See who tops the list, plus industry trends and takeaways
Changes are afoot in the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry: Chipotle just announced that it's ditching chorizo; Dunkin Donuts may soon be just Dunkin; Taco Bell has partnered with Lyft. Every brand is looking for increased market share in this nearly $200 billion dollar market, which is, according to Foursquare data, coming off its busiest time of year.
But with so many options, and so much competition, diners are justifiably picky about where they go out to eat. So, we at Foursquare dug into our data to better understand which QSR chains are winning when it comes to customer loyalty, and more importantly, how.
As a location intelligence company, Foursquare is able to understand foot traffic patterns of millions of Americans to all types of QSRs -from on-premise fast food joints to your favorite drive-thrus. We understand which chains receive the most visits and can measure loyalty based not on brand perceptions, but on customer actions. This provides a highly accurate measure of business health as well as a comprehensive understanding of consumer segmentation.
Today we are releasing our first annual QSR Loyalty Index, which is an assessment of the top 50 QSR chains in the United States, ranked according to customer loyalty. Foursquare's loyalty index assesses a number of complex behaviors and inputs, and distills this data into a single metric that can be compared across chains and QSR categories.
So how does Foursquare assess customer loyalty?
In order to determine who is winning when it comes to attracting repeat visitors, Foursquare measured foot traffic by four key metrics:
- Visit frequency: the average number of visits per diner within a year.
- Market penetration: the percentage of all QSR diners who visited the chain within a year. Penetration was only measured for regions in which the chain exists, so a midwest chain like Culver's, for example, was not impacted for its regionality.
- Share of Wallet: the percentage of the consumer's total QSR visits that a particular chain captures within a year.
- Fanaticism threshold: the number of visits within a year required for a customer to be within the top 1% of customers who visit a particular chain, on a scale of 1 to 50.
Who tops the list?
It likely comes as no surprise that some of the country's leading national chains like Starbucks, McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts top the list of QSR chains that drive the most loyalty by Americans. These chains are actually known for loyalty rewards programs (like Starbucks Gold Member rewards), convenience, nationwide presence, and dependable food quality and service both nationally and abroad.
Here's an abbreviated list of just the top 20 QSR chains with the most loyal fan base:
- While some of the country's biggest national brands have claimed the top spots, size is not necessarily an indicator of success and loyalty. Regional brands like Whataburger and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf made it into the top 10, beating out much larger national competitors. These brands have developed a loyal fanbase in their respective regions, luring customers back into stores with their own great service and loyalty rewards programs.
- QSRs with a breakfast offering tend to drive increased visit frequency. Our data shows that customers visit coffee shops more than any other type of restaurant. QSR food chains are taking notice and capitalizing on this trend by expanding the morning menu, allowing customers the opportunity to come in for an AM caffeine fix AND a bite to eat, all in a convenient one-stop shop. Brands like Starbucks, McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, Panera, and Taco Bell have each been expanding their morning offerings to maximize their share of wallet.
- We also noticed that despite QSR's increased focus on healthy menu options, there is a limited correlation between healthy offerings and loyalty. Chains in the top 20 specialize in everything from the indulgent, like burgers, tacos and fried chicken, to lighter fare options like sandwiches and salads. Jamba Juice (which falls at #32 on our list), with its fresh and nutritious juices, smoothies and bowls, ranked similarly to Cajun-style Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.
Haven't had your fill? Download our QSR Loyalty Index report to see a full list of top 50 national QSR chains, case studies on the biggest winners and movers, and strategies on what marketers can do to increase consumer loyalty.
For this analysis, Foursquare's data scientists examined the foot traffic of a panel of users who have been active on the Foursquare City Guide or Foursquare Swarm apps for at least the past year, have opted-in to provide background location awareness, and have visited at least one of the analyzed chains within the research time frame (July 2016 - June 2017). Data was anonymized, aggregated, and normalized against U.S. census data to remove any age, gender or geographical bias. The Foursquare Loyalty Index is calculated by looking at the following metrics: visit frequency, market penetration, share of wallet, and fanaticism.