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Restaurant chains seem like a uniquely American idea, even though they've spread all over the world. Once upon a time, though, the very idea of a restaurant chain was laughable.

As times changed, though, these chains became dominant - and each of the three chains below helped shape that industry.


Pizza HutPhoto: http://visitoxfordms.com


Why Pizza Hut? It's certainly not the only pizza chain in the US, and it's arguably not even among the best. It is, however, the first - and that means quite a bit. Not only did Pizza Hut lead to a chain or other imitators and competitors, but it importantly brought pizza to most of the US. The way Americans eat was forever changed by this chain.


Pizza Hut can be thanked for doing a number of other things to change how chains work. It is responsible for improving, if not outright inventing, concepts like the assembly line pizza kitchen. Pizza Hut made delivery a major factor outside of major cities, and it arguably even helped to popularize the buffalo wing outside of the Northeast. The company may not provide gourmet pizza, but it certainly popularized America's love affair with the food.


McDonald'sPhoto: Twitter


If you live in a city in the United States, there's a very good chance that you're within driving distance of a McDonald's. These ubiquitous restaurants are fixtures of the American landscape, and they've moved across the world.


While the country's relationship with the chain has certainly changed over the last fifty years, there's absolutely no doubt that it's the single most influential American dining establishment. It's not the food that makes it special, but rather the consistency - when it comes to McDonald's, you always know what you are going to get. Whether you eat in New York or California, McDonald's is the go-to example for how a fast-food chain works.


What's special about McDonald's, perhaps, is that it is always evolving. While it has weathered many fads over the years, something about the chain has always been dependably of the moment. If you see something succeed in another chain, there's a good chance that McDonald's has already tried it out. It's a special bit of Americana, something that might throw on a new identity in the same way a homeowner might try a bit of kitchen cabinet refacing, but nothing fundamentally changes with the concept. For good or ill, McDonald's is here to stay.


Olive GardenPhoto: Yelp


Olive Garden is, at least at its heart, nothing particularly special. It is neither the first Italian chain in the United States, nor was it the first casual dining chain the country. You can get almost anything on the menu somewhere else and most fans of Italian food will tell you that it barely qualifies as ethnic cuisine. Despite all that, though, Olive Garden was truly one of the first casual dining locations in the United States to become a dining destination, forever changing the way that restaurant chains in the US would advertise themselves.


Olive Garden's focus on family and a fine-dining atmosphere made it stand out among its competitors. While the inside of the restaurant is about as fancy as a good couch cleaning, its unified theme and quasi-Tuscan architecture make it stand out regardless of where in the country it is located. Olive Garden took ethnic dining and made it a special experience, not confined to strip malls or ethnic enclaves. It is the predecessor not just of the popularity of fast Italian food in the US, but arguably helped pave the way for other casual-dining ethnic restaurants across the country.


The three restaurant defining chains helped to popularize certain types of food, change the way that chains work, and even define the cuisine of an entire nation. Without these restaurants, it's hard to say what dining would look like in the United States - or even around the world. While the impact of each chain might be waning today, they are all still very historically important.


Lewis Robinson is a business consultant specializing in social media marketing, CRM, and sales.  He's had the opportunity to manage his own startup businesses and currently freelances as a writer and business consultant.


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Pizza Hut photo: visitoxfordms.com 

McDonald's: Twitter 

Olive Garden photo: Yelp.com