NEW GEN Z 101: Unlock & Outlast Microtrends

Gen Z & Millennials’ Top 16 Favorite Fast Food Places

Apr 20 2022


The majority of Gen Z and Millennials are going to chain restaurants and fast food spots every month. What are their favorites?


TL;DR:

  • The majority of Gen Z and Millennials have gone out to a fast food restaurant in the past month
  • McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and Taco Bell are among young people’s favorite chain restaurants
  • Fast food, fast casual, and casual dining spots have been pulling out all the stops to win young consumers’ over, from celebrity meals to NFTs

YPulse’s recent food shopping and trends research found that 93% of 13-39-year-olds say they have gone out to a fast food restaurant in the past month, 88% have gone to a fast casual restaurant, and 84% have been to a casual dining spot. These generations have not turned their backs on QSR food, despite fears that they might. Yes, they are health-minded, but they’re also looking for convenience and taste matters more than anything else to them. In fact, our cooking and diets survey found that young consumers are more likely to consider how delicious something is when deciding what to eat than anything else, including how nutritious it is or how many calories it has. But that’s not to say that the industry has had an easy time capturing these generations—they’re in a constant race to keep their attention. In the last few years, we’ve seen fast food brands make massive changes from reinventing celebrity and influencer collabs to morphing into lifestyle brands to appeal to them. And of course, marketing stunts have gotten wilder and wilder, with celebrity meals from chain restaurants getting even bigger and better.

So, we know that young consumers are eating at fast food, fast casual, and casual dining spots, and that these brands are pulling out all the stops to win them over. But which ones are their favorites? While our behavioral report explores young people’s cooking habits at home, we also asked 13-39-year-olds what their favorite chain restaurant or fast food places are—and these are their top responses:

What is their favorite chain restaurant / fast food place?
Among 13-39-year-olds

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Chick-fil-A
  3. Taco Bell
  4. Wendy’s
  5. Burger King
  6. Subway
  7. Chipotle Mexican Grill
  8. Panda Express
  9. Olive Garden
  10. KFC
  11. Arby’s
  12. Tim Hortons
  13. Sonic
  14. Popeyes
  15. Raising Cane’s
  16. Starbucks

McDonald’s is Gen Z and Millennials’ favorite fast food place
McDonald’s is the top fast food place that Gen Z and Millennials’ tell us is their favorite. Affordability and nostalgia are major drivers for fans of the brand, with  one 34-year-old male respondent explaining: “It has always been for me ever since I was a kid. I have had good memories there with my family as a child and now good memories with kids of my own.” In the last two years, McDonald’s certainly has done everything in their power to keep young people interested in them. YPulse’s influencers and celebrities research shows that food collaborations are the No. 1 type of influencer / celebrity partnership young people want to see, and we told you about how fast food brands have been reinventing celeb and influence collabs. McDonald’s especially has been one that has heavily leaned into the concept partnering with everyone from Travis Scott, to BTS, to Saweetie, and Mariah Carey. Other fast food places that appear in the top 20 list, including Burger King, KFC, Tim Hortons, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Starbucks, have followed suit by teaming up with celebs and influencers to attract their fanbases.

Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell are also among young consumers’ top fast food restaurants
Chick-fil-A took the second spot. While the fast food chicken joint went viral in 2019 for its infamous internet war with Popeye’s, young people still can’t get enough of their sandwiches. In fact, many young respondents told us they chose Chick-fil-A as their favorite fast food place solely because of their chicken sandwiches. Taking the third spot is Taco Bell, who aside from tapping Lil Nas X as their “Chief Impact Officer,” was one of the first brands to experiment with NFTs and anime, and has been a master at releasing attention-grabbing, viral products including a crunchwrap supreme-scented wrapping paper during the holidays. They even know how to reach the gaming community and have hosted console giveaways in the past. One 24-year-old female respondent told us they like Taco Bell because “the menu has a lot of delicious items,” while a 14-year-old male respondent told us that aside from enjoying their food and drinks, they like participating in their console giveaways.

Wendy’s and Burger King round out young people’s top five rankings
Wendy takes the fourth spot, and of course, while they know how to tap into popular fandoms, like constantly partnering with Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty on collabs, they have been taking a different approach in targeting young consumers—specifically by reaching them inside the metaverse. This month, the chain announced “Wendyverse,” which is a virtual world that will offer customers a unique experience to interact with the brand outside of the food offerings. In the Wendyverse Town Square Central, fans will be able to interact with their friends. Our recent Metaverse trend research shows 61% of young consumers who play virtual world games say they are more likely to purchase from brands that interact with the virtual world games they are a part of—and clearly, Wendy’s knows how to reach the next gen of consumers in the digital space. Meanwhile, Burger King rounded out the top five and of course, while they’ve been another fast food brand to jump on the celeb meals train working with Nelly, Lil Huddy, and Anitta, they were also one of the first fast food brands to get into plant-based meat with their Impossible Whopper, which continues to be popular with young customers today.

Gen Z is more likely to say Taco Bell is their favorite chain restaurant, while Millennials are more likely to say Subway is
McDonald’s is the top favorite restaurant chain for both generations. However, while there were similarities in Gen Z and Millennials’ rankings when we broke it down between the two generations, we did notice a few notable differences that we just had to call out:

Millennials are more likely than Gen Z to say Taco Bell is their favorite chain restaurant, while Gen Z is more likely than Millennials to say Subway is their favorite fast food restaurant. One 21-year-old male told us: “It’s fresh, I like the way that they make the food in front of you and you get to mix and match your own stuff. The sandwich tastes good as well and worth it for the price. The food also fills your stomach.” Other young respondents also praised the fast food brand for its healthy and affordable options.

YPulse Business users can access the cooking and diets behavioral report and food shopping and trends behavioral report here. 

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.

*This was an open-end response question to allow us to capture the full range of chain restaurants that 13-39-year-olds in North America say are their favorites—without our preconceived ideas shaping their responses. As with any qualitative question, the responses include those that are top of mind and those that are most popular. The list is ordered according to number of responses received, and alphabetically when ties occurred.

You might also like...

North America
The Top 10 Retail Apps Gen Z and Millennials Are Using
Retail apps are the bottomless scroll feed of the online shopping world… TL;...
North America
Gen Z and Millennials Continue Their Moves Into a “New Normal”
Most Gen Z and Millennials still think COVID is a threat—but they’re not staying ho...
North America
This Is How Gen Z and Millennials Are Redefining Luxury
The younger gens' definition of splurges and luxury brands are not what you�...