What's Keeping QSR Leaders In The Lead

With change comes opportunity. And no one has taken advantage of these new opportunities better than large quick-service restaurants (QSR). That’s why it’s important to look at what QSRs are doing. To see how they’re driving traffic, boosting sales and taking advantage of new consumer behaviors. By understanding what these chains are doing today, how they’re staying relevant and top of mind with consumers, will help uncover opportunities to win tomorrow.

Reinventing mealtime.

Consumers are visiting restaurants at different times these days. Whether that’s because of social distancing concerns or because of changing routines, more and more people are eating outside of “normal” hours. This has led way to a renewed focus on snacking.

As a way to address this shift, many operators have added promotions during off-peak hours to help drive traffic and profits during times that are traditionally slower.

Just look at these large chains: Burger King® focused on snacking with its $3 Snack Box, and Taco Bell® has “Happier Hour” targeting consumers to visit at off-peak hours. Dunkin’® has also gotten into the game with a reinvented classic, the “Chicken, Bacon and Cheese Croissant Stuffers.”

Large chains are creating new, crave-able foods in a time when everyone needs comfort. It gives consumers a reason to walk in the door or swing by the drive-thru.

Takeaway: Consider shifting mealtimes and snacking offers to drive traffic, increase ticket averages and boost sales.

Taking off-premise and your business to new places.

When it comes to where people are eating, off-premise has never been more popular or necessary. Before the coronavirus pandemic, 71 percent of adults were ordering off-premise. Today, that number is up to 90 percent. The drive-thru has seen the largest share of off-premise traffic, at 45 percent.1

Whether it’s takeout, drive-thru, curbside pickup, third-party or direct delivery service, the larger chains are taking advantage of these options and avenues to serve their customers and expand sales.

Chick-fil-A® optimized its drive-thru and became so fast and efficient that there’s talk of its process being used as a model for future rapid coronavirus testing. Some have even jokingly said Chick-fil-A® should run the Department of Motor Vehicles.2

Shake Shack® is opening a drive-thru operation with three lanes, including one specifically dedicated to mobile ordering.3

Even McDonald’s® is doing curbside in addition to its drive-thru, proving it’s something everyone can do to drive business and safely serve guests.

And then there’s online ordering. Whether directly through the restaurant or through a third-party source, like DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats, online activity is booming.

Takeaway: Optimize your drive-thru to offer faster service, a curbside pick-up option and/or a third party or in-house delivery solution.

Menu innovation is innovating off-premise.

In the current work-from-learn-in-and-do-everything-at-home situation, it’ll come as no surprise that consumers are looking for reasons to get out of the house. And a trip to their favorite restaurant is just the excuse they need.

But to keep them coming back, restaurants have to find creative and innovative ways to offer the variety consumers crave.

That’s why Jack in the Box® added new handheld options, like the Tiny Tacos and Popcorn Chicken, to its menu. These new additions were so popular, they not only drove traffic, but there’s talk of more options on the horizon.4

Look at Del Taco®. The chain launched Del’s Dollar Menu and Epic Burritos. With 15 items available for $1, Del’s Dollar Menu is enjoying great success in the drive-thru. And “Epic Burritos” is becoming an operator’s dream and delivery home run with its higher quality, larger portions and higher price point. By pushing higher check averages, Del Taco found a way to give families options and increase same-store sales by 4.1 percent in the latest quarter.5

And then there’s Baskin-Robbins® and Taco Bell®. They took a more creative approach to get into people’s homes by creating DIY kits that gave their customers a more interactive, at-home dining experience.

Takeaway: Be creative and innovative — offer variety and keep your consumers hungry for more.

Faster service. Faster results.

These days, consumers have more on their plates. (Pun intended.) They don’t have time to wait around. It’s why more and more operators are looking to speed up their service without sacrificing their quality. And it’s why operators are simplifying menus, as well as adding new technologies inside the restaurant and at their drive-thru.

