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These are hard times for fast food chains. The old standby burger-and-fries is giving way to more “fast casual” offerings like upscale salads and made-to-order sandwiches, and the old guard chains are pulling out all the stops in an effort to catch up and innovate — doing everything from introducing all day breakfast to rolling out wacky technological gimmicks. Here are 10 chains that are throwing everything at the wall and hoping that something sticks.
According to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, consumers’ satisfaction with fast food is down nearly four percent from 2014, and McDonald’s saw sales drop by 3.3 percent last year. Wendy’s, in the process of converting 95 percent of all its restaurants to franchises, has seen revenue drop by 3.2 percent. Clearly, something is rotten in the state of fast food, and these companies aren’t going to sit idly by as their profits take a headfirst tumble.
This is a transformative time for the industry. Unless you’re one of the few chains that’s lucky enough to be doing well without any major changes — like In-N-Out or Chick-fil-A — this is an era that is likely to redefine exactly what your brand is going to represent. Chains are experimenting with a slew of new menu items, introducing technological advancements like mobile ordering, and putting an added emphasis on breakfast, which is proving to be the hot new territory. At the same time, innovative new startups are coming onto the scene and providing meals that are healthy as well as being fast at only a marginally more expensive price, like Sweetgreen, Tender Greens, and Just Salad; at the same time, fast casual options like Panera Bread continue to carve away at fast food market share.
Read on to learn how 10 legacy fast food chains are trying to update their brand and their image to become more health-conscious and technologically savvy but also, in some cases, to introduce ever more outrageous mashups. Even the chains that are doing well, like Chipotle, are constantly looking for ways to upgrade and improve; If the chains that aren’t faring so well don’t find something that works, we can expect to see a very different last food landscape in a few years.
Burger King has been making some major strides in an attempt to lure in new customers within the past year. They brought back Chicken Fries (and rolled out Fiery Chicken Fries), pulled soda from their kids’ menu, launched a breakfast value menu with breakfast items selling for $1 and up, and brought back the ham and cheese Yumbo in an effort to appeal to the “retro” crowd. (They also introduced lower-calorie “Satisfries,” but those didn’t last very long.)
Even though Chipotle’s finances aren’t in trouble, that doesn’t mean that they’re not constantly striving to innovate. They became the first GMO-free national chain in April, are simplifying the ingredients in their tortillas, they rolled out delivery across 67 cities (and will deliver to many college campuses this fall), and they recently held a job fair in which they hired 4,000 new employees in one day.