Running a restaurant has perhaps never been more complicated. But operators’ ongoing efforts to streamline the business appear to be paying off with one important group: consumers.
On a ranking of the world’s simplest brands conducted by brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale, the restaurant industry placed fifth, behind electronics, appliances, retail/grocery and internet search.
Even more notable is that restaurants jumped eight spots on this year’s list, which is based on surveys of 15,000 consumers around the world. That was the biggest improvement by any industry, and there are a couple of reasons for it, said Brian Rafferty, global director, business analytics & insights for Siegel+Gale.
One is obvious. The firm last conducted its simplicity survey in 2021, when the world was still in the thick of the pandemic. Restaurants’ scores reflected the restrictions and anxieties of the time. “The whole experience had become more fraught, if you will,” Rafferty said. So their improvement this year is a rebound of sorts.
But the pandemic also pushed restaurants to adopt more technology, such as mobile ordering, delivery and loyalty programs, that made things more convenient for customers and likely boosted the industry’s simplicity score this year.
“All of those things obviously have been seen as streamlining the experience,” Rafferty said.
Siegel+Gale measures simplicity on a number of variables, including a brand’s ease of use, transparency, innovation and clarity of communication.
Excelling in these areas is important, it says, because simpler brands tend to do be more successful. According to Siegel+Gale, 64% of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences, and 78% are more likely to recommend a brand that they consider easy to interact with. A portfolio of the simplest publicly traded brands, compiled by Siegel+Gale, has outperformed major indexes by 1,600% since 2009.
Top 10 simplest brands worldwide
- Family Mart
- Burger King
Restaurants, and particularly quick-service brands, have always done well in the firm’s survey. Consumers know what to expect from fast-food chains, Rafferty said, and chains are good at meeting those expectations.
That’s one reason McDonald’s has ranked among the top 10 brands worldwide every year since Siegel+Gale launched the simplicity study in 2010: The burger giant has more than 40,000 locations around the globe and has become a model for delivering consistency at scale.
At the same time, it’s adaptable. It blends easily into far-away markets by attuning its menus to local tastes. In India, for instance, it sells sandwiches served on naan.
“It’s this ability to be kind of consistent while at the same time being able to flex and provide things that provide delight,” Rafferty said.
That helped make McDonald’s the seventh simplest brand worldwide on Siegel+Gale’s 2023 ranking.
In the U.S., however, consumers crowned a different burger brand: Burger King, McDonald’s biggest rival, was named the No. 5 simplest brand stateside.
Rafferty said it’s unclear why BK outdid McDonald’s among Americans, but noted that it has been the case most years. Respondents praised Burger King for its app and ordering experience.
“Burger King went mobile,” one wrote. “Ordering from the drive-through is simple,” said another.
Top 10 simplest brands, U.S.
- Whole Foods
- U.S. Postal Service
- Burger King
- Trader Joe’s
- Old Navy
Burger King is in the midst of a major overhaul of its brand and its operations. Its $400 million Reclaim the Flame initiative includes investments in technology, kitchen equipment and building renovations. And there is evidence that those investments are starting to pay off.
The other restaurant brand to land among Americans’ top 10 simplest was Dunkin’. It rose to No. 6 this year, from No. 10 in 2021.
Rafferty pointed out that the 13,000-unit coffee chain went through a rebrand in 2019, dropping the “Donuts” from its name. This may have helped crystalize the brand for consumers as more of an all-around restaurant rather than just a coffee and donuts specialist.
“They’re trying to actually cue [consumers] that you can think of them for more things than just the obvious,” Rafferty said.
Like Burger King, Dunkin’ has also made big investments in technology in recent years. In 2019, it put $100 million toward in-restaurant upgrades like new espresso machines and has made changes to its loyalty program and mobile ordering to make them easier to use.
While technology appears to have helped simplify the restaurant experience, Rafferty warned that tech does not always equate to simplicity. Siegel+Gale’s report found, for instance, that human interaction can help reduce complexity in certain situations, such as checking out of a hotel or boarding a plane.
That’s important for restaurants to consider as they continue to add technology like kiosks and AI drive-thru bots that can help lower costs, but also force the customer to do more of the work.
“It’s always a push-pull between [customer] experience and cost, and sometimes things can both simplify a user experience and be a cost savings for the company doing it,” Rafferty said. “Unfortunately, often they’re not always thinking about the experience. They oftentimes just start thinking about the cost savings.”
There are certain scenarios, especially problem resolution, where it is much simpler to have a real person there to help, he said.
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