How Consumers Engage with QSRs

A return to work in offices and higher grocery prices due to continued inflation pressures are among the factors leading to nearly one in four U.S. households eating out or ordering food more frequently,  according to a TransUnion report that details consumer attitudes and behaviors when engaging with QSRs. 

Heading into the end of 2023, two-thirds of consumer households (64 percent) planned to spend at the same levels with restaurants as they did over the second and third quarters of the year. For more than half of consumers (58 percent), that amounts to dining out or ordering once or twice per week and spending less than $150 per week. However, households with children were more likely to frequent restaurants – three to four times a week – and more than half plan to spend between $150 and $500 each week on dining out.

Traditional QSRs, like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, proved to be the top choice for households with and without children. Those with children frequented these spots slightly more often, with 77 percent patronizing traditional QSRs at least once per week, compared to 69% of households without children. However, this usage gap widened across other dining categories.

The report also explored the various factors that help consumers decide where to eat. Price was the top priority for all consumers, followed by menu and location. Again, differences appeared when segmented by households with and without children. For example, attractive menu items are important to nearly 60 percent of households without children but just 47 percent of households with children. Conversely, speed of service was identified as a key factor by 32 percent of households with children but only 21 percent of households without.

One surprising finding from the report was that, even with the popularity of online shopping and digital experiences, ordering in-person to carry out ranked as the top choice across all generations. There is one caveat: Gen Z consumers equally prefer using a restaurant’s mobile app or website, an option firmly ranked in second place for all other generations. Convenience is the primary reason consumers of all generations order through a restaurant’s mobile app. However, Millennials were also more likely to cite loyalty points and special offers as a reason for using this option. When ordering via third-party apps, Gen Z and Millennial consumers were most likely to cite restaurant variety and the ability to order delivery from restaurants that don’t offer it directly as important reasons for using this option. Features such as showing delivery time, allowing consumers to select the quickest delivery option, and the ability to opt for pick up over delivery to save time and money were also popular.

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked Colleen Thiry, director of TransUnion’s travel and hospitality business for her insights on what restaurant owners should take away from the results. 

Why are parents making one restaurant choice over another?

Looking at the differences between households with children and without, we found that households with children ranked speed of service, healthy food choices and day of the week routines as significantly more influential on their choice of place to eat. Unsurprisingly given their focus on speed, households with children were most likely to patronize traditional quick service or premium quick service restaurants at least once a week.

What should restaurants take away from these findings to better meet the needs of parents?

We noted above three key aspects that parents consider when choosing a restaurant. Restaurants should recognize that households with children have different needs and preferences, and can customize their marketing programs to emphasize these elements and better appeal to parents. Households with children also spend more on restaurants per week and dine out more frequently than households without children, and thus are a key segment to target with promotions and offers.

Additionally, restaurants should be aware that families find more value in third-party apps (e.g., UberEats, DoorDash) than restaurant apps to help them plan meals for their entire family. To encourage households with children to use the restaurant’s website or app, restaurants should develop marketing strategies and run promotions that cater to family needs. They can also offer innovative menu items that are available to order exclusively through the website or app or as part of a loyalty program to drive usage.

What can restaurants do better to attract those without children?

Households without children were more sensitive to price and more likely to say they were planning to eat out less frequently through the end of the year. They reported that coupons and promotions that offered them the opportunity to save money appealed to them. Simultaneously, households without children reported a higher impact of attractive menu items and convenient location on their choice of restaurant relative to households without children.

We see three key opportunities for restaurant brands to grow with this segment:

  1. Develop marketing strategies or loyalty programs that offer discounts or include free extras with a purchase
  2. Emphasize new, innovative menu items or best sellers in messaging or brand creative
  3. Leverage location-based marketing to highlight proximity or convenience of the restaurant