Keep them coming back: Making the most of Quick Service Burgers 

Shawn Darcy | August 30, 2019

“I love the simplicity of a fast food burger. Gourmet burgers should come from a sit down restaurant, not a fast food joint.  I love the consistency of a fast food burger as well. I know the burger is always going to taste the same.” - Male, 221

The burger is a quick service staple across the country. It probably comes as no surprise it is one of the leading claimed purchases Millennials make when choosing to eat at a quick service establishment. For some, it even brings back sentimental childhood memories. “I love the nostalgia that eating the burger brings. I remember it being a treat as a kid, so it made it very exciting. I still remember that excitement.” - Female, 30. While we have a grasp on why people eat burgers at quick service establishments, are there factors which might be steering younger generations away from burgers? 

"I love the nostalgia that eating the burger brings. I remember it being a treat as a kid, so it made it very exciting. I still remember that excitement." - Female, 30

First and foremost, it should be noted that 78% of consumers claim they plan to eat the same amount, or even more, quick service burgers in the future. Not too bad, considering 53% of consumers claim they have had at least one beef meal at a quick service restaurant within the last month.2 But what about the 22% who plan on eating fewer burgers? Is there an opportunity to enhance the burger eating experience to maintain or grow market share? 

You may be questioning why a restaurant operator should care about a relatively small percentage who say they plan to eat quick service burgers less often in the future. While 22% doesn’t represent the majority of Millennial diners, the QSR and fast casual burger industry represents approximately 5.4 billion dollars in sales.2 Finding ways to keep those diners from wanting to eat fewer burgers could result in a large positive impact on the industry.  

To unwrap this opportunity, the Beef Checkoff surveyed 970 respondents, including 216 who specifically claimed to want to eat burgers less often in the future. When we asked those respondents why they might be thinking about eating burgers less often, the majority claimed they simply did not want to eat as many quick service burgers moving forward. Some mentioned swapping beef burgers for other items on the menu, such as chicken, and a few mentioned upgrading their burger choice to pricier options. 

When consumers were specifically asked about why they are eating less quick service meals, a few key themes jumped out: health and budget restrictions. These insights are best reflected through the consumers themselves:

  • “…Now that I am married, my husband and I cook every night to save money.” – Female, 27
  • “Because it's unhealthy and I'm not a teenager where my body can handle all sorts of food. I'm trying to become an adult and eat better and take better care of myself.” - Male, 23 

Many admitted they didn’t feel quick service restaurants were necessarily the answer if they were trying to be healthy. “When choosing fast food, health is not usually a concern. It's more about convenience for me.” – Female, 31

The most meaningful part of this research came when asking consumers what the quick service restaurant industry could do to encourage diners to eat the same amount or more burgers going forward. Interestingly, nutrition was not the top driver in enticing future purchases, showcasing freshness/quality of the meat ranked highest. Offering leaner beef, healthier side options, lower prices and providing safety information were also secondary drivers.

When we asked diners for advice on how quick service burgers could be better many brought up quality:

  • “Stop sacrificing quality to save costs.” - Male, 32
  • “The meat needs to be better quality. There should be no question about whether the meat is real or fake.” - Female, 27

As you can see, consumers mentioned focusing on freshness and quality as their top pieces of advice for quick service operators. This led to a clear direction on ways to encourage Millennial diners to continue to eat quick service burgers: focus on freshness and quality assurance with consumers and offering more nutritious balanced options, where applicable, on a secondary basis.  

  1. Fast Food Burgers Research; Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment; August 2016 – Quotes are consumers reactions to survey questions from fast food burger activity and are not meant to reflect any position of the Beef Checkoff, they should be simply viewed as research insights
  2. 2018 Foodservice Volumetric Study (Technomic)