While most facets of American public life have returned to the way they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the subtler changes lingered and continue to inform how companies operate. Take the fast-food/QSR dining experience; besides the explosion in takeout and food delivery, Covid ushered in a new emphasis on drive-through service and curbside ordering. Consumer appetite for those ordering methods hasn’t waned in the years since, and restaurants like Chick-fil-A have responded accordingly by prioritizing the drive-through over the dining room.

But where does the dine-in experience stand with Americans? According to the latest CivicScience data, over one-third (36%) of U.S. adults who eat at restaurants claim they’re dining in ‘less often’ compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. This is more than triple the percentage of those who say they’re now dining in ‘more often’ (11%) – and the majority (53%) are dining in the same amount.

Gen Z restaurant diners are far more likely than any other age group (and nearly four times as likely as 55+ adults) to say they’re dining in ‘more often’ compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic (23%). This more than doubles the Gen Pop figure, and young Millennial restaurant diners also exceed the Gen Pop rate (15%).

Zeroing in on fast-food and QSR restaurants, 31% of fast-food diners claim they dine in at these restaurants at least ‘somewhat often’ (with 7% registering as ‘very often’). CivicScience compared this question with customers of six different popular fast-food restaurants to see which restaurants would be wise to keep their dining rooms afloat.

According to the data, McDonald’s customers are the most keen on dining in at fast-food restaurants, with 10% claiming they do it ‘very often’ (and 42% at least ‘somewhat often’). Despite recently prioritizing drive-through lanes, Chick-fil-A comes in second place with 7% dining in ‘very often’ and 32% at least ‘somewhat often.’ Wendy’s customers are the least inclined to dine in at a fast-food restaurant, so the chain is in a strong position to expand drive-through access.

Three more insights to know about Americans who like to dine in at fast-food restaurants:

  • Urban residents are more than twice as likely to say they dine in at fast-food restaurants ‘very often’ (12%)  compared to suburban (5%) and rural (4%) residents.
  • Nearly two-thirds of fast-food diners who dine in ‘very often’ have used buy now, pay later services (among those aware of BNPL), while just 7% of this camp intend to use them in the future.
  • Three-quarters of those who dine in at fast-food restaurants ‘very often’ are cannabis users, drastically outpacing all other frequencies for dining in at fast-food restaurants.

Curious to know more insights about how your business might be impacted by changing QSR trends? Book a meeting today with CivicScience to stay ahead of the curve.