For QSRs, an Experience Transformation is in Progress

9/29/2022 Niki Swanson

For QSRs, an Experience Transformation is in Progress

Fast casual and quick service restaurants (QSRs) are facing a rapidly evolving landscape, forcing them to rethink how they connect and engage with consumers. The industry is seeing a spike in new and viable competitors, offering diversified menu selections and daypart opportunities (i.e., breakfast, snacking, and late night). Mobile ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery are no longer optional — they’re required to keep up with competition and remain relevant.  

Whether on a mobile app or inside the dining room, the customer journey must be seamless. While QSR Magazine reports most QSRs capitalize on 70% of their business through the pickup window, a recent census panel found that the average restaurant consumer orders using four different channels in any given month. This shows the need for effortless and accurate interactions — no matter where the order is placed. 

This year, a SeeLevel HX 1 study revealed customers are waiting longer — and getting more inaccurate orders — at drive-thrus.

  • The average total time to receive an order was 382 seconds in 2021, more than 25 seconds longer than in 2020.
  • Fifteen percent (15%) of orders were inaccurate this year, compared to 13% last year.
  • An inaccurate order added 71 seconds to total wait time.

Pre-order zones, order confirmation stages, and designated lanes for mobile pick-up orders increase the positive perception of the experience. 

Experiential dining engagements are another new avenue for fast casual and QSRs to navigate. Consumers are foregoing traditional restaurant formats for pop-ups, food trucks, beer gardens, and more. Expectations for when and where food is available is pushing restaurants to modernize formats into urban spaces or incorporating robotics (e.g., Freebirds’ burrito takeout stations) to benefit from nontraditional markets. 

Order up

Beyond these customer-driven changes, the industry is being forced to balance increases in food costs and operational costs due to material and labor shortages, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Lisa van Kesteren, CEO of SeeLevel HX 2, confirms QSRs are struggling with a host of challenges as the pandemic continues. She adds:

“To prevent brand vulnerability, restaurants would be better served by compromising in some areas in order to consistently deliver a rewarding drive-thru experience. We’re already seeing this with the top QSRs limiting indoor dining and reducing store hours.”

According to a Retail Brew article, Taco Bell, for example, in March said it would expand its “Go Mobile” remodel, which features two drive-thru lanes and smaller dining spaces. It’s even working on a concept with four drive-thru lanes.

To mitigate these obstacles, restaurants are simplifying their menu offerings or localizing options to reduce overhead. They’re exploring smaller dining room seating capacity options, kiosk ordering and drive thru or delivery only alternatives.

Location, location, location

Solving for the above challenges starts with intimate knowledge of your current footprint. A thorough understanding of each restaurant location can ensure the right messaging is deployed, using the right signage for the right fixture, with site-specific details and attributes. To maximize optimization efforts, restaurants need a detailed understanding of physical footprints, fixtures and opportunities for communication.

BLOG: 3 Challenges Growing Retailers Face Across Their Location Footprint

When location profiles are combined with data-driven variable menu-boards, it results in highly effective automated sign management, localized efforts, and increased speed-to-market. Outdoor signage elements can transform parking lots and restaurant exteriors into transaction centers, extending hospitality and engagement beyond the dining room.
Access to in-sync and localized print and signage services, including site surveys, certified installation, project implementation, and post-installation reporting and tracking will only maximize your use of semi-permanent fixtures and proper deployment of complex displays. At RRD, we call these “onsite marketing services,” which help support successful launches of new and renovated store formats, brand-within-a-brand concepts, event centric or temporary formats.

Without question, program complexity increases with implementation of localized efforts. Leveraging the expertise of a credible partner is critical to success and measuring ROI.


Niki Swanson is the Manager of Client Services for RRD Signage and Displays and specializes in the QSR/fast casual space.

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