There’s no question big data can feel like an avalanche. It’s relatively easy, at least compared to the old days, to pile up stacks of consumer, sales, and product information. But what do you actually do with that golden currency? Do you need to invest in tech to acquire the info, and then invest in more tech to break it down? It really varies by the brand, of course. Yet while big data remains an uncharted frontier to some extent, there’s no denying the opportunity. Advancements in tech and data capabilities have allowed quick-service restaurant marketers to connect with guests in more meaningful ways, and reach them when and where they’re paying attention.

The key word there is “meaningful.” Restaurants are quickly moving from a world where mass marketing was the law of the land (coupons and general, discount-focused promotions) to mass personalization. Customer segmentation. Offers through loyalty and direct communication that speak to particular guests. Things like rewards-exclusive invites to wine dinners. Offers that speak to behavior more than value-driven traffic. And what’s also beneficial to marketers? This strategy cuts spend and improves ROI when done effectively. Chains aren’t forced to develop and promote new creative every time an item hits the menu just to get guests to try it. That can be an expensive cycle when it’s constantly on loop.

Ad-solution company Viant shared a study with QSR called “Demystifying Quick-Service Restaurant Customers.” Its goal was to better understand the industry’s guests by analyzing demographics and marketing tactics. The insights came from location data, transaction data, and machine learning, applied to identify several customer segments for quick-serves. Viant built the model from 4,880,438 visits by 1,889,444 people during a six-month period in 2018 to a sandwich franchise with more than 1,000 locations (it didn’t identify the brand).

Here were the five segments:

  • Breakfast buyers
  • Lunchtime loyalists
  • Primetime patrons
  • Weekenders
  • Devoted diners

“Mobile, and third party food delivery services have disrupted the quick-service restaurant industry in a big way,” says Jon Schulz, CMO at Viant. “How consumers find a restaurant, and ultimately choose to order or dine in has changed dramatically over the years. For [quick-serves] to stay competitive when consumers have so many more options available at their fingertips, they have to understand their customers, and their competitors more than ever.”

“With a better understanding of their customer base, [quick-serves] can build cohesive marketing strategies and drive traffic to their restaurants,” he adds. “Location, transaction data, and visit frequency for example can help [quick-serves] better understand the customer journey which informs the marketing strategy. We found that not all diners respond the same to certain types of media. For example, a [quick-service restaurant] most loyal customers are three times more likely to visit in-store after exposure to a mobile ad, and six times more likely after exposure to a desktop display ad.”

Buyers at a glance

Let’s look first at the “breakfast buyer.” This segment frequented the sandwich franchise for breakfast 15 percent of their visits. They came more frequently than the average and were loyal to a single restaurant. You often hear this kind of behavior among breakfast customers in general. They’re routine driven and stickier than most.

The data found that “breakfast buyers” were also generally more enthusiastic for the franchise than other consumers.

Interestingly, desktop impressions proved twice as likely to drive “breakfast buyers’” visits compared to mobile.

The chart below shows where these customers were going elsewhere in the industry. A few trends here reflect recent results. McDonald’s, which enjoys 25 percent of its business during the breakfast daypart, remains a top player for the occasions, even with recent slowdowns (shows how important it is to reignite those sales). The Burger King bar also lends credence to the chain’s recent directive to boost business with subscription coffee services and menu innovation.

Some random figures to think about when marketing: “Breakfast buyers” are big snackers who are 61 percent more likely to enjoy Debbie brand desserts, as well as 51 percent more likely to buy LAY’S chips and 31 percent more likely to pick up Breyers ice cream. They’re 32 percent more likely to drive a full-size SUV, especially a Chevrolet Tahoe, which they’re 26 percent more likely to drive (I can’t explain the reason behind this). Forty percent are also more likely to have visited a Disney theme park over the last year. Of all segments, this group spent the most at Target as well, where they significantly outspent the average by 24.6 percent.

Lunchtime loyalists

Not surprisingly, this segment made 90 percent of their visits to the sandwich chain during lunch. They stopped by on weekdays 98 percent of the time. They were likely to pick a brand close to their work or home.

This group visited the restaurant more when served desktop ads. Below is the same chart from before, but this time talking about lunch behavior. Pretty even throughout. The Subway numbers probably speak to the loyalty notion. Guests can, at times, be more segment than brand loyal. In other words, they pick a sandwich concept and stick by it. But they’re not unwilling to hop around for other items.

