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Speed of Service Drives Fast Casual & QSR Performance

Chains that invest in speed-focus technologies and solutions are increasing overall visitation.
Angela Hanson
quick-service restaurant

LOS ALTOS, Calif. — Speed of service is a key factor in the high performance of fast casual and quick-service restaurants (QSRs), which have consistently outperformed the full-service dining segment with year-over-year visit growth every quarter since 2023.

[Read more: Food Retailers See Basket Lift With First-Party Ordering Platforms]

According to a new white paper from foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai, leading fast food chains are making significant investments in technologies and systems designed to help them serve customers quicker. Key examples include:

  • Taco Bell's Touch Display Kitchen System, which optimizes cooking operations and wait times, plus its Go Mobile restaurant format;
  • Chick-fil-A's dedicated channels for quick mobile order pickup; and
  • Wendy's experiments with generative artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of a robotic system to quickly deliver digital orders.
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Investment and speed of service can also increase overall visitation, according to the report. McDonald's to-go-only test site in Dallas, which included a lane for mobile order fulfillment via conveyor belt, had a larger share of short visits compared to other McDonald's in the area in the first quarter of 2024 plus more visits compared to average visits per venue at McDonald's in the Dallas-Fort Worth CBSA.

The success of QSR is prompting full-service restaurants to offer similar formats, particularly at times when consumers are more likely to eat on the go. Positive results for Applebee's Deer Park, N.Y., location — which focuses on To Go orders and features pickup lockers for digital orders plus limited dine-in options with no table service — indicate that takeout-focused sites could help chains increase their visit share on weekdays, particularly during the lunch rush.

[Read more: Convenience Retailers Master Foodservice Marketing]

An additional factor boosting QSR and fast casual success in 2024 may be the rising popularity of chicken-based chains such as Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane's, according to Placer.ai.

Finally, QSR and fast casual chains are also succeeding at generating seasonal visit spikes through unique limited-time offers and holiday promotions adapted to the calendar. These include Arby's two-for-$6 sandwich promotion that included two fish options during Lent and White Castle's transformation into reservation-only, "fine dining" venues for Valentine's Day dinners.

The full white paper is available here.

Headquartered in Los Altos, Placer.ai is the first platform that fully empowers professionals in retail, commercial real estate, hospitality, economic development and more to truly understand and maximize their offline activities.

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