a $6 million marketing kitty to promote dining out.

The Association also tried its hand at songwriting, producing two tunes intended to encourage dining out: “Pass the Meat, Pass the Potatoes” and “Let’s Go Out to a Restaurant.” A former chicken plucker named Elvis Presley would have considerably more success on the pop music front. 

The industry had more success in its encouragement of credit card use, then in its infancy. The business had learned that customers paying with a credit card tended to spend more.

Combating challenges

A growing labor shortage would preoccupy the business middecade, though it also reacted to changing mores by supporting an Association-led effort to spotlight better health through better dining.

Similarly, the industry took action to protect its customers from foodborne illness by drafting a list of model sanitation practices and standards, a system that local jurisdictions could readily adopt. Today, it’s known as the FDA Food Code.

1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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