8 Proven QSR Marketing Strategies To Win Customers (& Examples!)

Sam Wilson

With the market size of the US quick service restaurant (QSR) industry at $331.41 billion in 2022, staying ahead of the competition requires more than just serving food fast.

Success hinges on understanding consumer needs and trends and implementing marketing strategies that can build lasting connections.

This article will explore 8 QSR marketing strategies to help your business stand out, connect with your target audience, and cultivate a loyal customer base.

54% percent of adults say purchasing takeout or delivery food is essential to how they live, including 72% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z adults.

What’s the Difference Between a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) vs Fast Food vs Fast Casual Restaurant?

Quick service restaurant (QSR) is the industry term for a fast food restaurant. These restaurants focus on speed and affordability.

Fast Casual Restaurants provide a more premium dine-in experience with healthier options and a higher price point without full table service.

Here’s a breakdown of the differences: 

🍟 Quick service restaurants (QSR)

  • Service Style: Counter service or drive-thru
  • Menu: Limited and standardized
  • Price: More affordable, between $3-10 per item
  • Atmosphere: Functional and fast
  • Examples: McDonald’s, Burger King

🌯 Fast Casual Restaurants

  • Service Style: Counter service with relaxed dining
  • Menu: Higher quality with customization
  • Price: Slightly more expensive, $3-20 per item
  • Atmosphere: Emphasis on comfort, aesthetics, and customization
  • Examples: Chipotle, Panera

While QSRs are built for speed, catering to those needing a quick and affordable meal, Fast Casual Restaurants provide an alternative for customers looking for higher quality dining experience without the formality or price point of a full-service restaurant (FSR).

qsr marketing

What’s the Difference Between Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Marketing and Other Restaurant Marketing Types?

Unlike traditional restaurants, QSRs heavily invest in online ordering platforms and mobile apps, concentrating their marketing efforts on driving online orders. They measure success through specific metrics such as return on ad spend (ROAS) and revenue, which require constant monitoring and data analysis.

In scenarios where online ordering is limited, QSRs shift their marketing focus to attracting physical foot traffic. This involves engaging advertisements and promotions to lure in customers for quick, on-the-spot purchases.

Also, different restaurant types cater to distinct demographics.

Example: A QSR like Taco Bell targets individuals on the move, such as families seeking quick and convenient meals.

A fine dining establishment might appeal to a different demographic with higher household incomes or specific dining preferences.

Different restaurant types also require tailored approaches.

Example: A QSR restaurant might use TikTok for a youthful audience, while a rural gastro pub targeting an older demographic might use Facebook.

Other factors, such as location, menu offerings, and ordering channels, also influence marketing decisions. For example, Tropical Smoothie Cafe may appeal to health-conscious individuals, busy families, and young festival-goers.

Convert Your Customer Data Into Actionable Insights

There’s a tool that does just that: Axon Audience Manager!

By understanding your customers’ buying habits, preferences, and behaviors, Axon helps you craft tailored campaigns that resonate with your intended audience.

8 QSR Marketing Strategies for Sustainable Success

With the right marketing strategies, you can reach your intended audience and create lasting impressions and dedicated customers. Here, we review our top strategies to help maximize your brand’s potential and set you on a path to sustained success.

1. Market and Measure Your In-Store QSR Purchases

Customers who enter your restaurant premises are likely to make a purchase. Marketing to them requires speaking to where they are in their buying journey. 

Examples include:

  1. Upsells and Cross-Sells: Guiding customers to additional or premium purchases.
  2. Customer Experience: Focusing on a clean, friendly, and comfortable in-store atmosphere.
  3. Foot Traffic Studies: Using data from in-store behavior to shape future campaigns.

Encouraging Upsells and Cross-Sells

A primary objective of in-store marketing is gently guiding customers towards purchasing additional items or more premium options.

You can strategically place promotional materials while customers are in line, at the counter with signs by the cash register, or at self-serving kiosks showcasing combo meals or add-ons.

Self-service kiosks work great to:

  • Capture customer preferences and ordering patterns for targeted marketing.
  • Promote additional items or upgrades through intuitive interfaces and can increase order value by 20-30%!
  • Facilitate easy access to rewards and incentives. Customers can automatically apply the coupon upon checkout.

And post-COVID, around 65% of customers prefer restaurant kiosks over traditional ordering systems due to shorter wait times and the ability to quickly find their preferred items.

Customers who have simple, seamless experiences are more likely to return.

what is qsr marketing

Outstanding Customer Service

Technology drives the QSR customer success trend in 2023, with many brands investing millions of dollars in technology innovations.

