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These Major National Fast-Food Chains Are Still Struggling For Dine-In Customers

The shift to off-premise dining is affecting some brands more than others.

Post-pandemic restaurant recovery has been the major theme of 2021, and while some of your favorite fast-food brands skyrocketed to new heights of popularity during that time, other big players are still very much struggling to get customers back to their locations. According to the latest data from on restaurant visits across the quick-service industry, there are still major discrepancies in the post-pandemic foot traffic.

In October, visits to fast-food chains have climbed back nearly to pre-pandemic levels, but some brands were closer to their 2019 success than others. Regional darlings like In-N-Out, Shake Shack, White Castle, and Portillo's, for example, have come out on top of the pack, with October foot traffic exceeding their 2019 traffic by 7.5%, 30.3%, 14.0%, and 17.7% respectively. But Popeyes may be the biggest success story here—visits to the chain are up by nearly 26% on a two-year comparison basis.

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National chains like McDonald's and Wendy's are just coming around to closing that drop in foot traffic caused by the pandemic. The two burger giants were heavily reliant on in-store visits before 2020, and have suffered major losses over the last 18 months as a result. But thanks to successfully pushing celeb meal collaborations, breakfast campaigns, new menu launches, and loyalty programs, the chains are hovering at their 2019 foot traffic levels—McDonald's was down only by 1.3% in October, while Wendy's was up by 3.3%. Data also shows that McDonald's is currently the king when it comes to lunchtime visits to fast-food chains, while Wendy's is winning big on breakfast.

On the other hand, several chains are still playing catch up when it comes to bringing their on-premise sales back. At Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and KFC, October dining visits were still down by 10.1%, 15.3%, and 20.4%, respectively. However, just because people aren't eating at these restaurants, doesn't mean they aren't placing drive-thru, delivery, and takeout orders. In fact, an increase in short visits (15 to 29 minutes) to fast-food restaurant chains, which has been seen across all brands, likely reflects the increase in drive-thru and takeout orders compared to 2019.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura