The QSR industry requires a shakeup

This is the opinion of Tim Lowther who believes the sector must avoid 'resting on their laurels', despite enjoying great business success and showing excellent resilience during the pandemic.

The QSR industry requires a shakeup

Throughout the Covid pandemic the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry thrived. Brands quickly adapted their business models to ensure their continued success, allowing them to overcome the many challenges and restrictions they suddenly faced because of lockdown. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

If we look back to previous world-shaping events, such as the global recession of 2008, the QSR industry has always come out fighting. They always demonstrate true resilience by producing strong performances which sets them apart from the wider hospitality sector.

The future is currently as bright as ever. Consumer demand for the QSR industry, and burgers in particular, are not going away. There are still many growth opportunities for players in this market. What has become more difficult, however, is securing greater recognition in a familiar QSR landscape. This is definitely the tricky part.

Perfecting the price

Burgers remain a significant part of the QSR industry and central to its success. Yet the key is to know where to position a particular brand within the industry’s pricing landscape. Cost efficiency has always been a draw for consumers when it comes to QSRs. For a family of four to eat out at a casual dining restaurant will cost in the region of £80-£100.

Compare this to a QSR restaurant which would cost around £30. Rather than shying away from this statistic, QSR brands should embrace it. Providing a quality experience, at the most affordable price, is everything. This is where, I believe, the QSR industry should be focussing its attention. It offers a fantastic market opportunity and certainly needs embracing, as well as highlighting.

I often refer to Carl’s Jr as ‘QSR Plus’, because we carry all the hallmarks of a successful QSR brand, but go above and beyond regarding customer experience. This is underpinned by our belief that a more affordable price should not mean a lesser customer experience.

We’ve seen other burger brands charge the same amount, as you would expect at a casual dining restaurant, and have had a degree of success with this. But we firmly believe the sweet spot for burger lovers is great food at acceptable prices which remain more in keeping with the higher end of the QSR market.

Targeting your audience

In order to keep in touch with your audience, you need to know who that audience is. For example, if you want to reach those aged between 25 and 40, you need not only to surprise them with indulgent burgers, but also to attract them with a welcoming atmosphere and memorable experience.

We, at Carl’s Jr, are in the fortunate position of having established restaurants across Europe and the United States. This wide audience base allows us to gather vast amounts of data, thus enabling us to understand our customers better. This gives us valuable insight and expertise in knowing what our customers are looking for across different markets. It keeps us well informed when looking to open in a new country.

For any new business entering the burger and QSR market, it is paramount that they carefully select the right audience to target. This is an important building block for ultimate success. QSR has long been associated with being family friendly, but there’s a whole spectrum of burger lovers out there keen to sample new brands.

Increasingly, we are seeing new brands shaking matters up, as they seek and target new customers other than family diners. This is something we can expect to see more of, with the 20-somethings becoming a new focus for QSR brands.

Diversifying product range

Any new QSR brand entering the market must understand the importance of localising their product portfolio. In effect, this means catering for the needs of burger consumers in different regions.

Ever since we expanded our brand outside of the United States, we’ve recognised the importance of creating regionally tailored menus. We work with local teams to innovate and adapt to what local customers are searching for. What one market sees as a ‘premium’ won’t necessarily be appreciated by customers in a different region or market.

It’s essential to understand how local tastes vary. You may also need to adapt from season to season, such as summer and Christmas. This is something we actively do at Carl’s Jr as we’re keen to avoid menu fatigue among our customers.

Staff members within the restaurant perform an important role. Recent research carried out by KAM Media and PointOne revealed that 87% of respondents believe QSR staff should be well versed about their restaurant’s offerings.

The respondents also intimated that senior staff should possess enough knowledge to advise customers on dishes and ingredients. This level of product knowledge and regional diversity is a valuable part of the customer experience. QSR restaurants should be prepared to continually evolve around the needs of their customers.

What all of this tells us is that having a great product range isn’t enough on its own. You need your staff members to be able to discuss the range and popularity of products, and you need to be locally relevant. You must also understand the importance of charging the right price, and everything needs to be aimed at attracting and retaining the right audience. It’s certainly a tricky balancing act but there’s ample opportunity for brands to succeed providing they keep their eyes on the ball.

Tim Lowther
Tim Lowther