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5 differences between the eating out markets in the UK and US

Roger Perowne CEO 09/01/2020

While many eating out brands are available on both sides of the pond, how do Brits and Americans differ in terms of which restaurant brands they love?

The cliché holds true…Americans love fast food

Towards the end of 2019 we revealed the most loved eating out brands in both the UK and US markets as part of a series of publications designed to shed light on the link between brand affinity and commercial performance in the dining sector.

The reports (available to download here and here) reveal diners’ most loved eating out brands — with performance rankings straddling the restaurant, pub, coffee shop/café, and quick service/fast casual verticals.

But how do the UK and US markets differ — or are we more similar than we think?

Chick-fil-A rules the roost in America

Chick-fil-A, the self-proclaimed ‘Home of the Chicken Sandwich’, is the most loved eating out brand in the US.

Around 1 in 3 Americans aware of the brand say they ‘love’ the fast food chain which places it comfortably above second-placed Starbucks and third-placed Olive Garden.

The secret to its success?

On the food front it has excelled at offering fried chicken in pretty much every form possible, from chicken sandwiches and strips to chicken biscuits and nuggets.

But beyond that Chick-fil-A has made brand loyalty a central part of its marketing activity with a clear focus on treating its customers well. For example, its ‘A-List’ loyal customer membership breeds die-hard customers with high visit frequency through its offering of special treats and exclusive content.

McDonalds flies the flag for the UK

Despite its rich heritage in the US market, McDonalds harbours greater brand affinity in the UK and comfortably tops the charts as the most loved eating out brand with 1 in 5 consumers ‘loving it’.

Following its launch in the UK market in 1974 the business has grown to be one of the chain’s most successful entities globally, having achieved more than 50 consecutive quarters of growth while simultaneously serving almost 4 million people every day.

Fuelling its success in recent years has been a strong commitment to innovation including exciting new food, contemporary interiors, delivery, mobile ordering and table service, alongside a 24/7 availability to ensure consumers can always get their fix.

The cliché holds true… Americans love fast food

Although two fast food chains – Chick-fil-A and McDonalds – top the rankings in the US and UK respectively, the strength of love for fast food in the former is much stronger, highlighted by the fact the US has four times the number of QSR brands in the Top 100 (36) compared to the UK (9).

By contrast, the profile of the Top 100 in the UK is more skewed towards a sit down dining experience. Casual dining accounts for the largest proportion of brands at 35, followed by pub restaurants / bars (28).

Subway’s physical availability drives strong trans-Atlantic love

A select number of brands can claim to be truly loved across both sides of the pond as 12 feature in both the UK and US rankings— the majority of which fall into the quick service category.

The highest ranked brand, when taking into account the average ranking across both markets, is Subway — the only brand to feature in the top 10 in both markets.

The sandwich giant is able to generate and sustain strong brand affinity through its rife physical availability. It is the largest single-brand restaurant chain, and the largest restaurant operator in the world with more than 41,000 sites.

The bulk of these – more than 24,000 – are in the US. To put this into a competitive context, this is almost as many sites as the combined US estates of closest rivals McDonalds and Starbucks. In the UK, Subway has a similar territorial dominance with more than 2,400 sites, around twice the estate of McDonalds.

Brits more likely to abstain from meat

A cursory glance at dietary trends data reveals some interesting findings when comparing both markets, particularly around meat abstention.

Around 7% of UK consumers describe themselves as vegetarian, almost twice the equivalent proportion of their US counterparts (4%). Similarly, veganism appears to be more popular in the UK with 3% opting for a plant-based diet compared to 2% in the US.

With around half a million Brits participating in Veganuary this month – almost three times the equivalent figure for 2018 – we can only see this figure growing as we head into the 2020s.

Learn more about BrandVue Eating Out can help your brand here or download the UK report and US report for more insights about the dining sector in both markets.

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