Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.
QSR Feature
What Consumers Think
Found out how the market really feels about your stores, your menus, your people, and your brand.
image

The 2006 QSR Consumer Survey taught us that there is truth to be found in those old clichéd sayings, particularly the one that goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.

McDonald’s is still among the most loved—and hated—brand in quick-service. “Indifferent” remains the term most consumers use to describe service in fast food. And payment options have not yet become a serious contributing factor in deciding which quick-serve restaurant to visit.

However, not everything is as it once was. In 2005 consumers were watching calories, fat grams, and carbohydrates, in that order. This year trans fats bumped carbs out of that third-place spot, a shift no doubt driven by health news coverage debunking low-carb diets and warning about the link between heart disease and trans fatty acids. Don’t be surprised to see another shift in health concerns next year. The market is that fickle.

This year’s survey also revealed an opportunity not noted in 2005; 4 percent of respondents are eating at fast food outside the breakfast, lunch, or dinner dayparts. That might seem like an insignificant number at first glance, but in a market where it has been reported that a 1-percent increase in global comparable sales could translate into $100 million in operating profits for McDonald’s, the idea of leaving any potential market share on the table seems ludicrous.

Those are the types of nuggets of practical marketing, operations, and R&D information to be found in this year’s survey results. Read on for the finer points.

When They Eat

No surprise, quick-serve’s most popular daypart is lunch. That’s when 56% are getting their fast-food fix. The next most popular quick-service meal occasion? Dinner, which garnered 32% of votes. Only 8% of respondents reported eating a fast-food breakfast.

Top and Bottom Five

According to our survey, Subway and Wendy’s have equal claim to the title of America’s favorite restaurant. Still, Chick-fil-A was the favored brand among women, while Wendy’s took the title among men. McDonald’s and Burger King were also named.

17% of respondents chose McDonald’s as their “least favorite” restaurant. Rounding out the list of America’s top-five least liked brands, in order, were Taco Bell, Burger King, KFC, and Arby’s

Customer Service

More than one-half of respondents reported receiving indifferent customer service at a typical quick-service restaurant. The good news is that only 6% said service is typically impolite.

Consistency

When it comes to consistency, McDonald’s is the clear winner; 20% of respondents said it was the most consistent brand. Subway (11%) and Wendy’s (9%) followed.

Brand Loyalty

Two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would be willing to travel farther or pay more to eat at their favorite chain. Among restaurants chosen as a favorite by 4% or more of respondents, Quiznos gathered the most loyalty, with 86% of respondents willing to go the extra mile—literally—to eat there.

Why They Come

By quite a significant margin, the top two reasons consumers chose to eat at a quick-service restaurant are convenience and menu options. Less important were store location and payment options, though as cashless payment becomes prevalent, look for the latter to rise in significance.

Nutrition and Diet

When it comes to nutrition and diet, 74% of respondents reported that they are “watching” one or more things. At the top of that list are calories (42%) and fat grams (36%).

Menu Matters

While 59% believe menus in fast food have become healthier over the last three years, food quality remains the same, according to the majority of respondents. It is important to note that 18% of those surveyed feel the quality of food has “gotten worse” since 2003.

Preferred Menu Items

43% of respondents indicated that they are most likely to order a sub sandwich when at a quick-service restaurant. Other preferred menu items include fries and onion rings (39%), cheeseburgers (38%), grilled chicken sandwiches (36%), and pizza (34%).

This survey was conducted in March 2006 by the independent research firm of Lewis & Clark Research on behalf of QSR magazine. E-mail invitations, containing a link to an online survey, were sent the week of March 6, 2006, to a general sample of U.S. consumers age 18 and over. This report is based on the first 1,000 responses received.
Approximately one-half of respondents were male and one-half female. Survey respondents tended to be somewhat younger than identified in the 2000 census. Specifically, adults between the ages of 45 and 64 were over-represented, while adults age 65 and over were underrepresented in the survey. The majority of respondents (21 percent) were between 25 and 34 years old.
Pick up the June 2006 copy of QSR to see the complete 2006 QSR Consumer Survey, including graphs.