QSR and Fast Casual Restaurants: Your Guest Experience Feedback

In February 2017 Market Force conducted research with restaurant guests about their most recent dining experience at a QSR or fast casual restaurant. Over 11,000 US restaurant guests responded to the research, providing information about their experiences dining at 70 brands in seven different sectors. What did guests have to say?

App adoption has increased markedly. In 2015, only 11% of guests placed an order using an app. In 2017, that increased to 30%. While younger generations have overall higher app usage, the increase in app adoption spanned all age groups. In addition, 31% of all guests paid for their meal using an app.

Overall satisfaction with the dining experience varied widely by sector, with the burger sector having the lowest satisfaction ratings. In this sector, over 1 in 10 guests were dissatisfied with their experience and over 1 in 5 would not recommend the restaurant brand to a friend. In other sectors, about 1 in 10 would not recommend.

In each of the seven sectors, we identified the critical drivers of satisfaction. What matters most differs by sector—but fall into the primary categories of food quality, service speed, staff friendliness, and value received. Our lift models show a typical 80 point difference in satisfaction ratings when drivers are performed poorly vs. well.

Brand level performance is broken out for each critical driver. Brands execute very differently on the drivers—for example, in the chicken sector, 84% of guests gave Chik-fil-A a top box rating of 5 on staff friendliness. The nearest competitor, Raising Cane’s, received a 69%.

The research clearly identifies opportunities for restaurant brands to improve the guest experience—critical to increasing same store comparable sales. To learn more about the research or obtain a copy, please schedule a briefing. To learn more about how Market Force works with brands to improve the guest experience, check out the case studies below.

Five Guys Case Study Mimi's Cafe Case Study El Pollo Loco Case Study

As Chief Strategy Officer, Cheryl aligns Market Force's strategic direction with our clients' strategic objectives. She oversees the North American client base, Analytics and Insights, Winnipeg Operations and Marketing. She has a Ph.D. in social psychology and broad business experience in both private and public companies.​

Top Trends in QSR and Fast Casual

What can we expect from the QSR industry in 2017? A strong and improving economy over the past five years has restarted the restaurant industries’ growth engine. Money is flowing back into the space to fund expansion, growth, M&A, and revitalization initiatives, with Restaurant Brand International’s purchase of Popeyes as the most recent example.

We predict five major trends will help fuel the new growth in the QSR and Fast Casual:

  1. Culinary evolution. We are seeing the emergence of chef-driven fast casual concepts like Calexico, Larkburger, and Slap Fish. These culinary pioneers are pushing consumers into a wide variety of options that embrace themes of sustainability, farm to table, nutrition, and serving size proportions all while delivering exciting new flavor profiles. Hyper-local produce with onsite vegetable and herb gardens will become more prevalent, and craft sodas will become a new beverage category.
  2. Mobility and delivery services. Diners are far more likely to use mobile and delivery services to fit prepared food into their days. This opens up competition from fast casual, casual dining, and meal preparation services. Having the food you want when you want it has become the norm, and delivery from services such as Eat24, UberEATS and Grubhub have changed the way consumers connect with their favorite restaurants. Simply being conveniently available can give you an edge to claw back a few incremental visits from your valued guests.
  3. Technology advances. Apps will become increasingly important for choosing where to eat, ordering food and paying. Our new 2017 QSR research shows that adoption and use of restaurant apps has increased across all age categories, with about one-third of all consumers using apps to order and pay for food. In addition, we see increased usage of kiosks and tabletop technology.  
  4. Intense competition. There is more competition than ever for diners’ wallet share.  When faced with so much choice, many consumers are spreading their visits across a wider array of brands to diversify their experiences. In an attempt to capture as much revenue as possible, restaurants are battling back by offering meal solutions for more dayparts and snacks between meals, bolstering beverage options, and increasing their menu complexity. All of these measures create pressure within the four walls that can have the consequence of slower service and failure to meet operational standards. Operators must balance retaining consumer interest without falling into the complexity trap.
  5. Investment in CX. In the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing more information about our just-completed 2017 QSR/Fast Casual industry research. Brands invest heavily in customer experience (CX) initiatives to ensure locations deliver against the brand standards, delight their customers and grow their same store sales comps. Who’s winning the CX game? Watch for our breakout of brands that have won their customers’ loyalty in this extremely competitive space.  

Check out 2016 QSR summary infographics for these categories, and check back with us later this month for 2017 results.

Coffee & Bakery
Frozen Desserts

Slow service and rude staff ‘deterring shoppers from high street’

In a recent study conducted in the UK, Market Force found that bad customer service could be stalling a high street revival, with seven in 10 shoppers vowing never to return to a particular store because of a bad experience. (Read more about the study here.)

We found that slow service, rude staff and unavailable items are deterring shoppers from the high street amid Brexit-related price hikes and another disappointing Black Friday. In our survey of 3,000 UK adults, seven in ten respondents have had such a bad experience at a particular store in the last year alone that they vowed not to return.

The most common complaints included slow service, named by 68% of shoppers, unavailable items (52%) and unknowledgeable staff (50%). Shoppers also encountered rude staff (38%), confusing shop layouts (32%) and overly attentive staff (27%).

The online channel provides healthy competition for the high street. One third of consumers report shopping online a few times a week, while another quarter do the same once a week. With such stiff competition from both high street brands and online sites, brands must demand that their locations deliver exceptional service. There’s simply no excuse for alienating customers by not delivering on the basics.

To do that, you must measure whether staff deliver the experience you want for your brand—and you must do that in every location. Without eyes and ears in your retail stores to understand how your brand comes to life in front of customers, you remain blind to the very issues that consumers experience every day. Inspect what you expect.

If you want to discuss with us how to design measurement programs that take the pulse of every location in your estate, please reach out to us by scheduling a briefing or giving us a call at 1-877-329-9621. Our Strategic Advisory Workshops are a great way to help you and your leadership team evaluate your current measurement programs and whether they deliver the insights you need.

Read More About the Study

As Chief Strategy Officer, Cheryl aligns Market Force's strategic direction with our clients' strategic objectives. She oversees the North American client base, Analytics and Insights, Winnipeg Operations and Marketing. She has a Ph.D. in social psychology and broad business experience in both private and public companies.​

3 Areas of Focus When Fighting for Market Share–Casual Dining Industry

US casual dining restaurants enjoyed a steady growth of about 4.3% from 2011 to 2016. However, that growth is expected to slow to about 2% (IBISWorld Reports, 2016 Chain Restaurants report). Why? Because consumers want greater convenience at lower cost—and they also want high quality food. Fast casual brands have stepped into that niche and are taking market share from traditional casual dining brands.

Our newest panel research in the casual dining sector corroborates the premium placed on value. Over 9,000 consumers rated their experiences at various casual dining brands in six different sectors, including their overall satisfaction and loyalty to the brand. In every sector we measured, perception of value was a critical component of overall satisfaction and loyalty. In fact, best scoring brands in each of six sectors (listed below) had very high ratings for both value received and high quality food:

  • General Menu: Cheddar’s Scratch Chicken
  • Breakfast: Bob Evans
  • Pizza: Pizza Ranch
  • Italian: Maggiano’s
  • Steakhouse: Texas Roadhouse
  • Seafood: Pappadeux

Intense competition in this industry will continue for the next five years. Casual dining brands can remain relevant by focusing on three critical areas as they fight for market share:

  1. Menu innovation. Brands must continue to find ways to meet consumer demands for attractive menus and be aware of increasing desires to eat healthy foods. Consider using menu studies to measure impact of menu changes on satisfaction, loyalty and spend.
  2. Competent staff: The long-term trend of declining wages as a share of revenue due to the automation of the food preparation process is expected to continue, according to IBISWorld. Casual dining brands will need to continue their investments in staff—especially because part of the value proposition includes full service. If service is not exceptional, consumers will not be willing to pay a price premium. Make sure you measure the effectiveness of your training programs and your ability to engage and retain employees.
  3. Technology to deliver convenience: 37% of consumers in our research reported they had seen tablets at a casual dining restaurant and 87% of those used them. Casual dining brands can use tabletop technology to address consumers’ needs for convenience—but they must still process orders efficiently, get them to the table, and perform check backs throughout the meal. The technology itself will not ensure restaurants deliver on standards.

The restaurant business is tough. Brands must manage supply chains, labor, franchising models, and technology. In this mature market, taking share can only be done by delivering on the brand promise and expected value equation—at every location. To learn more about restaurant research and what guests experience at your brand, give us a call at 877.329.9621 or schedule a briefing below. We’d be glad to provide you with a walkthrough!

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As Chief Strategy Officer, Cheryl aligns Market Force's strategic direction with our clients' strategic objectives. She oversees the North American client base, Analytics and Insights, Winnipeg Operations and Marketing. She has a Ph.D. in social psychology and broad business experience in both private and public companies.​

Create a Restaurant Measurement System That Produces Real Results

Measurements are the key enablers to drive accountability and effective business and consumer analytics, as well as to help companies grow and strengthen their business performance. When I led a team at McDonald's that was charged with developing and implementing a world-class measurement system that centered on the critical drivers of restaurant performance and customer satisfaction, there were specific key elements/enablers that made it so effective. Let’s take a look at them.

1. Management buy-in before all else

The first and foremost step in creating a measurement system for your restaurant brand is to obtain support from senior management. Like any major initiative a company undertakes, it requires funding, people resources and management support to address any pushback within the organization regarding the need or direction of the project.

After the business case has been made and approved by senior management, you then need to create a cross-functional team that represents all of the critical segments of the business that will either be impacted or able to add value to the process design. This is critical to ensure you receive the best input on the design and structure of the measurement tools and processes. Plus, it lends credibility to the process, and helps turn those involved in the project design into advocates and supporters of the end product.


2. Set achievable and actionable metrics

The next step is to sit down with your team and ensure that the metrics or targets for the components you’re planning to evaluate possess the following characteristics:

  • Actionable – Are they in the control of the people who are being measured?
  • Realistic – Are they achievable or too far fetched?
  • Targeted – Make sure the targets are designed around the critical drivers for your business and customers’ expectations
  • Data-friendly – Data must be captured at the unit level to help determine root-causes and assist in developing effective action plans
3. Outsource the feedback gathering

Enlist quality third-party partners to help you capture and evaluate customer feedback on your brand and service, to assess in-store performance relative to your standards, and to gather employee input on their day-to-day experiences (e.g. customer satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping audits and employee commitment surveys). This is typically a more cost-effective way to capture the data versus trying to do it internally, and these are professionals who do this all day every day.

4. Tap technology – don’t undertake it all yourself

Leverage technology wherever possible to capture, input and report data performance at all levels of the organization. Spend the time upfront to perfect this process because, in the long run, it will guarantee the data is captured efficiently and reported back to the appropriate people in a friendly, summarized format. Technology will also assure the reports and analytics (e.g. unit rankings, top and bottom performers, trending, etc.) are performed in a cost-efficient manner, as they can easily start eating up lots of man-hours. The other benefit is that your performance data will be available any time and any place your staff wants to access it.


5. Don’t skip the training

Once the reporting is finalized – or even alongside it – you should be developing a comprehensive training program to educate all of the people in the system on all the tools, processes and reporting and, even more importantly, making it clear how they can tap them to drive increases in performance. The key here is to communicate early and often to all of the impacted people, so they have a thorough understanding of what, why and how the new performance improvement system operates.

6. Review and review again

Lastly, it's critical that you periodically review the measurement system and processes that you decide upon to make sure they’re still current and relative. Don’t go too long without taking stock because you’ll quickly fall behind in a fast-moving industry. Any significant enhancements or changes should be implemented ASAP.

Keep in mind that developing an effective measurement system will take time and dedicated resources. It's a journey and customers may not notice the performance improvements over night, but rest assured that they will eventually take note. When approached correctly, it will be a valuable tool to help drive performance improvements at both the unit and system level.

Any organization with numerous locations spread out geographically, such as multi-location restaurant brands, needs a quality measurement system to help them measure and assess performance consistently and timely. These tools are also the key enablers that will help you react to problems quickly, determine if action plans are working and begin building an accountability culture throughout the organization.


Jerry Calabrese was responsible for a global restaurant measurement system that evaluated and helped to significantly improve the performance of 32,000 restaurants in 100+ countries in the period from 2002 to 2008. As VP of Restaurant Measurement at McDonald’s Corporation, his leadership and implementation of tools and processes were a key enabler and significant factor in the financial and operational turnaround of the company during his tenure that helped McDonald’s improve its performance and brand image during that time period.

The results are in! Market Force’s annual QSR survey

The results are in. Each year Market Force conducts a QSR panel survey across multiple categories, looking at which brands are consumer favorites and why. We conduct the survey in both the US and UK, this year surveying 10,477 and 4,565 consumers, respectively. The ranking is not just for overall favorite brands, but the survey delves into each brand’s ranking for factors such as staff friendliness, value, curb appeal, atmosphere and food quality, among others.

The study also looks at which factors are most important to consumers in each category. For example, in the pub category in the UK study, we identified six key factors that gave the biggest lift to satisfaction. Executing on all six factors resulted in an 89% lift in customer satisfaction. Furthermore, those respondents who gave a score of 5 (very satisfied) compared to a score of 4 (satisfied) were 3.6 times more likely to recommend to friends. With 36% of respondents saying new trials were driven by a recommendation by a friend or family member, clearly, executing on the key factors is critical for growing the business and the bottom line.

A theme that we see year after year is that it’s not ok to be just ok in this fiercely competitive sector. With so many choices, QSRs need to get it right to satisfy consumers, keep them coming back for more and referring the restaurant to friends. In the survey we learn what key areas QSRs in each category need to get right to delight the customer.

In this year’s surveys we also look at the influence of mobile apps, paying with digital wallets, loyalty programs, whether guests report dissatisfaction and how, how many respondents are trying new brands, and what drives new trials, among other topics.

You can find highlights of the 2015 results here. Watch for the 2016 results coming soon, or schedule a briefing and we’ll walk you through the 2016 results.

Jay Little is a Director of Strategic Relations at Market Force Information and has over 10 years’ experience working with some of the biggest brands in the UK. He oversees the team of Key Account Managers who will help your business understand the key drivers & insights that will drive the biggest ROI, either in loyalty or financial return.

Guest Recovery in the age of One Strike and You’re Out

The restaurant industry is a ‘one strike and you are out’ kind of business. If you disappoint a guest they are likely never coming back. There are just too many other options out there. Because of this brutal reality, many restaurant organizations have multiple listening posts to ensure that they are able to hear from their guests. Most concepts have guest experience surveys where a customer can take a survey and provide scoring on attributes such as their overall satisfaction, likelihood to return and likelihood to recommend the business to a friend or family member. These businesses also have live agent contact centers, either internal or outsourced, to answer guests calls for everything from rude service to simply providing the nutritional content of a specific menu item. These same services are available to resolve guest comments posted to a brand’s website. Another tool for capturing guests expressing frustration is monitoring social media venues such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp! and other social media sites. These channels are all examples of best practices for brands being available to restaurant customers.

Listening to guests across these channels is critical. Why? In the 2016 Market Force QSR/Fast Casual Consumer Preference Study, one out of every ten guests reported a disappointing experience at the restaurant that they most recently visited, and one in four did not report it. Of those who did: 

  • About 17% talked to a staff member or manager in the restaurant. Clearly, staff need to be empowered to resolve issues and make guests happy—or guests just won’t come back.
  • 13% responded using customer surveys. Providing a guest survey option is a critical channel to capture and manage complaints.
  • 2% chose to make a call to the contact center. You might think this is old-fashioned, but it’s still an important channel and requires attention.
  • 2% posted to social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. 

What is clear and critically important is how well brands recover these guests when they do complain. Ensuring that each of these listening posts includes a closed loop guest recovery process is a best practice to ensure that team members are responding to guest concerns and complaints quickly as well as being accountable to document the issue and the resolution. Included in this process should be templates for how best to respond to guests depending on the issue, standards for the timing of follow up and providing senior leadership visibility into the type and severity of problems that are surfacing at each location. If you only get one shot, it can be priceless if you can find a way to get just one more chance. Effective guest recovery is a must have in today’s hyper-competitive restaurant industry.

Brad Christian is a Managing Director at Market Force and consults with retail and restaurant executives to design cost-effective customer experience measurement programs that help them protect their brand's reputation, delight guests and drive greater unit economics.  

Is your menu to blame for stalled or declining customer satisfaction scores?

A menu that delivers results to the bottom line is a defining element of successful restaurant chains. But what if your menu has lost its mojo? Consumers’ tastes are changing, driven by the upswing in new fast casual and independent brands that are expanding flavor profiles to meet the demands of modern consumers. In this new frontier, what once had customers raving can now leave your brand looking like a ‘food dinosaur’ to hordes of self-proclaimed foodies on the go.

So what’s the secret to a rock-star menu? Innovation is key, but ultimately, customer data is the secret to driving menus back into elite status.  When evaluating your menu, it’s imperative to understand the performance of each menu subcategory (entrees, sides, desserts, etc.), as well as to consider how the menu items fare across a barrage of attributes, including everything from satisfaction and craveability to presentation and portioning. When combined with financial metrics regarding penny-profit-per item, and menu-mix ratio the data tells a clear and compelling story about what must change.

This research approach is intuitive, yet many brands still get caught up in the trap of running from LTO to LTO trying to breathe life into a menu that has gone stale.  Recently, Market Force Information® helped a casual dining brand improve its customer satisfaction by more than 37% in 18 months. It’s insane, we know, but these changes were largely attributed to continuous research and action against a failing menu. During this same time period, food-quality scores jumped more than 29%, a remarkable gain that put food back into the spotlight for the customers of this brand.

The art of asking the right questions, and engaging a critical mass of customers is a great way to get your menu back on track. And with it, regaining consumer confidence, and igniting the fires that drive customer satisfaction and repeat visits. If you’re involved in the restaurant industry, consider following Market Force’s Restaurant Insights page for more research highlights and to join discussions about the latest news and trends: https://www.linkedin.com/company/restaurant-insights-from-market-force.


Scott Griffith is Vice President, Executive Business Strategist at Market Force Information. Scott consults with client executives to design strategies that foster growth for companies in early stage ventures through IPO and beyond.

Schedule a Briefing

To discuss your needs for improving performance for your multi-location brand, give us a call. We’d be happy to discuss best practices for measuring the customer experience and compliance to brand standards, using analytics to understand what matters most and the ROI for change, and technology solutions that integrate large quantities of data on one single platform. We look forward to a great discussion!

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