You may have noticed, in your hungry quests, that a lot of quick service restaurants have changed their look and brand message lately. While it’s not unusual to update a logo now and again, several top food chains are adapting in force to fit the changing expectations of today’s consumers. Healthy options, friendly service and attractive restaurants are now just as important as satisfying a late-night craving for nachos, and expectations are high.

Healthy Choices

The most obvious shift within today’s food industry is the desire for healthy food choices—in fact, the very term, “fast food” has been associated with unhealthy eating.

Back in the day, we were more than happy to order a greasy cheeseburger that may or may not be beef served in a styrofoam box. Now, our “totally beef, we promise” burger is lovingly wrapped within a paper container by 100-percent-organic teenagers. Don’t think of it as fast food . . . it’s “quick service.”

Of course, no one has been more affected by public health scrutiny than McDonald’s, who has discontinued its “Super Size” option while adding salads, fruit and smaller portions to the menu in an attempt to promote a more wholesome image.

Chipotle, haunted by an E. coli outbreak in 2015, has been hard at work advertising fresh ingredients and quality. While the restaurant has struggled in recent years to maintain revenue, the chain still ranked No. 1 for quick-service Mexican restaurants in a 2017 study by Market Force. Chipotle is also making a covert effort to teach children about healthy eating through an unbranded animated show called RAD Lands, available on iTunes and will become available to schools in the near future. Aimed at children between the ages of seven and 10, the show features a group called The Cultivators—a group trying to save the galaxy’s plants and animals.

The desire for healthy food choices is negatively affecting brand value across the quick service restaurant table—McDonald’s brand value is down nine percent, Subway one percent, Taco Bell 10 percent, Domino’s 16 percent, Pizza Hut 22 percent and KFC 27 percent, according to the latest report by Brand Finance.

When it comes to attracting young spenders, restaurants are walking a line between price and healthy options. A study by VisionCritical found that 73 percent of Gen Z look for prices and promotions more than any other feature, followed by nutritional content at 67 percent.

McDonald’s teamed up with Weight Watchers to promote healthy eating through moderation.

Brand Image

A number of restaurants have recently updated their logos from Taco Bell to El Pollo Loco and Yoshinoya—much in the way that a new hair cut or color can help ring in a new attitude or image for the wearer. In addition to health concerns, quick service restaurants want the public to know that they care—about the environment, its employees, animal welfare and community.

McDonald’s stopped using foam cups to serve coffee and together with over 160 other companies, have pledged to provide only cage-free eggs by the year 2025. Contributing to charity is nothing new for brands like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, but more restaurants are taking action in their communities.

El Pollo Loco recently launched its “Road to Authenticity” campaign that highlights the chain’s roots in the Los Angeles culture. The restaurant commissioned a mural by renowned Latino artist Jorge Gutierrez for their Alvarado Street location in Echo Park.

Minimum wage has been a hot debate, especially among employees in the quick service restaurant industry. McDonald’s invested in higher wages and customer service training for its corporate-owned locations in 2015 in an attempt to boost morale on both sides of the cash register. According to CEO Steve Easterbrook, customer satisfaction scores were up six percent in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015.

Jack in the Box uses humor like its "JackiLeaks" campaign to appeal to millennials.
Jack in the Box uses humor like its “JackiLeaks” campaign to appeal to millennials.

Food Of The Future

Automation—both for convenience and cost savings—is a rising trend among the quick service food industry, with consumers able to place orders from their mobile devices or kiosks. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Panera and several others have introduced self-serve kiosks over the last year.

While ordering food as easily as sending a text is neat, restaurants are embracing other technology to attract young consumers and show the world that they’ve “still got it.” McDonald’s introduced Happy Meals that fold into VR headsets, for example, and Chick-fil-A recently launched a VR experience starring its famous cows.

If only the fittest survive, restaurants formally calling themselves “fast food” have to work twice as hard to earn consumer trust in a world of changing values, expectations and interests.