Second to None
Second to None
Second to None
Second to None

From Fast-Food To Fast-Casual: A Shift In Customer Preference-Part Two

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Found in:    Restaurants

This is the second and final installment of  ‘Fast-Food To Fast Casual: A Shift In Customer Preference.’ The first part of this post can be accessed by clicking here


When comparing the experience of McDonald’s or Burger King with Five Guys or In-N-Out Burger, the question arises of whether there is space for a middle ground. Can a fast-food brand remain adherent to the traditional values and methods of engagement yet still thrive in the current climate of the industry? This can be a dangerous path for fast-food brands to walk because most do not have the brand identity or reach of a powerhouse McDonald’s. The yellow arches will always be standing across the world due to their massive size, but what about similar-yet-smaller brands like Sonic or Jack-in-the-Box? These two brands provide an experience more in tune with McDonald’s than In-N-Out, and thus customers are choosing them less. The average Temkin Experience Rating in 2016 for fast-food brands was 71%, and both Sonic and Jack-in-the-Box registered a 70% rating, positioning them just below average with a 51st overall ranking. However, the more telling statistic is the trend from the 2015 to the 2016 report. While Jack-in-the-Box did marginally improve their rating with a two percent increase, Sonic’s score plummeted ten percent in just one year. This dramatic drop illustrates the importance of consistently optimizing the Customer Experience for fast-food institutions. Those brands that do not understand this transition of consumer preferences are at risk of a diminished perception and share of the customer base.

The goal of any organization in this space should be to follow the Five Guys/In-N-Out Burger model; not necessarily giving up on attracting new customers entirely, but focusing most efforts on creating customer advocates. The best way to accomplish this is to have unbiased and unfiltered ways to measure daily customer interactions. Mystery shopping, voice of customer feedback and compliance audit programs are used by the top brands in the industry to gather this information, and they can serve as the key to figuring out how to optimize the Customer Experience of your brand. It is also important to realize that even already high-performing brands can benefit from these programs. For example, through a benchmarking study, Second To None has determined that In-N-Out Burger could earn an average 175% financial return of investment of a single advocate, while Five Guys could earn a 300% financial return of investment of a single advocate. These two companies have risen to the top of the industry because of their ability to measure customer preferences, adjust their methods, and deliver the exact specified value as determined by their Customer Experience research programs.

After their huge decrease in customer satisfaction, Sonic is adjusting their methodology, but it is unclear if they are doing the right things to provide the right value, like In-n-Out Burger and Five Guys. Sonic’s CEO stated, “Going forward, our intention is to use platforms such as the recently launched Lil’ Grillers, and do this to meet the objectives of offering new and differentiated products… give the consumer compelling price point which this offer does and then drive relevance across multiple day parts.” Rather than focusing on employee engagement, product quality or the in-store experience, Sonic is instead optimizing menu variability, speed of service and convenience. However, Second To None’s benchmarking studies suggest that unlike Sonic’s recent Lil’ Grillers campaign, brands in the Jack-in-the-Box/Sonic space should focus on attentiveness and professionalism of the staff, atmosphere of the restaurant, overall value of the food (freshness and taste) and cleanliness/décor of the restaurant in order to encourage the creation of brand advocates. Fast food brands that are able to adjust their Customer Experience and employee training programs to improve these aspects will find that more customers will come back to there stores, and also recommend these brands to their friends and families.

Once your organization has dedicated itself to become a Customer Experience industry leader, establishing a mystery shopping program and voice of customer feedback survey initiative are the first steps. It is important to find a mystery shopping vendor with enough experience to read the tides of the industry, as well as technologically equipped to handle the massive amount of data collected and transform it into actionable reports. This information can unlock insights regarding individual employee interactions all the way to over-arching inefficiencies with your organization’s ability to deliver the desired value to the consumer. The fast-food industry is undergoing a major shift, and it is important that brands in this space are aware of this stark transition. Brands that are unaware and unequipped to meet this change will witness their customer base walk right into the doors of their competitors. Focus on the quality of the food you serve, as well as the ability of your employees to improve upon this value with above and beyond service. Understanding what your customers desire is the first step to delivering this value and shifting your brand from a fast-food establishment to a fast-casual restaurant.

Second To None empowers customer-centric brands to deliver consistent, intentional and authentic consumer experiences.

We adeptly design and manage mystery shopping, compliance, engagement and voice of customer solutions grounded in strategic relevance, program integrity and actionable insights. Our solutions are developed on the basis of solid research and statistical science. We achieve success through a relentless focus on quality and innovation, consultative relationships and a talented team of professional associates.