Need For Speed Driving QSR, Fast Casual Popularity

QSRs and fast casual restaurants are definitely having a moment. Per’s new white paper, “The QSR Dining Advantage,” visits to these chains have been up 2.1% year-over-year during Q1 2024, compared to 0.4% for full-service restaurants.

Overall, the main reason for this is speed: Consumers are prioritizing their spending on dining out or picking up from restaurants that service them most quickly. Several chains were cited, including  Taco Bell’s Touch Display Kitchen System, which assists cooking operations and wait times, as well as the restaurant’s Go Mobile format, which intends to speed up drive thru. Chick-fil-A’s dedicated channels for mobile order and pickup, and its plans for four drive-thru lanes, and Wendy’s use of generative AI and robotic delivery system development, were also mentioned as drivers.



And while all QSRs intend to be quick, as the name implies, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s stand out among the fray—all three have experienced steady increases in the share of visits to their venues lasting less than ten minutes in the past year.

Even fast-casual venues are getting faster, with many adopting formats formerly reserved for restaurants with a drive thru. As an example cited the success of Applebee’s new format, with a focus on to-go orders in Deer Park, New York, which opened in late 2023 and features pick-up lockers for digital orders with limited dine-in options and no table service. In Q1, 2024, 20.5% of visits to the chain’s To Go venue took place during the 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM time slot, while the average Applebee’s in the New York-Newark-Jersey City CBSA received less than 10% of its daily visits during that daypart. The new restaurant also drew a significantly higher share of weekday visits than other nearby venues.

To the surprise of absolutely no one in the restaurant industry, chicken remains king of the roost. The report states that share of visits to chains with chicken-based menus has increased steadily between 2019 and 2023. In Q1 2024, 15.3% of fast casual and QSR visits were to a chicken restaurant concept, compared to just 13.4% in Q1 2019. Two in the sea of chicken chains continue to stand out. Both Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s are receiving more visits per venue than their peers. “In Q1 2024, Raising Cane’s and Chick-fil-A saw an average of 153.0% and 237.7% more visits per venue, respectively, compared to the combined Fast Casual and QSR industries’ average,” per the report.

And lastly, it turns out these customers love fast food during the festive season. The report states they increase their visits, due to both promotions and experiential events, during the holidays.


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