From new drive-throughs to mobile apps: QSR trends to watch

Consumer needs are constantly changing. In order for QSRs to stay competitive and relevant, it is imperative for businesses to stay on top of consumer trends.  We’ve previously discussed how coronavirus has posed a large challenge for businesses, especially QSRs. Despite significant setbacks, QSRs have rallied and demonstrated resilience throughout the pandemic by adopting digital technology, optimizing pickup options, and more. QSRs have continued to evolve since the onset of the pandemic. In this blog article, we outline new consumer habits and highlight some of the top consumer trends in QSR – including digital transformation, increased mobile orders, expanded delivery services, and drive-throughs. 

Digital Transformation

Digital technology has revolutionized customer habits. The QSR industry experienced an increase in branded app downloads as it is an opportunity for businesses to eliminate the need for third-parties. By doing this, companies are able to cut down on fees and take full control of the customer journey. With insights on customers’ experiences, they are able to identify pain points and areas of improvement through customer complaints and feedback. According to Restaurant Business, “Chains such as Starbucks and Domino’s have proven the business case, having both demonstrated that a strong mobile app can bolster sales inside their restaurants and give customers more reason to keep coming back.” Brands are now able to provide their guests with a consistent and optimal digital experience, helping to build trust and loyalty. 

Increased Mobile Orders
Increased mobile orders

According to Forbes, from 2015 to 2018, customer ordering from QSRs on their smartphones or through mobile apps more than tripled from 11% to 39%. A rising number of consumers are growing comfortable with mobile transactions. According to Bluedot’s State of What Feeds Us” report, 53% of survey respondents added mobile apps to limit contact with on-site staff, and consumers are more likely to spend more money when ordering via a restaurant mobile app. As a result, brands are adapting to their consumer’s needs by reevaluating their marketing strategies, point of sales (POS), and consumer loyalty programs. Toast, a restaurant software company focused on restaurant management and point of sale systems, notes that “On average, restaurants see additional sales and more repeat visits from guests in a loyalty program.”

Self-Service Kiosks

The foodservice industry has been experiencing labor shortages, making employee recruitment and retention more challenging. In order to combat this issue and still offer customers the highest quality service, QSRs are investing in self-service kiosks where customers can browse the menu at their convenience, place their exact orders, and pay all at once. Self-service technology has many benefits to both the consumer and to the business. From the business perspective, this technology increases efficiency and revenues, decreases labor costs, and creates a shorter feedback loop between consumer and the business. With kiosks completing simple tasks, staff members can focus on other job responsibilities. The all-in-one kiosks are able to give customers a personalized experience and ideally improve their journey. According to recent research, when surveying customers, a surprising 65% said they would visit a restaurant more often if self-service kiosks were offered. Needless to say, many folks are onboard with self-serve ordering and businesses like ​​KFC, Taco Bell, Burger King, and more are planning to implement in-store technology like kiosks in order to meet changing customer needs. 

Expanded Delivery Services 

Consumers are all too familiar with UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, Toast Delivery, Chow Now and more. The proliferation of delivery options have allowed QSRs to fill their customers’ growing needs. Businesses are also focusing on providing in-house delivery options to cut down on third-party fees and extra costs while still providing customers a speedy delivery experience. Delivery has become such a strong staple in foodservice to the point where customers expect the delivery option, whether it is provided by the restaurant or a third party. Businesses have also invented delivery-only restaurant chains where they prepare food exclusively for delivery; this model is referred to as ghost kitchens


With consumers seeking a contactless ordering experience, brands are investing in building out their drive-through infrastructure lanes. In efforts to ensure convenience and safety, Taco Bell has announced a completely new design to increase efficiency. The new layout, called “Go Mobile,” features two drive-through lanes alongside designated parking spots for contactless pick up. This layout will also feature indoor shelves for claiming digital orders.

A rendering of a Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant
Source: Taco Bell

Shake Shack has also introduced a new layout called “Shake Track,” which allows drive-up and walk-up windows specifically for picking up digital orders. Contactless pickup has become a permanent staple for Shake Shack’s consumer experience. They are planning to have a minimum of 8 Shake Track locations by the end of the year due to the customer demand.

A rendering of Shake Shack’s drive-thru lanes
Source: Zebra Projects

Burger King will implement “touchless” restaurant designs with solar panels and outdoor seating. These new formats require a whopping 60% less square footage than traditional Burger King locations. The new layout will feature three drive-thru lanes (some will be dedicated to delivery drivers), walk up windows for take out orders, and assigned parking spots for curbside pick up. To save space, the locations will have indoor seating on a second level above the drive-thru lanes, alongside shaded tables outside for customers. 

Burger King’s Your Way restaurant design
Souce: Burger King

Keeping up with modern consumer trends is a necessity for business owners. By understanding consumer actions and interests, businesses are able to make effective decisions in regards to the products and/or services they offer as well as their advertising and marketing. Evaluating customers’ changing needs and habits ensures businesses are one step ahead of competition, allowing them to remain relevant to their target market.