Baby boomers were the first generation to be raised with fast food. And together, these post-war kids and the quick-service industry have grown and evolved.
Seventy-six million strong, boomers are now the most powerful consumer demographic in American history. They spend an average $2,600 a year eating out, compared with an average $2,100 for all households, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Fifty-eight-year-olds Dan and Karen Morrison say they visit quick-service restaurants at least 10 times a week. Between work and caring for their elderly parents as well as their grandchildren, they are typical members of what’s also being called the “sandwich generation.” Besides busy, they characterize themselves as being health-conscious. They pay close attention to how food is cooked, the freshness of ingredients, and the variety of healthy selections on a menu.
So what do these two baby boomers think about the latest trends in the quick-service industry? QSR sat down with the couple to find out.
What is your earliest fast food memory?
Dan Morrison: McDonald’s. I even remember exactly where the first one was in Santa Monica, where I grew up. I always got a hamburger. That was all they served, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries. It wasn’t until many years later that fast-food places even offered chicken.
Has your consumption of fast food lessened over the years?
Karen Morrison: Yes, because there’s so much more information out there now about the ill effects of some fast food. You constantly hear in the media about the results of new studies. It’s the same as smoking. We didn’t know how bad it was when we were younger. Now things have really changed.
Dan: I think while we eat less bad fast food, our general consumption of on-the-go food has probably increased. I think the pace of life is much different than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Back then you really did go home every night to have dinner. And if you didn’t eat at home, you went to a sit-down restaurant. Now there are so many options.
Do you differentiate between fast food versus fast casual?
Dan: To me, a fast-food place has a drive-thru and a fast-casual place is somewhere you go in. It doesn’t take very long, but you sit inside and eat. Fast-casual places also have more variety and healthier choices.
Which type of concept are you more likely to visit?
Karen: Fast-casual because their choices are healthier. There’s more broiled or grilled instead of fried, and they usually have better salads, not just the ones that come ready in those plastic shells. We can go there and eat pretty quickly and inexpensively, but still sit down together and eat.
If health were not a factor, would you eat traditional fast food more?
Karen: Yes, most definitely. I would go to the drive-thrus more because they’re so fast and convenient. I love McDonald’s fries, I love fried chicken and fried fish sandwiches, too. So I would probably go to McDonald’s more and get Filet-O-Fish meals.
Dan: I would eat more McDonald’s, too, probably because of the familiarity and the consistency. I’d probably get a Quarter Pounder, fries, and a hot fudge sundae.