Quick-service chains with the most locations ranked among the most-visited brands in a new study from Seattle-based Placed Insights, but the report also revealed new marketing opportunities for some of them based on demographic information.

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Based on more than 70,000 consumer interviews during April 2013, Placed Insights’ “Dining Out in America: The Quick Service Restaurant Landscape” report found that McDonald’s and Subway led all quick-service restaurant companies in consumer visits. Nearly 51 percent of consumers surveyed said they had visited McDonald’s recently and 39.7 percent of them said they had visited Subway.

Starbucks Coffee was the next most-visited quick-service chain, with 25 percent of respondents stopping in recently, according to Placed Insights. The coffee giant finished just ahead of Burger King and Wendy’s, which had 24.7 percent and 23.8 percent of consumer visits, respectively. Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut, Sonic and Arby’s rounded out Nos. 6 through 10.

The report is the first installment of a two-part series on quick service; the second half of the report will be published in June.

Coffee is king on the coasts

Several regional differences arose in Placed Insights’ April report, though the one consistent finding was that McDonald’s was the most-visited restaurant brand in every region, including the Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

Though it has nearly 10,000 more U.S. locations than McDonald’s, Subway finished second in traffic and was the No. 2 most-visited brand in the Midwest and South. The sandwich chain finished No. 3 in the West and Northeast.

Coffee chains leveraged their “home field advantage” in the West and Northeast, Placed Insights wrote, as Seattle-based Starbucks was the second most-visited brand in the West, and Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Donuts took the No. 2 spot in the Northeast.

Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell were the only other chains to rank in the 10 most-visited brands in each region. The South was the only area where Wendy’s outranked Burger King.

The Midwest was the only region with two Mexican food chains, as Taco Bell placed No. 5 and Chipotle Mexican Grill placed No. 10 in the area. The Midwest was also the only place where Minneapolis-based Dairy Queen cracked the 10 most-visited restaurants list, placing No. 7.

Similarly, several other brands achieved the outsize traffic in their core markets to rank among the top 10 most-visited chains in certain regions, such as Panera Bread in the Northeast; Sonic and Chick-fil-A in the South; and Jack in the Box, Panda Express, Carl’s Jr. and Jamba Juice in the West.

Demographics' effect on traffic

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Placed Insights’ survey also studied traffic patterns of consumers in different demographic groups, like ethnicity and income. The report revealed that Caucasians were the least likely group to skew heavily toward any one restaurant chain, while Asian-Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans had several brands they frequented more than other groups.

Asian-Americans were nearly four times as likely than other demographic groups to visit Jamba Juice and nearly three times as likely to visit In-N-Out Burger, based on Placed Insight’s index scores for visit frequency. Asian-Americans’ index scores for Jamba Juice and In-N-Out were 390 and 292, respectively, where an index score of 100 represents average visit frequency for any one chain.

Hispanics’ highest-indexed brands were Pollo Tropical, El Pollo Loco and In-N-Out Burger, with scores of 410, 299 and 296, respectively. That demographic group also indexed above 200 for Wienerschnitzel, Del Taco, Church’s Chicken, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box and Whataburger.

African-Americans’ highest-indexed restaurant brand was Church’s, at 311. That group also indexed above 200 for Checkers, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Krystal, Rally’s, Captain D’s and Krispy Kreme.

Conversely, Caucasians did not index above 150 for any restaurant brand, though Taco John’s, Culver’s and Tim Hortons led that demographic group with index scores of 136, 132 and 128, respectively.

Placed Insights also broke out a separate analysis for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell, and found that Wendy’s was the only brand to index below-average frequency for the Hispanic demographic, with a score of 84.

By contrast, McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell indexed at 104, 101 and 100, respectively, for Hispanics. Placed Insights noted that McDonald’s is the fourth-largest Spanish-language advertiser in the United States, while Wendy’s only recently significantly increased its Hispanic-media spending. Wendy’s also indexed far below average for Asian-Americans, at 54, though that demographic group indexed below 100 for all four brands.

Taco Bell skewed the youngest in frequency index scores by age group, Placed Insights found. The chain was the only brand to index slightly above 100 for the age brackets of 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44, as well as the only brand to index below 100 for the 45-54 age group. The report showed consumers 55 and older were 19-percent less likely to visit Taco Bell, and only Wendy’s scored above an index of 100 with that group.

None of the four chains indexed above 100 for consumers making less than $25,000 per year. Beginning at the household income range of $25,000 to $50,000 per year, they all were slightly above average, with Taco Bell leading Burger King with index scores of 103 and 102, respectively, and Wendy’s and McDonald’s each scoring 101.

From there, at income levels starting at $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000, Wendy’s had the highest frequency indexes of the four.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN