Burger Brands Breakdown

Visits to popular burger fast-food chains such as Portillo’s, In-N-Out, Shake Shack, and White Castle have been particularly strong over the past couple of months. We dove into the data to better understand foot traffic patterns to these cult favorites. 

Impressive Growth in Overall Visits 

Many of the burger brands analyzed are relatively regionally focused – Portillo’s has a high concentration of Chicago locations, In-N-Out is strong in California, Shake Shack is particularly popular in the tri-state area, and White Castle has a loyal Midwestern and Northeastern following. But one thing these chains have in common is their strong visit performance over the past two quarters.

As nationwide dining foot traffic lagged behind 2019 levels for most of this past year, visits climbed to these burger brands. In September, as year-over-two-year nationwide dining visits were down by 7.9%, visits to Portillo’s, In-N-Out Burger, While Castle, and Shake Shack increased by 2.1%, 19.5%, 4.5%, and 4.0%, respectively, compared to September 2019. And October’s performance was even stronger, with Yo2Y visits to Portillo’s, In-N-Out Burger, While Castle, and Shake Shack rising by 7.5%, 30.3%, 14.0%, and 17.7%, respectively – positioning these chains for a robust Q4.  

Changes in Visits per Venue

Some of the increase in visits is due to new location openings. In particular, Shake Shack’s impressive foot traffic growth seems to be largely due to its brick and mortar expansion, with Yo2Y average monthly visits per venue numbers significantly lower than its overall foot traffic growth. This makes sense, given that Shake Shack has opened over thirty new locations in 2020 and announced in January that it planned to open 35-40 additional locations in 2021

Portillo’s, which also opened several new locations in 2020 and 2021, has also seen its Yo2Y visits/venue metrics fall behind Yo2Y overall visit growth – but the drop has not been dramatic. The fact that the Chicago-based brand managed to maintain relatively consistent visits/venue numbers while expanding its physical footprint –– even attaining Yo2Y growth in visits/venue of 2.4% in October – bodes well for its long-term expansion plan.

Meanwhile, In-N-Out and White Castle have both seen major hikes in visits/venue over the past couple of months, with October average monthly visits per venue rising by 25.3% and 17.4% for In-N-Out Burger and White Castle, respectively. 

Even More Room for Growth

Diving into consumer behavior patterns reveals even more room for growth. The charts below, which analyze the changes in the share of hourly visits out of total visits to the brand, indicate that the share of evening visits rose across almost all the brands (except for Shake Shack) when compared to 2019, while the share of lunchtime visits between the hours of 11AM and 2PM fell across the board. This means that Portillo’s, In-N-Out, White Castle, and Shake Shack managed to grow their Yo2Y visits despite a drop in the relative number of lunchtime visits. Critically, the drop in lunchtime visits was more pronounced in September and October, as consumers were returning to routines, than it was in the summer months. 

This Yo2Y drop in lunchtime visits was also seen with other leading QSR players, and is not necessarily reason for concern – after all, these brands have managed to exhibit strong Yo2Y visit growth despite the midday downturn. But the relatively weak lunchtime visit numbers do mean that these already strong brands have an opportunity to become even stronger. By finding ways to appeal to Americans returning to the office or to customers taking a midday break from work for holiday shopping, these brands can continue to grow and position themselves for even greater success in 2022. 

Will Portillo’s, In-N-Out, Shake Shack, and White Castle continue growing their foot traffic? Will lunchtime visits return? 

Visit Placer.ai to find out. 

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