Marco’s Pizza plans to invest in a cloud-based proprietary tech platform called Marco’s Order Management System (MOMS). The ordering system allows customers to order:

  • Through kiosks remotely
  • From virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google
  • Instantly on social media
  • Through automotive apps like Apple CarPlay

They also plan to invest in other technologies to enhance the customer experience, like voice-to-text ordering and using AI and machine learning to generate automated promise times.

Burger King (BK) is also heavily investing in technology. According to CMO Fernando Machado, BK wants to use technology to make customers’ lives easier by creating seamless apps, improving drive-through services, and developing partnerships with delivery services.

Collecting Data Through Foot Traffic Studies

Studying foot traffic patterns offers QSRs valuable insights to enhance their marketing strategies. These studies involve analyzing the typical purchases made by customers within the store.

Example: One of our QSR clients sees $16 for every customer visiting in-store so whenever a customer’s presence is detected within their store premises, they attribute a value of $16 to that engagement.

Attributing value to in-store customer presence allows a QSR to measure in-store revenue, assess the physical store’s success, and optimize strategies for a better return on investment (ROI). 

2. Use Dynamic Display Ads

Dynamic display ads can automatically adapt and showcase particular products or offers in response to user actions, demographics, and even time of day. 

Dynamic display ads offer movable graphic elements like video, animated images, or interactive elements. These elements can adapt based on user behavior or preferences.

In these time-sensitive McDonald’s display ads, the morning featured an image of a Sausage McMuffin with breakfast-themed copy, while later in the day, the ad shifted to highlight lunch and dinner offerings. 

dynamic display ad example

QSRs can also use dynamic display ads for instant promotions or to highlight new menu items.

🍟  Related Article: Win the Battle for Attention: Interactive Ads in QSR Marketing: Learn how dynamic creative ads can create impactful campaigns for your ideal customers.

3. Implement a Full-Funnel Strategy

A full-funnel strategy offers a nuanced approach to cater to different customers, from existing ones to those who haven’t heard of your brand before. 

For each stage, you can employ a different media tactic. Here’s what this might look like:

  1. Use Connected TV advertising to increase reach and awareness of the product to users who are not currently customers. (Awareness)
  2. After introducing the product through CTV, retarget potential customers with Online Video (OLV) ads. (Awareness)
  3. Implement display advertising and focus the messaging on customer acquisition. (Awareness + Consideration).
  4. Then, use rich media units, especially those with map functionality, to direct users to the closest store. (Consideration)
  5. Reach back to users who previously converted, using different retargeting strategies, like paid search, social media, and display, tailored to different timeframes, like lapsed users who haven’t converted in the past X amount of days. (Conversion)

Using a full-funnel approach creates a tailored pathway, guiding potential customers from initial interest to final purchase.

4. Offer Data-Driven Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs can drive sales and provide fast-food restaurants with new channels to interact with guests. But, loyalty programs must stay a company-wide focus.

What are QSRs doing wrong with loyalty programs?

“A lot of restaurants launch loyalty programs with good intentions; they talk about the benefits and train staff to explain those benefits to guests, but then they stop training. After three or four months, new employees aren’t talking about the program with guests.”

Image Description

Head of Data Insights, Paytronix

If a company’s focus changes, loyalty program registrations taper off, and QSRs see minimal results.

To succeed with your loyalty program, concentrate on the customers most inclined to convert, specifically the medium- to low-frequency customers.

Example: Six months after Peet’s Coffee re-launched its Peetnik Rewards with Paytronix, membership soared by 350%, loyalty-linked checks grew by 47%, and one top-performing offer drove over 1.5% of the brand’s retail sales.

Before the relaunch, Peet’s had been guessing what they offered and had minimal insight into how its loyalty program performed. With Paytronix, Peet now tests and measures everything with control groups, so they know how to structure offers for success.

5. Invest in an Ordering App

As our world becomes more tethered to phones, ordering apps provide an opportunity to market to customers in the palm of their hands. Customers can place orders on the go, saving time and avoiding long lines.

One survey found that 67% of an average QSR’s revenue comes from food orders placed either online or over the phone.

Apps can suggest add-ons and specials, customize menu selections, remember favorite orders, and offer real-time tracking, increasing customer satisfaction.

Analyzing app data can help predict customer demand so you can optimize your inventory accordingly. 

Investing in an ordering app is not just about staying current with technology; it’s about embracing a customer-centric approach that aligns with modern consumer behavior.

6. Utilize First-Party Data

Successful QSR marketing engages customers on a deeply emotional level and provides a personalized experience.

How can QSRs better engage customers?

To create real engagement, brands need to surprise and delight their loyal customers in ways that feel memorable on an emotional level. The importance of personalized service, anticipating what customers may like, and letting customers know they are valued is stronger than ever. The challenge for most operators today is in how to leverage technology to provide that personalized experience and drive behavior at scale.”

