Quick-serve restaurants or QSRs are the hot ticket in the restaurant arena. QSR's include the typical fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Wendy's, but they include newer additions like Chipotle and Panera. The wide range of options in the QSR scene have blurred the gap between sit-down family restaurants and fast-food joints.

Results from the 2007 QSR Consumer Survey, by QSR magazine, reveal that customers value consistency, atmosphere, accessible locations and speed when it comes to selecting a quick-serve restaurant.

According to most survey respondents, the diner's "mood" is the No. 1 driver, followed by the desire for convenience. Cost figured into the decision-making process – even before food quality or selection.  Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said price was a factor in deciding which QSR to frequent. Other contributing factors cited were taste, kids' menu options; and food quality. Also mentioned were ratio of salads to burgers, choice in toppings and breads, and corporate policy. That last one is most notable. 

The most frequent meal has not changed much – this year, 57 percent of the respondents said they're most likely to eat lunch at a quick-service restaurant, it was 56 percent in 2006, and 58 percent in 2005.

While restaurants are focusing more on breakfast these days, consumers haven't changed that pattern much either – in 2006 and 2007, 8 percent said they stop in for breakfast, that's up from 6 percent in 2005. But, QSR magazine points out that other data show there is a growing trend toward breakfast consumption even a bit later in the day. So that's an area to watch in the future.

The average age of a QSR diner is 42 years; more than 40 percent had either undergraduate or graduate degrees.

More than half of those surveyed believe the menus at fast-food restaurants are healthier now than three years ago. Twenty-nine percent feel food quality is superior today versus only 11 percent who believe the quality is worse).

For the second year, McDonald's was identified as the most consistent brand, followed by Subway and Wendy's. These diners have strong brand loyalty, and the winner in that area, again for the second year in a row was Wendy's McDonald’s was actually the second most-frequently cited as “favorite” quick-serve, but, it also was most frequently cited when asked which was the consumers’ least favorite.

As for the food itself, 42 percent of respondents say they're watching calories, another 34 percent were watching fat grams, 67 percent said they are watching more than one factor. These results are consistent with 2006, although more respondents said they're not watching dietary concerns at all. Consumers are also monitoring their intake of sugar, sodium, proteins (and gluten/wheat), reports the survey.

The hamburger was the preferred sandwich in 2007, replacing the sub sandwiches last year. Grilled chicken sandwiches fall into the top five preferences.

Interestingly, 15 percent of respondents said they stopped going to a specific restaurant after just one bad experience. Obviously, with all of the options available, there's not much room for a misstep.
Source: QSR magazine