Last March, McDonald’s® took some aggressive steps. The chain knew that amid the pandemic, its drive-thrus were going to be busier. So, to become more efficient, McDonald’s® simplified its operations by ending its All-Day Breakfast menu. It also cut out items that were either not selling or simply too difficult to prepare. This shift to a limited, streamlined menu allowed the staff to provide faster service to each consumer.6

Chick-fil-A® took it a step further by roping off its parking lots and keeping its doors closed to optimize the drive-thru and curbside experience.

By staying focused on takeout, delivery and, in some cases, drive-thru, operators made it easier for their employees to work faster, smarter and more safely.

Takeaway: Figure out the products and services that work for you. You don’t have to do it all. Strive for simplicity to cut down on costs and drive profits.

Make more from limited-time offers.

People love limited-time offers (LTOs). They’re exciting. They’re different. For you, they’re a great way to drive traffic. It’s easy to see why they’re popular.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, SUBWAY® was struggling. But in June, the chain dipped into its old playbook and brought back the $5 Footlong, despite protests from franchisees. At the same time, rival Jimmy John’s® launched its promotion: offering 50 percent off an eight-inch sandwich when buying another eight-inch sandwich at full price.7

The result? Jimmy John’s® all but nullified SUBWAY’s® attempt to bring consumers in by creating a comparable offer that mirrored SUBWAY’s®.

What has proven to be successful is when operators use LTOs around holidays and special occasions. Since people are already modifying their social celebrations, QSRs can easily own and become a part of the upcoming celebrations.

From offers that help customers tailgate at home to Whopper Wednesdays to ideas such as Cheese Day or a Big Game/Big Bites, keeping your LTOs specific and tied to a day or event gives operators the flexibility they need to keep it fresh, interesting and affordable.

Takeaway: Use LTOs for short-term solutions sure to drive traffic and boost sales.

Rewards programs.

These days, there’s been a new focus on rewards programs. By offering deals and promoting new menu items through pop-up alerts and notifications, a good rewards program enables operators to stay connected with consumers while keeping their brand top of mind. It’s why several restaurant chains like Wendy’s®, Taco Bell® and even Panera Bread® have either introduced new programs or upgraded existing programs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Panera Bread®, for example, with the help of its coffee subscription program, generated strong loyalty and member growth during the pandemic, helping to push “MyPanera®,” its rewards program, to over 40 million members nationwide.8

Takeaway: A good rewards program, something as simple as opting in for text messages to get the latest offers, enables operators to stay connected with consumers while keeping their brand top of mind.

Sure, the world has changed. It’s probably changed even more in the time it’s taken you to read this article. But one thing’s for certain: Change is a catalyst for opportunity. So, talk with your McCain sales representative or visit our website for ways to capture the opportunities that our current climate is serving up.

1 NPD Crest, 6 months ending August 2020.

2 Jim Sullivan, “How the Restaurant Industry Can Come out of the Pandemic Stronger than It Was,” Nation's Restaurant News, 23 June 2020

3 Nancy Luna, “Shake Shack Adding First Drive-thru Next Year,” Nation's Restaurant News, 31 July 2020

4 Joanna Fantozzi, “Jack in the Box Reports 6.6% Increase in Same-Store Sales Thanks to Check Growth and Menu Innovation,” Nation's Restaurant News, 6 August 2020, (accessed November 2, 2020)

5 Nancy Luna, “Del Taco's Diversified Menu Is Helping the Quick-Service Restaurant Brand Beat Brutal COVID Odds,” Nation's Restaurant News, 12 October 2020, (accessed November 2, 2020)

6 Jonathan Maze, “McDonald’s Franchisees Want to Make Their Smaller Menu Permanent,” Restaurant Business, 2 June 2020

7 Nancy Luna, “Don’t Make Price Promotions Your Long-Term Play for Reopening, Say Industry Watchers,” Nation's Restaurant News, 14 July 2020

8 Jonathan Maze, “Chains Make Big Investments in Their Loyalty Programs,” Restaurant Business, 22 July 2020


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