While in-restaurants dining visits may be down 2.4% overall over Q3 last year, a new report highlights the three key trends that are still driving traffic to QSRs and fast casual restaurants.
The report, "3 Trends Shaping the Dining Industry," from foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai, shows a few shifts in dining habits are having a big impact, despite slight decrease in traffic overall.
The report found that the number of younger customers driving late-night QSR visits has grown. "Analyzing hourly foot traffic to several major QSR chains reveals that the share of visits between 9 P.M. and 12 A.M. increased significantly between Q3 2019 and Q3 2023.” Whataburger late night traffic increased from 23.4% to 28%, while California native In-N-Out increased from 19.3% to 26.3%.
Even the established late-night destination Taco Bell saw a significant boost just over this past year, from 15.4% in Q3 2022 to 20.3% in Q3 2023. Gen Z diners and younger millennials are the primary late-night customers, as those demos prioritize going out with friends, per the report.
The NCAA rule change in 2021 allowing college athletes to enter into brand deals is also proving a benefit to both fast casual and QSR chains. Subway, Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Slim Chickens and Hooters are only a few of the chains that have taken advantage of partnering with athletes, some of whom have millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok. In addition, more sports fans are eating at restaurants near the stadium before or after a live game over the more traditional tailgating experience.
For example, the Ohio State Buckeyes’ stadium, one of the largest in the country, holds over 100,000 fans. Nearby restaurants benefit: Panera experienced a 235.3% increase on game days as compared to a typical non-game day; Domino’s Pizza visits grew by 283.3% and Tommy’s Pizza, a local pie shop, saw its visits jump by 600.9%.
And finally, the sub sandwich chains continue to boast a booming customer base, which has grown way beyond Sunday football viewing parties. All the major sub chains, Jersey Mike’s, Firehouse Subs, Jimmy John’s and Subway (recently purchased by Jimmy John’s parent company) have experienced YoY growth. Even with opening 350 stories in 2023, Jersey Mike’s still saw its YoY visits per venue grow by 6.6%, while Subway has reported ten consecutive quarters of positive sales.
One of the reasons cited as the incentive for the sub success is that the chains attract a wider customer base than other QSRs or Fast Casual restaurants. According to the report, Jersey Mike’s had the highest trade area median household income of the four chains at $77.3K/year, while Subway, known more for its affordability, had the lowest, with $62.9K/year.