Cooking Up a Crave: The Role of Mobile in Fast Food Dining

You’re going about your day, maybe feeling a little hungry. Suddenly it strikes—the crave! You need that taco, burger or french fry, and you need it now. So you whip out your smartphone to check out the clos­est fast food joint. Craving your favorite food might not be a new feeling, but the way you act on it? That’s changing, thanks in large part to mobile. 

Facebook IQ wanted to better understand how tech is disrupting crave, so we looked at how two different types of fast food* diners think about food and navigate the crave. We also explored how mobile helps them make decisions to satisfy their hunger and where there are opportunities to better connect with diners.


Different diners have different drivers

Frequent Diners** are engaged fast-foodies, but Occasional Diners** may be more loyal to a brand.


While Frequent Diners love fast food and want to try new restaurants and menu items in the category, Occasionals want to visit fast food places on their own terms, when they crave the food. We think the focus on crave goes back to their need for consistency. When they know and like the food—even if they don’t specifically seek it out very often—they remember its taste. Meanwhile, we see that Frequent Diners are more apt to explore.


Mobile can help you meet both groups on their terms

When people feel hunger, they rush to their phones: 53% of Frequent and 41% of Occasional Diners1 say their mobile phone is the first place they go to decide on a place to eat. One report suggests that almost a quarter of people even say they take photos of their food-eating experience.

So how can mobile draw diners to fast food restaurants?

Let’s look at how mobile is impacting the industry and explore the opportunities to connect with more diners on their phones.


Ratings and reviews: A cross-platform opportunity?

Today our smartphones are an arm’s reach away at all times.3 At the same time, at least 2 out of 5 diners in the Frequent and Occasional Diner groups say they rely on online reviews to help guide their selections.1


We see this as an opportunity for restaurants to leverage mobile to bring visibility to reviews and ratings. How can brands do this? Ensure that ratings and reviews translate well across platforms and create a mobile-friendly, on-the-go experience for diners.


Visual imagery inspires crave for both groups

Beyond third-party reviews, people are also inspired by friends’ images on mobile.



Mobile visuals drive the crave, especially when people are “on the go.” There’s something about other people’s fast food-related pictures that gets people hungry, particularly Frequent Diners. Whether it plants the seed for a future crave or grabs diners in the crave moment, mobile imagery is a key part of the crave experience.


Mobile images can convey context 

For Occasional Diners, where they eat is just as important as what they eat. Compared to people who don’t eat at fast food restaurants, Occasional Diners are 1.63x more likely to say that the “ambiance” would encourage a future visit. They’re also 1.79x more likely to be encouraged to eat at a restaurant if that’s where other people their age go.1

Mobile can help build the social context for communicating ambiance to potential diners. By seeing a mobile image of a restaurant—and picturing similar people enjoying themselves—they’ll be persuaded to try something new.


Messaging connects people and restaurants

Mobile is also creating new ways to personalize the experience and communicate with fast food places.


Mobile messaging apps are connecting people to businesses4—providing a new, direct line to the crave. We know that Frequent Diners are more open to mobile-enhanced dining, including apps or websites that help them with meal-ordering. They’re 1.31x more likely than Occasional Diners to be encouraged to visit a restaurant that allows mobile meal ordering.1 Direct messaging could be a natural extension of Frequents’ appetite for novelty and serve as a gateway toward better service and experience for Occasionals.

In fact, messaging might bridge the gap between craving and dining for Occasional Diners. Perhaps messaging could help them skip the parts of ordering and in-store experiences they might not enjoy—and get them to their crave faster.


What it means for marketers

Embrace the shift to mobile: Consumer behavior has changed, and mobile is the way to reach people at the point of hunger when eating decisions are being made. Connect with the device that’s always in their hands.

Integrate your experiences: The restaurant of the future will feature seamless integration of in-store and mobile experiences throughout the crave journey. Mobile can change the experience in-store: focus on ordering innovations on mobile and embrace messaging to improve customer service and feedback.4



* Fast food restaurant is defined as a place known for quick food preparation and service and/or multiple locations or franchises.
** Frequent Diners go to fast food restaurants at least twice a week and have been in a fast food restaurant in the last seven days. Occasional Diners go to fast food restaurants at least once a month and have been in a fast food restaurant in the past 30 days.



1 “The Role of Mobile in Fast Food Dining” by Facebook IQ (Qualtrics-fielded survey of 1,701 people ages 18–51 in the US), Oct 2016.
2 “Technology and Dining Out” by OpenTable, 2015.
3 “Marketplace Media Platform Comparison” by Neurons Inc (Facebook-commissioned study of 65 people ages 21–50 in the US), conducted to quantify key differences in shopping behavior across channels using EEG and eye-tracking and fielded Dec 12–19, 2016.
4 “Facebook Messaging Survey” by Nielsen (Facebook-commissioned study of 12,500 people ages 18+ who used a mobile messaging app in the past 30 days in AE, AU, BR, FR, ID, IN, JP, KR, MX, TH, TW, UK, US and VN), Mar 2016.