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

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

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Found in:    Restaurants

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of a fast food restaurant? Most likely, it is a disengaged, distracted teenager in a 70’s style uniform, probably putting the wrong condiments on your sandwich. Since the fast-food revolution has spread across the United States, and the world in general, it has been a haven where the primary value provided to consumers is the speed of service and cheap prices. However, as brands like Chipotle or Panera Bread began to capture a larger portion of this customer base, we have seen a shift in customer preferences from fast-food to fast-casual atmospheres. Customers no longer want the traditional McDonald’s model for this industry; we still desire relatively cheap prices and quick service, but are willing to pay a little more and wait longer for a better overall Customer Experience, meaning higher quality of the food, more engaged service, improved in-store aesthetics, etc. As customer preferences shift from fast-food to fast-casual, brands in this space must be able to measure and adjust their Customer Experience platform to provide this new value.

The first step of providing this value is understanding why these customer opinions are changing in the first place. According to the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings, traditional powerhouses McDonald’s and Burger King tied for the lowest score within the industry, receiving a rating of 65%, so what happened? The answer is relatively simple: there are better tasting, higher quality, and more prevalent options within the same price point. Brands like Five Guys have changed the game by providing a great value for a similar price to that of McDonald’s or Burger King. Customer Experience expert Dave Wieneke stated, “They’ll provide free peanuts, free sandwich toppings resulting in 250,000 different choices to make your ideal meal.” By providing an overall better product, as well as a customizable menu that remains simple, Five Guys is a great example of how understanding and providing a desired value to your customers can result in sustained growth for your brand. Even though they may not be as quick or as cheap as the traditional fast food restaurant, the atmosphere of their brick-and-mortar locations, as well as their insistence on delivering the exact kind of sandwich customers desire illustrates the experience that customers in this space are gravitating towards.

Five Guys is a great example of this shift because they are a brand that is built entirely on the quality of the experience and the value they provide, and the way this makes their customers feel. Rather than focusing their efforts on attracting as many new customers to walk in their stores as possible, Five Guys’ methodology revolves around perfecting each already existing individual interaction. In a study conducted by MarketForce, Janet Eden-Harris said, “Five Guys does zero advertising but by delivering consistently great Customer Experience, they’re able to build a word-of-mouth buzz that continues to bring new customers through the door.” And once they get you in the store, the service they provide further cements the perceived value for the customer. “Food portions get ‘over delivered’ with a third more fries in every container than they can hold, so the bags holding your meal are stained with peanut oil before they get back to the table,” Wieneke revealed. Generally, people like eating the ‘extra’ fries that fall into the bag because it makes you feel like you are getting free food. This is a key part of the Five Guys experience because it is symbolic of the extra mile that the brand is willing to go to satisfy their customers. By focusing on converting their existing customers into advocates, Five Guys has captured way more new customers than any marketing strategy or promotion could have done. They may not be as quick as the McDonald’s drive-thru, but because customers feel as though they are getting top-quality product, service and value, they not only return but also bring their friends and family.

To replicate Five Guys’ success in creating brand advocates, your brand must figure out a way to optimize employee engagement. Because this fast-casual model no longer relies solely on speed and price point, those brands that can find and develop employees capable of providing great service consistently are setting themselves up for longevity and success. For too long, fast food customers were forced to deal with lackluster employee performance, and because there are now countless additional options within a similar price point, the potential of staggering losses for those brands that continue this tradition is apparent. Mystery shopping programs are a supremely effective tool for measuring employee performance, among other Customer Experience factors, used by the most successful brands within the fast-casual space. Five Guys implements a mystery shopping program, “all about amping up success, and making sure their staff have fantastic in-person customer exchanges.” (Weinke) Comparatively, another industry-leader, In-N-Out Burger, “is a company that invests a significant amount of time and effort in its employees. They are paid a substantial wage and are rigorously trained. In fact, approximately 80% of the brand’s store managers started as customer team members and rose through the ranks,” according to Stacy Perman of Bloomberg Businessweek. Both brands rank in the upper tier of Temkin’s Customer Excellence report, and not coincidentally, both have established methods of measuring, maintaining and improving excellent employee engagement. The difference that a mystery shopping program can make is evident when you compare the in-store experience of the typical McDonald’s interaction to the typical Five Guys or In-N-Out Burger interaction.


The second installment of ‘Fast-Food To Fast Casual: A Shift In Customer Preference’ was released on Thursday, June 29, 2017. You can access the conclusion of this piece by clicking here.  

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.