Americans Are Dropping Traditional Fast Food

Americans are trading Whoppers and fries for burrito bowls and sandwiches.

Americans, regardless of generation, are abandoning traditional fast food options like McDonald’s and Taco Bell for “fast-casual” restaurants like Chipotle and Panera, according to a new study.

Consultancy firm Brand Keys asked 1,000 people from three generations–Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials–about their attitudes toward fast food.

Health and living well were the most important factors to Baby Boomers, who also expect better service, since they can afford it. While the Boomers in the study visited fast food restaurants 18% less than last year, they ate at fast-casual restaurants 20% more. Their favorites include Subway, Chipotle, and Au Bon Pain.

People from Gen X are also trading fast food for fast-casual. In this study, they reported eating fast food 11% less than last year, with an equal increase in visits to fast-casual restaurants this year–lower than both Baby Boomers and Millennials. Almost 50% of Gen X respondents said speed was an important factor when making food choices.

Of Millennial respondents, 89% placed a heavy emphasis on high-quality ingredients, trustworthiness, and interior design, saying that a good restaurant design was an indicator the company “knew what they were doing.” They frowned on traditional fast food: 53% refer to it as “dollar food” after McDonald’s Dollar Menu, and 13% say fast food is “edible” but not desirable. Their top three brands are Chipotle, Five Guys Burgers, and Panera.

Traditional fast food restaurants understand they must overcome these changing attitudes if they want to survive, and as Fast Company reported, many have responded by increasing drive-thru wait times in favor of expanded menus with more complex offerings and an improved customer experience.

* Abridged from an article by Peter Wade, @

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