Q4 2022 Consumer Trends Report: Where Are Consumers Dining?

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As Americans adjust to a new normal post pandemic, they are also grappling with the challenge of soaring food costs. In Q3 2022, fast casual dining was the popular choice as consumers began dining out more, while still emphasizing value. As consumers continue to adjust economically, and menu prices increase, are Americans still opting for convenient dine-in options over popular QSR (quick service restaurant) chains? We took a deep dive to learn more about foot traffic to fast food locations and other restaurants.

Q4 2022: Restaurant Foot Traffic Growth

For a better understanding of restaurant foot traffic trends, Unacast analyzed foot traffic across various restaurant categories from Q4 2021 to Q4 2022.

For this time period, foot traffic to almost all types of restaurants decreased. In fact, there was just one category that saw an increase in year-over-year foot traffic: fast food. Foot traffic to fast food locations increased by 2% overall. Ice cream shops, bistros, and coffee shops performed fairly well in our list, despite having seen foot traffic decreases. However, buffets, family style restaurants, and Italian restaurants were all among the worst performers, seeing significant declines in consumer visits.

restaurant foot traffic 2022

Our Q4 data suggests that Americans are choosing the most budget-friendly options, which often means opting for fast food. As consumers continue looking to get the most bang for their buck, which fast food restaurants are they choosing?

Q4 Foot Traffic to Fast Food Chains

Although fast food menu prices have been seeing price hikes, Americans are choosing QSR locations over other dining options. From Q4 2021 to Q4 2022, KFC experienced the highest increase in year-over-year foot traffic at 19%. This fairly significant foot traffic increase could be attributed to the company’s plans for growth. KFC may continue attracting visitors as there seems to be continued company changes underway for 2023.

fast food foot traffic 2022

KFC’s foot traffic growth was trailed by Subway, Burger King, and Wendy’s, seeing increases of 9%, 5%, and 2%, respectively. Although the time period we analyzed showed growth for these QSR giants, there were two market leaders in fast food that saw foot traffic decrease: McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A. McDonald’s ended Q4 2022 with a decline in year-over-year foot traffic at -5%. Also sitting in the negatives, Chick-fil-A saw 13% less foot traffic in Q4 2022 compared to Q4 2021. The sinking foot traffic for McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A may be due to customers taking advantage of drive-thru options rather than buying their meals inside.

Whatever the case, foot traffic to fast food restaurants will likely continue increasing as 2023 progresses.

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Convenience and Affordability

As we’ve seen with recent shopping trends, convenience and affordability may be the most important factors for consumerism this year. Because fast food chains are known for their convenience and fair prices, these companies are likely to see continued success throughout current economic disruptions.

As more and more folks seek high value in hopes to make more strategic purchases, fast food companies may begin making menu changes to appeal to cost-conscious consumers. Although food costs have been rising, popular fast food chains may switch things up to offer the value that customers are looking for.

We may be seeing more value or dollar menus in the near future, and we may begin seeing more emphasis on loyalty programs and memberships within the restaurant industry. 2023 is the year for businesses to appeal to the average consumer who worries about economic instability and their finances. Those restaurants who appeal to consumers’ desire for convenience and value will win in 2023.

Fast Food Restaurants: What’s Next?

As menus shrink for easier ordering, what else may be shrinking in the name of convenience? Experts predict a shift away from fast food dining areas and lobbies, with a focus instead on investing in new drive-thru and pickup systems. Foot traffic to fast food restaurants may look very different as drive-thrus expand and ordering becomes more automated. We may begin seeing more fast food restaurants without any lobbies at all.

Taco Bell is a leader in drive-thru innovation, with an emerging concept of an expanded, multi-lane, drive-thru only business. As traditional businesses grappled with pandemic restrictions, they were forced to begin limiting dine-in occupancy and offering contactless services, such as curbside pickup. The pandemic may have made way for a new level of convenience that chains like Taco Bell are embracing.

In 2023, consumers are likely to continue taking hold of loyalty programs, mobile ordering, and delivery, emphasizing the importance of digital integration and furthered convenience. Winning fast food companies will need to have a well-rounded understanding of the complex consumer experience in 2023. Many fast food chains are thinking ahead to compel consumers, so it will be interesting to watch how foot traffic to fast food restaurants continues evolving.


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