Consumer Trends

Gen Z college students rank their fast food favorites

Recent Yelp data reveals the most popular national, regional and local chains near top public universities in the U.S.
Art by Nico Heins

Burgers, pizza, salads, sandwiches—which is the No. 1 fast food choice of today’s college students?

To find out, Yelp partnered with BrokeScholar to analyze data for fast food chains within a two-mile radius of 144 of the country’s public universities.

And the winner is ... Blaze Pizza.

Ranked as the most popular brand, students singled out Blaze for its responsibly sourced ingredients, eco-friendly packaging and numerous customization options, including gluten-free and plant-based.

But burgers and sandwiches weren’t left in the dust. Coming in at No. 2 was Five Guys, and at No. 3, Jersey Mike’s.

College students have always been fast food fans, but with inflation cutting deeper into their spending power these days, they may be turning more often to these cheaper eats.

While Chick-fil-A (No. 4), McDonald’s (No. 5) and Taco Bell (No. 7) also landed in the Top 10, local eateries earned the most stars.

Operators may want to note that this group of Gen Z consumers is often drawn to concepts that support local initiatives or offer a range of healthier and more sustainable choices. Students at Arizona State, for example, awarded the most stars to 5th Street Burger and Fries, which started as a delivery-only restaurant during the pandemic. It serves up a wide assortment of unique sauces with its burgers, like maple aioli.

UC Riverside diners gave high marks to Veg & Go. This plant-based concept menus pea protein burgers, vegan wings and kombucha.

But more mainstream sandwiches dominated the fast-food lineup, with 46 of the most popular chains focusing on that menu category. Along with Jersey Mike’s, students noted a preference for Jimmy Johns, Firehouse Subs, Potbelly and Pita Pit.

It goes without saying that geography also played a part in popularity. At University of Wyoming, Papa John’s tops the list, and University of Maryland students are Pizza Hut fans. Raising Cane’s is a regional favorite, as is In-N-Out Burger.

More detailed survey findings are posted on the BrokeScholar website.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.

Multimedia

Exclusive Content

Technology

Pipedream wants to take restaurant pickup underground

The startup uses robots and tunnels to move food from kitchen to car. It believes it can one day connect entire cities.

Financing

As CosMc's takes off, McDonald's operators want a piece of the action

The Bottom Line: But where that action should take place is the question. Many operators believe the brand should be a testing ground for McDonald's own beverage program.

Financing

Bad weather returns as a restaurant sales problem

The Bottom Line: Snow and cold in January kept customers from visiting restaurants. Here's why this might be a bigger influence in the future.

Trending

More from our partners