QSR Industry Trends

QSR Industry Trends in Personalization

QSRs have access to a huge volume of customer data, but many restaurants and chains don’t fully leverage it. This presents a huge missed opportunity for chains who can leverage this data to create meaningful buying experiences for diners. Failing to meet customers’ expectations likely means you’re losing their business.

In their 2024 Phygital Index Report, Tillster found that 33% of the 1000 quick-serve and fast casual diners they surveyed chose not to order from a QSR because the ordering experience lacked personalization (up from 21% in 2023.) And the majority of respondents – over two-thirds of diners – felt frustrated with offers that aren’t relevant based on their past orders or preferences. 

The changes in diner expectations combined with this new trove of data have spurred some exciting new trends. We’ll take a close look at them here and provide some sweet and savory examples of how your favorite quick service restaurants are leveraging technology to better serve customers and sell more food.

What is the QSR Industry?

QSR is an acronym for “quick service restaurant”. It includes restaurants that provide rapidly prepared (e.g., “fast”) food with minimal or no table service. QSR chains prioritize speed, affordability, and convenience. 

Made famous by the likes of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s, the industry has expanded to include fast-casual restaurants like Panera Bread and Chipotle, which offer higher quality ingredients than their old-school counterparts. The QSR industry is enormous, with U.S. growth projected to reach $454.3 billion by 2030

Examples of QSR Companies Utilizing Personalization

QSR companies are embracing data for personalization and to better serve customers in many creative ways. Here are a few famous examples:  

  • McDonald’s: The golden arches, a.k.a., McDonald’s started out as a small drive-in barbecue and is now the penultimate QSR. McDonald’s has made huge strides in the digital space, investing in their mobile app and mobile ordering and installing digital menu boards so they can personalize messaging and diner interactions.  
  • Dunkin’: The popular coffee and donut chain has embraced digital selling through innovative influencer partnerships. For example, they created a signature drink with TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, then invited customers to pre-order it for pick up. As a result, the Dunkin’ app enjoyed a 57% increase in downloads.
  • Taco Bell: Known for its Mexican-inspired fare, Taco Bell has successfully deployed digital-only concepts and subscription models like the “Taco Lover’s Pass,” a promo where customers paid $10 to receive a taco a day for an entire month.
  • Panera Bread: This fast-casual chain has also leveraged subscription models (a trend we call out, below). For example, for $15 a month, their “Unlimited Sip Club” opens the floodgates of tasty beverages by allowing subscribers to get as many fountain, coffee, or tea drinks as they can consume. There’s even an annual subscription version for $119/year. It’s a promo meant to get people into the store more frequently.

Quick Service Restaurant Industry Trends in Personalization

QSR tech trends for 2024 tend to focus on improving omnichannel journeys overall. For example, many QSRs use apps to engage with customers so they can gather more data – all for the betterment of personalization. Here’s a list of the trends you should know about. 

Trend 1: Omnichannel Personalization

QSRs are using data from all available customer touchpoints including mobile apps, loyalty programs, and in-store interactions to create more relevant experiences for customers. Relevant, in the context of QSR, involves things like personalized food suggestions and targeted coupons (e.g., get a free coffee with that donut). Automated personalization engines help scale this approach by using customer interactions and data in real-time to better tailor messaging and offers.

Jack in the Box is embracing this exact strategy, leveraging the promise of digital ordering so they can better personalize the experience for their diners. The company moved its ordering system to within its own brand ecosystem, including a custom ordering site and hybrid apps. This made the digital ordering process much easier for customers since it enabled Jack in the Box to personalize suggestions and incentives in physical stores and for delivery orders.

Trend 2: Hyper-Targeted Dayparting

Dayparting, which is a form of hyper-targeting that lets QSRs customize content based on time of day, region, season, and other time-based criteria is another hot trend. QSRs use data analytics to effectively daypart messages and offers, combining it with customer behavior day in a “hyper-targeted” approach that allows restaurants to dynamically adjust their digital menu boards and promotions. 

One example: McDonald’s has experimented with digital menu boards that change offerings depending on the weather or the time. Displayed menu items become more obvious and relevant in a given moment, which can increase sales (e.g., you’re more likely to order a hot chocolate on a snowy afternoon versus a cold soda). When executed well, digital menu boards can boost sales by as much as 38%, according to one report. They’re a powerful way to personalize experiences in physical spaces.

