Quick-serve chains across the country are rolling out Valentine’s Day promotions to attract customers for the special day and, in some cases, the entire month of February.
Convenience stores have greatly improved their foodservice offerings in recent years, and a Technomic report released last month shows that those offerings may be stealing significant business from quick-serve restaurants.
Technomic’s “Consumer Brand Metrics (CBM): Convenience Store Shopper Insights Report” found that 26 percent of C-store customers would have purchased their meal or snack from fast-food restaurants if they had not bought them in convenience stores. Technomic surveyed more than 4,000 C-store shoppers in November and December.
Recent technology enhancements by White Castle and McDonald’s show that even traditional quick-service burger chains are considering letting patrons customize their orders.
Last month, White Castle added two touch-screen ordering kiosks at a renovated restaurant in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It is the only restaurant in the family-owned, 406-unit chain to feature the kiosks, which are part of a pilot project. The large screens allow customers to order their burgers exactly as they like them in the privacy of the kiosk area, says White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson.
A handful of quick-service brands released games for mobile platforms in 2013, and the apps proved to be more than just for fun. In fact, some brands are reporting increased sales and customer loyalty by integrating games within their apps.
Among the restaurant companies that found success this year with app games were Blimpie, McDonald’s, and Chipotle.
The fast-casual category has been the fastest-growing restaurant segment over the past two years, according to market research firm Technomic, as operators in the category continue to effectively balance higher-quality, convenient foods with a more upscale environment.
This success has come even as fast casuals offer higher price points than traditional quick serves. A recent Technomic report found that consumers are happily paying more at fast casuals in both the lunch and dinner dayparts.
Quick-service operators are launching seasonal menu items earlier this fall in an effort to beat their competition to the punch. From pumpkin doughnuts to caramel apple frozen yogurt, fall-flavored menu items are popping up across the industry even before the season has officially begun.
“We usually launch [fall products] in October. But this year, for the first time, we are bringing them out in September,” says Lafeea Watson, spokeswoman for Krispy Kreme. “That’s what the industry seems to be doing.”
Two years ago, daily-deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and a host of other regional and national players boomed as customers clamored for discounted products and services. Many of the sites eventually closed up shop as the trend faded and the space became too saturated.
Employee wages have perhaps never been as much of a hot-button issue in the quick-service industry as they are today. Labor unions are trying to organize workers to fight for better wages, and fast-food employees have been striking in several cities across the U.S. this year.
Modern Italian cuisine is the next big thing in fast casual. Or at least, that’s what some major quick-service operators are banking on.
Fazoli’s and Sbarro each plan to debut a fast-casual Italian concept in the near future, following in the footsteps of successful regional brands fusing popular Italian dishes like pasta and pizza with the growing trend toward premium ingredients and customization.
Quick-service operators increasingly have the ability to target their customers right where they are. The industry’s use of mobile marketing has grown exponentially over the last two years, and marketers are projected to spend $1.2 billion on mobile display advertising (not including smartphone apps, mobile coupons, and other mobile ads) by 2014, according to eMarketer.