Consumers Expand Definition Of 'Fast Food'

Drive-ThruWhen they think "fast food," a growing number of people think not only of traditional quick-service restaurants (QSRs), but fast-casuals and other formats that deliver "food fast."

According to a new report on fast food trends from food service consultancy Technomic, Inc., 41% of 2,000 people interviewed in November said that their idea of places offering "fast food" has expanded to include fast-casuals such as Panera and full-service restaurants that offer carry-out and curbside service.

Economy-driven trading down from full-service restaurants has resulted in more competition among other formats for the "fast food/food fast" customer, notes Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. In this reconfigured battleground, QSRs have borrowed elements from fast casuals, and vice versa, as they compete for traffic.

Moves reflecting shifting format strategies include introduction of price-driven value elements into fast-casual menus; upscaling in limited-service formats (new interior social spaces); broadening of full-service restaurant convenience platforms (call-ahead, text/online ordering, home delivery and curbside pick-up); and growth of upscale/gourmet food trucks in big-city markets.



Restaurant operators rethinking their brands need to understand both consumers' changing fast-food perceptions and the responses of their competitors, stresses Tristano.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Nearly half (49%) of consumers now report eating at fast-food restaurants at least once a week, while 20% say the same about full-service restaurants and 16% about fast casuals.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) report having increased their visits to fast food restaurants in the past year. This was the largest increase reported among restaurant formats.
  • 52% say that a traditional "fast food" meal should be delivered within five minutes, but consumers are willing to wait a bit longer for items they consider "food fast."
  • About one-third say that they'd like to see dedicated take-out areas in fast-food and fast-casual formats.
  • Expanding convenience platforms for full-service restaurants have strong appeal. Forty percent of consumers express interest in call-ahead for order pick-up, 37% in separate pick-up stations, and 31% in curbside service.
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