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The race to convenience in QSR

The race to convenience in QSR

Providing consumers with the most optimal experience possible is a top priority for many brands. And for quick-service restaurants (QSRs), striving for convenience and quality control is a major focus. 

Market trends are showing a recent uptick in QSRs looking to create convenience through online ordering, kiosks, curbside delivery and other digital solutions. But how does consumer behavior lend itself to these strategies?

Carl Turner, CEO and founder of SWIPEBY, a turnkey curbside pickup platform for restaurants and merchants, spoke to us about the psychological pull of convenience, how it affects consumer behavior and what fast-food brands have done to align with this science. 

The root of convenience in QSR marketing

In many ways, we have human psychology to thank for fast-food restaurants. During the 1950s, with the addition of newly paved American highways, fast-food chains were created to serve consumers dealing with the hustle and bustle of life. Things were moving quickly and consumers needed restaurant brands that could keep up. 

That sense of urgency is now embedded in the fast-food industry. Meeting the needs of consumers at an efficient rate of speed is a large part of what makes fast-food chains successful.

“If you look at QSRs, they’re intrinsically focused on getting a customer in and out in the shortest time and, even before the entire delivery craze, were focused on pickup,” Turner said. 

Unprecedented demand calls for rise in digitization 

Little did the fast-food industry know just how handy having ample consumer data would be in 2020. The pandemic ushered in a new set of challenges for consumers and brands. Luckily for a few QSRs, the preparation process began years prior. 

According to Turner, collecting information on how to better serve customers starts by asking a few key questions about consumer behavior and market trends: How can we optimize our kitchens? How can we get food out to the customers? How can we serve customers faster?

“Looking at that research pre-pandemic really allowed [QSRs] to capitalize on that research and roll out strategies even faster across more stores and become winners during the pandemic,” said Turner. 

One of those winners was Tex-Mex fast-food brand Taco Bell, who had a historic year in 2020 — the height of the COVID pandemic and a major disruption in profit for many other businesses. The company didn’t grow complacent after their standout performance in 2020. Instead, Taco Bell continued to grow in effort. As part of its latest digital innovations, Taco Bell has opened the first-ever “Taco Bell Defy,” a gravity-defying drive-thru restaurant. The kitchen resides above four drive-thru lanes and a takeout window. There is no dine-in option.

Other brands, like McDonald’s (loyalty program launched in 2021), Cafe Rio (in-app delivery feature debuted in 2022) and BurgerFi (increasing self-service kiosks), are also changing the way they do business by incorporating modern technology.

It’s no coincidence that these changes are happening now. Turner says consumers and brands were forced to adapt to a digital-forward world and quickly learned how beneficial it could be.

“The pandemic shifted consumer behavior overnight…you had audiences using digital experiences and liking it. We like convenience, we like when we can make decisions quickly,” said Turner. “Obviously, restaurants were thrown into [digitization], but consumers were thrown into it [as well], and it turns out it was very sticky.”

By “sticky”, Turner means it was working — and he’s right. In 2020, McKinsey & Company did a study regarding the new normal and found that many new engagement models like online ordering and click-and-collect are here to stay. In other words, brands are sticking with it, because consumers are sticking with it. 

“If you do it right, it’s a great operational efficiency measure. Curbside pickup, click-and-collect, and delivery…they allow for faster experiences. They generally allow for upselling and cross-selling,” said Turner.

Self-service tools are expected to be a big factor in 2023. Consumers have realized that certain tools make for a smoother experience — and thanks to consumer empowerment, they’ve come to expect them. Thankfully, QSRs can enhance the grab-and-go aspect of fast-food by prioritizing digital experiences.

“When I know what I want at a QSR, I don’t need human interactions. Consumers generally order the same thing; the order barely varies,” said Turner. “In theory, the brand could make my order in the drive-thru without my input.”

Turner says there is no need to worry about losing your brand experience when moving people into digitization. Consumers are wired to complete goals and want to do so simply. Digitization allows consumers to comfortably fulfill their order without losing elements of the experience they enjoy.

“I’m not going to a drive-thru to have a restaurant experience. I’m actually choosing to stay in my car, and the more I can be in my own space and get things quickly, the happier I am,” said Turner. “In my own experience, when I like to customize things. I feel really weird asking for things and adding work to a human. With a machine, I’m encouraged to customize how I want.”

The race for convenience in quick-service restaurants is at full throttle. Consumer behavior is changing rapidly and successful brands are meeting evolution with digitization.


Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.