Recent Changes in the Fast Food Industry: What Should We Learn?

Steve O'Connor2014 Trends, Business Operations, Restaurant, Restaurant BusinessLeave a Comment

Fast food giants have unveiled some dramatic changes recently, changes that not only reflect trends we’ve been seeing within the restaurant industry, they offer some important lessons for restaurant owners.

In the last few weeks, fast food giants have unveiled some major new initiatives:

  • §Taco Bell now has breakfast service: Taking on McDonald’s breakfast lineup, Taco Bell starting serving breakfast earlier this spring. They even employed an advertising campaign that included real-life Ronald McDonalds and their impressions of Taco Bell’s new menu items.
  • §McDonald’s has a new mascot: Although the idea is to promote healthier options from the fast food chain, the new mascot—named “Happy” who is targeted to children—has not been well-received in social media.
  • §Burger King changed its 40-year old slogan: After decades of telling customers they can “have it your way,” Burger King is swapping out its slogan for “Be Your Way.”

These changes within the industry not only reflect trends we’ve been seeing within the restaurant industry, they offer some important lessons for restaurant owners.

Finding New Customers Requires Taking Risks

Taco Bell, a lunch, dinner, and late-night destination, opened up for breakfast as one way to capture more customers and revenue. Our May blog highlighted several ways restaurant owners can attract customers and drive restaurant traffic; opening up during off-peak hours (albeit late night and happy hours) was one of those strategies. Breakfast may be risky for a chain whose main menu item is featured in its brand name, but it may also be the right move to increase same-store sales while finding new customers.

Healthier Menu Options are in High Demand

Long under pressure to make their menus healthier, fast food chains have been working on more options that are friendlier to the nation’s waistline. “Happy,” the new mascot, not only refers to the chain’s feature menu item for children, it also has been expressly designed to encourage kids to choose healthier options. This change is indicative of a wider industry trend: consumers not only take notice when restaurants offer healthier menu options, they’re 72% more likely to visit restaurants that do.

Sticking to Core Brand to Connect with Customers

According to Burger King, the new slogan reminds customers “they can and should live how they want anytime. It’s ok to not be perfect.” What does that mean for the rest of us? There seems to be something of an “identity crisis” going on in the fast food industry. Traditional fast food restaurants need to regain the customers they’re losing to newer-concept restaurants, as well as regain customers they may have lost during the recession. As a result, they’re introducing new, sometimes upscale, menu items; offering healthier choices; and rebranding. These initiatives, however, seem not to be resonating with customers, and restaurants like Pizza Hut, Panera, and Chipotle that stick to the core brand seem to be weathering this storm more effectively.

Whether the fast food giants pass or fail with these initiatives remains to be seen; but the implications are clear. Big changes are underway and customer needs and desires are evolving. Restaurant owners can watch what’s going on, or they can learn how to adapt to these trends.

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