Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans unwittingly changed their eating habits and turned to fast-food restaurants and third-party delivery apps more often than they ever have before. Drive-thrus and delivery apps gave consumers a safer way to order their food since there would be limited contact required for all parties involved. CNBC reported that from March through August of 2020, a sudden and unexpected surge in drive-thru lines increased the amount of time people had to wait for their food by 29.8 seconds. While 30 seconds may seem trivial, it can permanently alter a consumer’s experience and push them to try a drive thru that they deem as faster and more efficient.  

With new variants of the virus emerging, constraining our attempts to return to normal, quick-service restaurants and franchisees can use this time to familiarize themselves with the way consumer preferences have shifted as it relates to meal planning. One way to do this is to use digital insights platforms to uncover deep, meaningful consumer insights.  Here are a few steps quick-service and fast-casual dining restaurants can take to understand changing consumer preferences and ultimately increase profitability:

Learn How Different Ordering Platforms Affect the Customer Journey

Third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats, GrubHub, and DoorDash have entirely changed consumers’ food ordering habits as they eliminate the need for consumers to call restaurants to place their order. Additionally, fast-food restaurants are increasingly offering new ways to order food such as third-party apps or allowing customers to order directly from their own website or app. The integration of these new ordering methods has significantly changed the consumer experience and it would behoove restaurant executives to gather insights from the consumer’s perspective to better understand the changes in the customer experience journey.

Restaurants can use digital insights platforms to capture authentic insights as their customers order food through third-party apps or on their own website/app. Through mobile screen capture videos, consumers can share their experiences using delivery services as they order their food and narrate their thoughts and feelings throughout the process. Mobile screen capture videos, along with voice-over narrations, allow industry executives the opportunity to capture and observe the consumer experience in real-time.

These videos can help ascertain details like how consumers review menu items, why they choose their meal and how they navigate the checkout process. Furthermore, mobile ethnographies allow restaurant executives to hear and see the full experience of customers ordering food, from the moment they start their search for a restaurant, to placing their order, to the moment they receive it or pick it up. No matter which method is employed, the insights that result from these studies will ultimately paint a clearer picture for quick-service industry executives to better understand consumers’ evolving behaviors and preferences.  

Use Insights to Advance Messaging Tactics for Campaigns

Most marketing professionals know the value of message testing to understand better how consumers react to different campaigns or products. However, only basing decisions on survey results is not wise, as they offer little to no context on reactions or sentiment. Instead, to get the most authentic feedback during message testing, restaurant executives would be best served in leveraging video-based message testing.

Video-based message testing allows businesses to capture consumers’ most honest feedback as this is typically conducted in the comfort of the consumers home. In asking the consumer to read concepts out loud and provide a verbal response while on video, restaurant executives can gauge their gut reactions, context shared, tone of voice, sentiment and body language. AI technologies like facial recognition, sentiment analysis and keyword spotting can assist restaurateurs in understanding how consumers perceive messaging and copy before it’s published on a broader scale. This helps restaurant executives effectively execute marketing campaigns to an audience they know will be receptive.

Understand the Customer’s Daily Routine

Many fast-food companies are aware of who their target demographics are. However, to develop a deeper relationship with customers, they need to understand how they behave, how they make choices, and what their daily routines are. Video Diary studies are a type of mobile ethnography that can be used to uncover behavioral data and can help restaurateurs reveal how meal planning plays a role in consumers’ daily lives. Similar to message testing, this interaction can be recorded from the comfort of the participant’s home, allowing them to answer questions and capture the meaningful moments in the consumer journey. Executives should ask questions to identify why customers selected their food, any frustrations experienced during the ordering process and how often they eat throughout the day.

Leveraging digital insights platforms is the best way to learn customers’ evolving preferences as it relates to dining at or ordering from fast food establishments. Whether it’s through video-based message testing, mobile ethnographies or mobile screen capture videos, restaurateurs now have unparalleled access to their consumer. They can gather their customer’s most honest feedback with respect to their experiences on restaurant websites and/or third-party apps, as well as learn their customer’s new meal preferences and daily habits. Armed with this detailed information, executives can confidently change the way their restaurants operate and ensure those changes are in services of their customer’s evolved preferences.

Nihal Advani is CEO of QualSights, an immersive insights platform that empowers brands, consulting firms, and agencies to reveal life’s meaningful moments and generate authentic insights from consumers anywhere in the world.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology