Burgers Helping Casual Dining Close Gap With QSRs

CHICAGO — A battle for lunch visits is occurring between casual-dining and quick-service restaurants (QSRs), and the weapon of choice between these contenders is America’s all-time favorite restaurant food: burgers.

According to The NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking, which provides omni-channel, receipt-based information from the same consumers over time, burgers have helped casual-dining restaurants increase their lunch visits by closing the price gap with QSRs.

Burgers — of which 8.9 billion servings were ordered at restaurants and foodservice outlets as of the year ending in June 2015 — can meet a wide variety of restaurant customers’ needs, from simple and classic to high-end and gourmet. Among the chief reasons burgers have become a utility food and are heavy artillery in the battle for lunch visits are: their perpetual popularity, affordability, flexibility and their ability to provide a beef menu item while offsetting higher beef costs, according to NPD.

Burgers have been able to level the playing field for casual-dining restaurants based on price. For example, the average price of a burger at casual dining is $9.02 vs. $5.62 at fast casual. However, the gap closes because fries typically come with a burger order at casual dining whereas they need to be purchased separately at fast casual. The price of adding fries at a fast-casual restaurant adds on an average of $2.89 to the check, based on Checkout Tracking research.

Consumers also factor in the value of a full-service, sit-down lunch meal, which compensate for the slightly higher burger price at casual-dining restaurants, NPD research shows.

Burger servings ordered at casual dining were up 3 percent in the year ending June 2015 compared to a year ago. Burgers were also the segment’s only menu category to grow in servings. In contrast, burger servings ordered at QSRs were flat, according to CREST, NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research.

Burgers did in fact help casual-dining restaurants gain lunch traffic in the year ending June 2015, as lunch visits increased by 2 percent in the period. This was the segment’s first traffic increase at lunch in five years. QSR lunch visits increased by 1 percent in the period compared to one year ago, according to CREST data.

“It is an effective strategy on the part of casual-dining and other full-service restaurants to menu more burger items,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Successful casual-dining operators offer burgers that meet the tastes of their customers and are priced competitively. As a result, they gain lunch visitors.”

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