The modern-day consumer has numerous decisions to make when it comes to fast-food dining. Not only do they have various cuisines and restaurant options, but they also have many choices for how they can order their food, ranging from ordering in-store to using a restaurant delivery app like DoorDash. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, such as varying wait times and level of convenience, which largely influences who does and doesn’t select each method. 

Here are three leading consumer insights about QSR ordering today, derived from the CivicScience InsightStore:

1. The majority prefer drive-throughs, but Gen Z is significantly more likely to opt for online ordering.

What is the preferred method of ordering fast-food? For the majority of U.S. adults who purchase fast-food, drive-throughs rank as their top choice (53%). In-store ordering follows, but by a considerable margin, with just a quarter of respondents saying they prefer going inside the restaurant. Fifteen percent opt for online ordering, and 7% choose delivery – still a significant share of consumers.

Age strongly correlates with QSR ordering preferences. Gen Z adults are far more likely to prefer online methods – placing an order online to pick up in-store (29%) or using a restaurant delivery app (18%) – far outpacing the Gen Pop averages. Adults aged 35+ are significantly more likely than younger adults to prefer ordering in-person, such as in-store or via a drive-through. 

2. Time of day influences preferred ordering method.

QSR diners have long ranked their favorite fast-food french fry and fried chicken sandwich, but how does fast-food breakfast, lunch, and dinner stack up? When asked which meals consumers have eaten from fast-food restaurants over the last 30 days, lunch took the top spot (40%), followed by dinner (38%) and breakfast (27%). 

During the most popular time – lunch – consumers are more likely to prefer ordering in-store and less likely to order from a food delivery app, compared to breakfast or dinner patrons. Dinner-goers report being more likely to use restaurant delivery apps for fast-food ordering, more than doubling the lunch crowd. Breakfast patrons are the most likely to opt for the drive-through.

3. Taco Bell fans prefer drive-throughs, Arby’s favorables prefer in-store ordering.

Fast-food chains across America have experimented with new methods to optimize ordering and bring in more customers. For example, Taco Bell implemented futuristic drive-throughs, and Wendy’s recently announced plans to integrate AI in their drive-through line (which consumers are more concerned than excited about right now). 

So, how do ordering methods rank among QSR chain favorables? Data show that Taco Bell and Wendy’s fans are most favorable to drive-throughs, whereas Arby’s fans are more likely to order in-store than other fast-food diners. McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A favorables are the least likely to order in-store; instead, they’re more likely to order via app and pick up in-store. 

Additional QSR Consumer Insights

  • More than three-quarters of fast-food diners prefer ordering from a cashier than a self-checkout (e.g. kiosk or iPad) when placing orders in-store (77% vs. 23%).
  • A plurality of fast-food diners say they expect to receive their food after ordering within five minutes (43%) – up one percentage point from Q1 2023.
  • Fast-food diners are more likely to say menu variety (37%) and healthiness of food (22%) are most important to them when choosing a restaurant. A smaller percentage say price (19%), speed of service (16%), and friendliness of employees (5%).

CivicScience is a market research firm powered by our opinion analytics platform, the InsightStore, allowing us to have a constant pulse on industry trends. Work with us for the most up-to-date consumer insights.