Industry News | June 15, 2009

The Biggest Trends in Chain Dining

After the release of Zagat’s 2009 Survey of National Chain Restaurants, John Boris, Zagat's SVP of Marketing, offered QSR exclusive insight into the study and its findings.

When and why did Zagat begin surveying consumers about fast-food dining preferences?

Our first fast food survey was released in May 2007. Fast food and full-service chain restaurants have gained tremendous popularity and become an integral part of American culture. It seemed only natural to survey an industry that serves millions of people every day.

Why focus solely on chain restaurants?

Like all topics that Zagat surveys—fast food is something that people are truly passionate about. The more than 6,100 surveyors who participated in the Fast Food Survey on average eat at a fast food or full service chain restaurant 11 times per month. We thought this would be especially interesting to survey during these trying economic times, since everyone is looking for a value, and chain restaurants offer a tremendous value to diners.

How do this year’s findings compare to last year’s? Any major changes?

This year, we have added a new category, Quick Refreshment Chains. We define Quick Refreshment chains as: national counter-service chains where coffee, ice cream, frozen yogurt or smoothies are the featured offering. In-N-Out Burger which was not included in last year’s survey, rose to the top winning “Best Burger” as well as Top Food, Top Service and Top Overall among large chains.

What, in your opinion, was the most interesting finding of this year’s survey?

The 'Coffee War' has been a big debate lately and I find it interesting that Starbucks has edged out rival Dunkin’ Donuts in our “Best Coffee” category.

What do the survey’s findings say about the state of fast-food in America?

With over 6,000 surveyors enjoying 800,000 meals worth of experience throughout the year, it is clear that people enjoy their fast food. But more importantly, they are eyeing good values and healthy options. In a recent survey, nearly 70 percent of our surveyors reporting considering low-fat, heart-healthy menu items as important when making dining decisions. Subway which is the non-fried approach to fast food tops the survey for Healthy Options and ranks second overall among Mega-Chains (with over 5,000 outlets).

What does it say about the state of dining in America?

Dining out at any kind of establishment, has become a part of our cultural fabric. As the economy continues to find its footing, our recent surveys show that people are still eating out; they are simply adjusting their habits to fit the times. Fast food and full service chains offer predictable, affordable food that diners can count on. One of the biggest trends we are seeing is the search for bargains, surveyors love a good meal, especially at a great value. This year, McDonald’s won not only for Best Value, but also Best Value Menu.