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Chipotle & McDonald's Continue to Reign Supreme

by 
Bracha Arnold
 on 
July 20, 2023
Chipotle & McDonald's Continue to Reign Supreme

The last time we took a look at Chipotle and McDonald’s, visits to the two brands were showing up month after month, outpacing their category peers and driving continued loyalty to their stores. Now, with the first half of 2023 done and dusted, we take another look at the two dining leaders to see how they are holding up.

Life in the Chipotlane

Chipotle recently made headlines with the introduction of its new avocado-cutting robot, but the chain has other tricks up its sleeve to keep customers coming back for more. Year-over-year (YoY) visits to Chipotle were elevated in all months analyzed, with the chain outperforming the wider fast-casual dining category. June 2023 visits per venue to Chipotle were 8.4% higher than in June 2022, while the fast-casual category saw 2.1% visit per venue growth during the same period. 

The elevated visits and visits per venue suggest that Chipotle’s expansion strategy is working well for the chain. The company has focused its new store openings in smaller cities and college towns and has also leaned into takeaway offerings – of around 250 stores opened this year, all but 34 had Chipotlane windows. The pickup windows, which are fully app-powered, help Chipotle save money on third-party delivery fees, avoid price increases, and maximize efficiency for the brand. 

A McFlurry Of Visits

Like Chipotle, McDonald’s is one of the strongest dining brands today that is driving traffic and consistently outperforming its category despite the wider headwinds. The company continues to be a perennial fast-food favorite, with YoY visits to the chain in June up 9.7%, while QSR as a whole saw visits elevated by just 3.1% YoY. 

McDonald’s also began adding new stores to its fleet in 2022 for the first time in eight years, citing a strong pandemic performance, and continued opening stores into 2023. And despite inflation-fueled price increases, customers seem to be receptive to these new locations – visits per venue to the chain were also elevated every month analyzed. 

A Meal For All Income Levels

A significant part of Chipotle and McDonald’s  success lies in their broad appeal – both chains cater to customers from a wide range of household incomes (HHI). And though the median HHI for diners at Chipotle is higher than the median HHI of McDonald’s diners ($78.4K vs. $62.7K), the two chains see plenty of visitors earning above and below those numbers.

With its higher ticket prices, Chipotle tends to attract a wealthier customer base who resonate with the chain’s commitment to quality. To that end, the company recently debuted a chef-led dining concept called Farmesa in Santa Monica. The eatery will stick to the Chipotle principles of serving food with integrity, while deviating from the chain’s Tex-Mex roots, serving up California-inspired healthy and colorful customizable bowls. 

On the other hand, McDonald's is known for serving affordable meals, making it a favorite among customers across all income levels. The company also utilizes strategic menu releases and limited-time offers to help drive urgency and a sense of nostalgia, boosting foot traffic to its locations. And more recently, McDonald's has focused on revamping its classic burger, which may help it capture a more discerning consumer. 

Last Bites

Chipotle and McDonald’s  have found ways to resonate successfully with a wide range of customers, from value seekers to quality-focused and nostalgic diners. This and consistently impressive foot traffic trends solidify their positions as fast food leaders.

How will the two chains perform in H2 2023? Visit placer.ai/blog to find out.

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