New menu items and value are driving consumer traffic at quick-service and fast-casual chains, according to a recent study from market research firm Placed Insights.

The “Dining Out in America: The Impact of New Menu Items, Value and Nutrition” study compiled data from more than 13,000 consumers polled in April about the restaurants they visited in the prior 30 days and the factors that drove them there. Seattle-based Placed Insights surveys more than 70,000 consumers who opt to share their locations, covering more than 70 million locations of hundreds of businesses.

Quiznos, KFC, Taco Bell and Little Caesars all performed well when it came to driving traffic with menu developments. And burger giants McDonald’s and Burger King continued to reign with value-conscious consumers.


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Placed Insights surveyed consumers about which characteristics of a restaurant were important to them, including taste, price, nutrition, convenience and menu variety. The firm identified which brands performed best by checking those key factors against those consumers’ restaurant usage. Consumers indicated which characteristics were most important.

Several chains ranked in the top five brands per characteristic on two different factors, including Zaxby’s, Chick-fil-A, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Sonic Drive-in, Jack in the Box and Hardee’s. Guests who identified taste as important were more likely to visit Zaxby’s, Chick-fil-A and Five Guys. Burger chains such as Sonic and In-N-Out attracted price-conscious consumers. Health-conscious diners favored Jamba Juice and Chipotle.

The power of new menu items

Placed Insights sought to quantify the effectiveness of new product introductions and limited-time offers in driving restaurant traffic by asking survey respondents, “After seeing or hearing an advertisement for a new fast-food item, did you purchase that item in the next 30 days?”

According to the report, 36.5 percent of respondents said they had tried a new item they had seen advertised, making them “early menu adopters,” compared with 42.6 percent of respondents who had not visited a restaurant quickly to purchase the new item.

Placed Insights studied restaurant usage patterns of self-identified early menu adopters and indexed which brands they were likely to visit more often than regular consumers. Quiznos performed the best with those consumers. Its index score of 119 meant that early menu adopters were 19 percent more likely than regular consumers to visit a Quiznos restaurant. The chain currently offers a limited-time Southern or Spicy BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich.

Yum! Brands Inc.’s KFC and Taco Bell concepts followed, with index scores of 115 and 114, respectively. Both chains have put big marketing campaigns behind new products this year, including KFC’s Original Recipe Boneless chicken and Taco Bell’s Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos.



Earlier this year, Little Caesars rolled out a major advertising campaign for its new Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza, an $8 offering that the chain called its largest product launch in years. The brand garnered an index score of 114 with early menu adopters.

Chipotle indexed 111 with early menu adopters, despite no TV advertising and few, if any, limited-time offerings. The heaviest advertisers were also accounted for on the list for those consumers, with Burger King’s 112 score leading McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway, which scored 106, 105 and 103, respectively.

Dunkin’ Donuts indexed slightly below average with the early menu adopter group, at 99.

McDonald's rules the value space

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Consumers who had recently visited McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s were also surveyed about their habits regarding those chains’ value menus.

McDonald’s Dollar Menu proved to be the most popular, with 77.3 percent of visitors ordering from the Dollar Menu in the past month. Wendy’s menu finished second, with 59.5 percent of its customers using Right Price Right Size. Burger King was just behind, with 58 percent of its customers ordering from the BK Value Menu.

Consumers with children had a higher propensity for using value menus than people without children. Burger King indexed highest with this group at 110, compared with 104 for Wendy’s and 103 for McDonald’s, the report found.

Burger King showed no gender bias in those who ordered from its value menu, while both McDonald’s and Wendy’s skewed female, with index scores among women of 106 and 104, respectively.

McDonald’s Dollar Menu indexed highest with consumers in the 18-to-24 age group, at 115, while Burger King skewed oldest, garnering an index score of 117 with the 35-to-44 demographic. All three chains’ value menus indexed above average with consumers making $25,000 per year or less, with no significant differences in income distribution, Placed Insights found.

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