Trend 3: App-Driven Insights and Engagement

QSRs are increasingly using branded apps as ordering tools. This adds convenience and accessibility for customers while providing a wealth of customer data in return. Apps collect valuable information on individual and collective consumer behavior including insight on popular (and less popular) menu items and peak ordering times. 

Consider a local bubble tea shop, “Boba Bliss,” has an app for mobile ordering. A customer who always orders the Dragon Fruit tea with rainbow boba through the app could get suggestions for similar fruity flavors they might enjoy, like Lychee or Passion Fruit. Boba Bliss may also realize that the rainbow boba is unexpectedly popular, so they can order more stock and also promote it more prominently in their various campaigns.

Trend 4: Gamification of Self-Service Experiences

Gamification, which introduces elements of video games (rewards, challenges, points, etc.) into the online purchase process is gaining popularity with QSRs. Interactive elements like targeted rewards that can be unlocked based on order value, time-limited offers, and slot-machine style games increase engagement and boost app downloads. They also fuel more orders by turning the routine task of placing an order into an entertaining experience.

Burger King’s “Whopper Lust” is a fun example of this. Placed on self-service kiosks, the game let customers interact with a digital slot machine-style feature for a chance to win discounts, free menu items, or special promotions. It’s an approach that makes buying a meal fun while introducing diners to new items and options they may love. 

Trend 5: Subscription Models for Customer Loyalty

QSRs are experimenting with subscription-based loyalty programs to encourage frequent visits and boost customer retention. These models offer customers unlimited or discounted access to certain menu items for a fixed monthly or annual fee.

As we touched on above, Panera Bread’s “Unlimited Sip Club” is an example of a QSR subscription model. According to QSR magazine, younger consumers including Gen Z and millennials, are very open to paid restaurant subscriptions. Data from one loyalty program vendor revealed that a low-cost monthly beverage pass of about $7/month increases lifetime customer value by over 160%. 

Trend 6: Autonomous Delivery Systems

Drones, robots, and self-driving cars delivering food is the most Jetson’s QSR trend for 2024.  Most of these tools are still in the testing stages and only available for local delivery, but don’t be surprised if you see someone’s El Pollo Loco order hovering above your head if you’re in the delivery radius of one of ten El Pollo Loco restaurants in Southern California. 

Companies like DoorDash and Wendy’s are testing autonomous delivery technology. DoorDash recently partnered with Wing to allow customers in Christiansburg, VA to order select items from Wendy’s menu. Right now, they’re focused on short-distance, small capacity deliveries, but who knows what the future will bring? These technologies promise to reduce delivery times and costs while offering customers a tech-forward and, let’s face it, incredibly fun delivery experience.

How Can a Personalization Platform Elevate the QSR Customer Experience?

You need data to effectively connect every customer to contextually relevant offers and experiences – like offering someone a coupon for a free shake on their birthday when they’re in proximity to a restaurant or suggesting meatless meal options to a vegetarian who logs into your app. This is what Monetate was built for.

Monetate can help QSRs leverage their wealth of data to enhance customer interactions across the entire spectrum of digital and physical QSR touchpoints: kiosks, apps, websites, drive-thrus, and more. Monetate’s automated personalization platform uses AI and machine learning to make this possible, providing interactive suggestions based on the data you work so hard to collect. For example:

  • Suggest a drink that pairs well with a customer’s meal 
  • Greet a diner by name and provide a list of items they love when they log into a kiosk
  • Trigger emails based on actions like cart abandonment or local events
  • Make menu recommendations based on what’s happening in the day, week, or month 

Hyper relevant personalization is becoming the norm. Customers expect it and they respond to it. Take Monetate client Waitrose, a UK grocer, who used Monetate’s personalization engine to bring their renowned in-store personalization to their digital channels. Waitrose used AI-driven personalization to customize recipe recommendations and saw a 66.8% lift in engagement on their homepage. 

Imagine how powerful personalized content like menu recommendations and individualized offers can be when they’re tied to specific data points like order history, time of day or weather conditions. With Monetate, you get industry-leading personalization that uses real-time data, AI, and automation to deliver the kind of QSR experiences customers love.