Image Description

Sr. Vice President, Marketing, PayiQ

Using insights from First-Party data, QSRs can discover what customers typically order or prefer, enabling them to offer targeted deals or suggest new items, thereby fostering loyalty and repeat business.

A recent study found that 87 percent of loyalty program members are comfortable with activity tracking in exchange for a better experience.

However, leveraging 1P data in QSR marketing poses challenges. Fragmentation in data sources, integration with existing systems, and ensuring privacy and compliance with regulations can be complex tasks.

Axon Audience Manager transforms these challenges into opportunities by offering granular insights into campaign performance and driving revenue for QSRs through precise audience segmentation.

Here are a few ways it can do that: 

  1. Segmentation Without Complexity: Axon can segment customers based on cart contents at purchase or abandonment, even without detailed user journeys or product pages, creating unique target groups.
  2. Utilizing Customer Data: Axon transforms a website into a digital store, utilizing customer attributes to create specific segments, such as products purchased or geo-location.
  3. Personalization and Localization: Axon enables brands to craft tailored offers and adjust messaging regionally, making the content unique and localized.
  4. Capitalizing on Daily Interactions: Axon enables building large pools of customers for precise segmentation. It even allows for data-based predictive modeling, helping in new customer acquisition campaigns.

Axon turns valuable customer data into actionable strategies, boosting personalization and localization and increasing the success of QSR marketing campaigns.

How does Axon support QSR advertising?

Through advanced segmentation capabilities, Axon helps QSRs manage their customers’ digital advertising experience efficiently and increases the impact on revenue attributed to that advertising. Whether delivering special offers based on user profiles that drive brand loyalty or modeling a segment of HVC to power your prospecting efforts, 1st party data utilization is a prerequisite for a brand’s digital presence.”

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Head of Programmatic Trading, KORTX

7. Target Multicultural & Multilingual Customers with the Right Strategy

QSRs must understand their unique cultural nuances and language preferences to engage with multicultural and multilingual customers. This involves comprehensive market research to identify key demographics within different regions.

Example: A QSR in California might need to focus on Spanish-speaking customers, while one in Dearborn, Michigan, might focus on Arabic-speaking customers.

Each set of creatives should be customized to resonate culturally and linguistically with each target audience.

McDonald’s multicultural ad with KORTX. KORTX partnered with McDonald’s to connect with diverse cultural groups in specific U.S. QSR locations.

Leverage programmatic advertising to deliver localized content effectively. This technique allows QSRs to target ads based on geographic location and demographic data, ensuring that the right message reaches the right audience.

Example: A rich media ad campaign in Texas might include both English and Spanish versions, depending on the specific demographics of the area.

Align promotions and special offers with cultural events and holidays relevant to the target demographic. For instance, offering special menu items or discounts during cultural festivals can engage and show respect for different cultural groups.

Partner with local community leaders and influencers within target cultural groups. The community will feel represented, and the message may better resonate with their preferences.

🔍 Case Study: Engaging McDonald’s Customers with Multilingual Templates
Learn how McDonald’s partnered with KORTX for their multicultural display and rich media advertising. KORTX conducted thorough market research to understand cultural preferences without biases to reach the right audience with the right message.

mcdonalds advertising

By implementing these strategies, QSRs can create a more inclusive brand image and expand their market reach.

8. Hire a QSR Marketing Agency

Advertising is highly competitive and fast-paced, so you should partner with a specialized agency with a deep understanding of QSR marketing.

QSR marketing agencies understand consumer behavior, market trends, and competitive dynamics to execute strategies tailored specifically to the fast-food and casual dining sectors.

🔍 Case Study: Tropical Smooth Cafe: QSR Cookieless Targeting
Read about how KORTX helped Tropical Smoothie Cafe drive a 70% CPA (cost-per-acquisition) improvement in display advertising.

Learn more about KORTX and contact us about your QSR marketing needs.

QSR Marketing: The Pathway to Long-term Success

Committing to marketing for your quick service restaurant isn’t just an immediate solution—it’s a long-term strategy for growth and stability. 

The marketing methods we outlined can help you gain immediate returns but also can foster enduring success for your QSR business. Customer loyalty will deepen, word-of-mouth will spread, and your brand will attract new devotees who become its most loyal base.

We know what your QSR needs.

Over the past  8 years, we’ve partnered with leading national QSRs, helping them to grow through custom, data-driven strategies.

Sam Wilson is a Sr. Account Executive at KORTX. He brings over a decade of experience working across various verticals on both regional and national campaigns. Sam’s expertise lies in cultivating strong client relationships, devising strategic campaigns, and delivering measurable results that exceed exceptions.

Sam Wilson

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