And into the spending habits: 42 percent are more likely to drive a large SUV. Nineteen percent are more likely to be behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer (again, I can’t explain why).

Between meals, a few partialities stood out. “Lunchtime loyalists” were 42 percent more likely to get their caffeine fix at Starbucks and 29 percent more likely to reach for a Coca-Cola. Forty-eight percent were more likely to purchase “salty snacks” and 24 percent were more likely to buy Pepperidge Farm snacks. Of all the segments, “lunchtime loyalists” spent the most at Nordstrom, a figure 61 percent higher than the national average. They also shop less frequently than average at Amazon.

Primetime patrons

These guys stopped by the sandwich franchise 95 percent of the time for dinner. They were just as likely to dine on weekdays as weekends. They gravitated toward single locations in a convenient neighborhood.

This segment responded positively to CTV ads when compared to other groups. They were 40 percent more likely to visit the restaurant after seeing a CRV ad than a mobile one.

For this graph, Burger King took its highest percentage of shoppers so far. Also, just seems like Chick-fil-A is impervious to dayparts, consumer segments, and everything else. Rock solid across.

About those other results: Once again, this group seems to like large vehicles, with 27 percent more likely to be found behind the wheel of a Chevy Tahoe. Unique to the concept, though, this group was 14 percent more likely to drive a Jeep Wrangler. They’re also 13 percent more likely to be beer enthusiasts (it is dinner, after all), and, when not drinking alcohol, 19 percent more likely to buy Minute Maid brand juices. This segment visits Amazon more than any other, but spends 6.4 percent less than average.


These diners visited the sandwich shop on Saturday or Sunday 35 percent of the time. Much less frequent than during the week. They were less likely than the average to consider themselves healthy food eaters. They also, sensibly, stayed loyal to a location near their house.

Desktop video ads resonated the most with “weekenders.” They were 50 percent more likely to inspire a visit. Just a guess, but perhaps this has to do with people not watching videos with the sound on at work.

The weekend graph is pretty spread out.

Yes, an SUV rose to the top. On the road, the “weekenders” were 31 percent more likely to drive a Toyota4Runner and 18 percent more likely to own a Dodge Ram 1500. Additionally, this group visits Walmart 19 percent more than the average and spent 16.4 percent more.

Devoted Diners

These loyal guests aren’t location specific. They visited multiple locations of the same franchise, often while traveling away from home. They don’t care about the daypart, day, or anything else.

When exposed to a desktop ad, “devoted diners,” are nearly six times more likely to visit than any other segment. When they see a mobile ad, they are almost three times more likely to stop by.

What this says is, if you can identify your core guest, all you have to do is speak to them. They’ll do the rest.

This group averaged close to three times as many visits in a 110-day period as the next-most loyal group. Fittingly, “devoted diners’ are devoted to quick service in general, visiting other brands 51 percent more than the average.

Once again, Chick-fil-A is just cruising along. McDonald’s has shown strong in most of these categories as well.

We also have our first non-truck or SUV winner. “Devoted diners” are 38 percent more likely to be behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang, and 11 percent more likely overall to purchase a new luxury vehicle.



Here were some key points, per Viant.

  • With location and transaction data, alongside machine learning capabilities, [quick-serve] marketers can segment their customers to better personalize advertising and ultimately drive more spend.
  • Not all diners respond to the same types of media. Depending on the segment you’re trying to reach, it might make sense to lean heavier on CTV ads versus mobile ads.
  • Desktop impressions are twice as likely to drive the breakfast buyers segment’s visits compared to mobile
  • The lunchtime loyalists segment love their big vehicles—they are 42 percent more likely to drive an SUV to pick up their favorite foods.
  • The primetime patrons segment responds positively to CTV ads when compared to other segments—they are 38 percent more likely to visit a shop after seeing a CTV ad than desktop video ad.
  • Desktop video ads resonate the most among weekend diners—they are 50 percent more likely to lead to a visit than other ad formats.
  • When devoted diners are exposed to a mobile ad, they are almost three-times more likely to stop by the sandwich shop.



Fast Food, Marketing & Promotions, Story