What Does QSR Mean?

When people want a fast, casual meal but don’t have time to cook, they have many options available. These options include sit-down restaurants, buffet-style eateries, takeaways, and ‘fast-food’ dining.

QSR stands for “quick service restaurant.” These establishments are very similar to fast food joints.

What is a QSR?

A QSR is official restaurant terminology for what others may call fast food. A quick-service restaurant usually shares one or more of these attributes:

  • Limited menu items are available.
  • Most food is ordered for takeaway.
  • Most food is sold at a low price point.
  • Seating is often available, but it’s typically plastic coated for quick cleaning.
  • Customers order at a counter and seat themselves.

To truly understand the QSR meaning, think of dining concepts like McDonald’s and Burger King. In these establishments, meals cost around $5 a piece on average, with pizza chains charging slightly more.

In terms of size, the top six QSR chains in the U.S are:

  • Subway
  • McDonald’s
  • Starbucks
  • KFC
  • Burger King
  • Domino’s Pizza
  • Pizza Hut

QSR establishments provide limited menus, and the food is usually available for takeaway. That said, many quick service restaurants provide seating with functional ambiance (plastic seating, branded graphics, and fluorescent lighting). Brands such as McDonald’s have recently started to convert units to a ‘softer’ and more upmarket interior design.

The QSR industry is ever-changing. Each day, millions of customers enter fast-food chains worldwide, place their order, and exit with identical copies of the same meals people eat at almost every other location. Many of these food items are assembled within minutes of ordering, sometimes even faster.

There has been a trend towards upscale fast food as new QSRs try to differentiate from the ‘carbon copy’ fast food stereotype in recent years. Chains like ‘Pret A Manger’ are examples of these upscale QSRs, providing healthier menu items in appropriate portions, most of which are designed for takeaway consumption.

hands holding McDonald's french fries

QSR vs. Fast Casual Dining

man at the counter of Five Guys

To further understand the QSR meaning, we’re going to compare QSRs to some other dining concepts.

‘Fast Casual’ is one of the latest concepts in the ‘fast food’ industry. The term relates to the ‘hybrid’ nature of the concept, as it blends casual dining with fast food dining.

Fast-casual borrows some aspects from casual dining restaurants and some from fast food. Some of the leading ‘fast-casual chains include:

  • Five Guys Burgers and Fries
  • Chipotle
  • Mexican Grill
  • Panera Bread
  • Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop

These restaurants feature more diverse and upscale menus, cost slightly more than standard QSRs, and offer additional seating space for customers.

At Panera Bread, standard sandwiches have been replaced with upmarket paninis. Their sandwich items include artisan brands, replacing the white loaf bread and soggy bread rolls offered by competitors. Additionally, the salad is hand-tossed rather than pre-packaged.

Fast-casual restaurants generally don’t offer table service; orders are completed and paid for.  Then, customers are told to wait at a designated assembly area to pick up their food and take it to a table.

Certain chains use a different approach - allowing you to place your order, proceed to your table, and have your food delivered by a food runner. In fast-casual restaurants, the ambiance is typically more upscale than standard fast-food providers. Interiors tend to be more comfortable with soothing interior designs.

The Importance of Music at a QSR Restaurant

Now that we’ve discussed the QSR meaning and compared several similar dining experiences, it’s time to discuss the use and importance of music in a QSR restaurant.

Although you may not pay much attention to the music playing overhead when you visit a QSR, it doesn’t mean you’re not affected by what’s playing. Subconsciously, the chosen music can impact how big orders are, what items customers buy, and how long they stay inside the venue.

If a QSR plays music that matches their brand’s persona (‘brand fit music), it can increase sales by up to 9%.

Music can also influence how customers rank their experience in the restaurant. In one study of 401 customers, the ambiance of the space (including the music) had a significant impact on the online customer reviews the restaurant got after the visit. Ambiance was deemed more important, per this research, than the quality of the meal served. Studies like this demonstrate just how much the music we hear influences how we feel about our food.

While quick-service restaurants are designed to get customers out the door quickly, establishments also want their customers to spend as much money as possible. In a second study, researchers examined 395 customers dining out in Pakistan. They found that the quality of the music was closely associated with how much money customers would spend at the restaurant. Studies like this demonstrate that the quality of music is critical.

While quick-service restaurants could play the same tunes, some attempt to stand out with the songs they play. The chain Pei Wei shifted from Top 40 hits to indie rock and electronic dance tracks, and they featured artists from the Pacific Rim singing in their native languages. A shift like this matches the music to the food, enhancing the customer experience.

QSR managers can create a better customer experience and increase their sales by carefully considering their music choices.

Below are some questions QSR restaurant owners should consider about music choices and how they can impact their business.

Is the Music Tempo Important?

Your overhead music’s tempo has a significant impact on how your customers consume their food and drink. Therefore, choosing the wrong speed could have a negative or positive effect on your diner’s experience, even if you’ve chosen the correct mix, volume, and genre.

Researchers explain that music with a fast tempo makes people feel more interested and aroused. They move quicker and seem more stimulated by the environment. Music like this can make diners more interested in variety, so they might sample different items from your menu that they’ve never tried before.

Slower music can make your customers more thoughtful and contemplative. If you’re hoping to move them out of a quick-service restaurant as fast as possible, it could be a bad choice.

QSR vs. Casual Dining

restaurant table

Casual dining can be described as a step-up from QSRs and ‘Fast casual’ restaurants. Think of concepts like:

  • Chili’s Grill & Bar
  • Applebee’s
  • TGI Friday’s
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Buffalo Wild Wings

Casual dining is more expensive than QSR and ‘fast casual’ options, with price points averaging $15 per meal. They also offer considerably more choices than QSRs.

For example, if you look at Applebee’s menu, you’ll notice their items are much more sophisticated than most QSR handheld foods. They provide more fish, beef, and poultry options, with an extensive line of salads and sides. Additionally, many casual dining restaurants are licensed to serve alcohol.

In casual dining restaurants, the interior, ceilings, floors, tables, walls, and seating quality are much more appealing than typical QSR standards. If we consider Applebee’s once again, many of their casual-dining venues feature custom lighting, oversized booths, and plenty of wood and millwork. In general, casual dining restaurants feel less like a cafeteria and more like a restaurant.

Will Adjusting the Music Volume Change Customer Behavior?

As with tempo, the volume of music in your QSR can significantly impact how your customers behave. Louder music can encourage customers to leave the premises faster, which is often the goal of profit-driven fast-food restaurants.

During busy hours, you can turn the volume up a notch to turn tables quicker and make room for new customers, increasing turnover. If customers cannot communicate comfortably, they will leave your restaurant to continue their conversations somewhere quieter.

That said, although fast-turnaround has its advantages, there are some drawbacks. Studies have found that people’s appetites are lowered when loud music is playing. Additionally, customers may not be able to perceive tastes as well if there is loud music blaring. In these instances, they’re likely to enjoy their food less, decreasing the likelihood that they will revisit your restaurant.

Are There Negative Effects Associated with Choosing the Wrong Music?

outside of a Burger King

Most managers and owners will play any type of ambient music as long as the feeling and tempo generate positive results.

However, choosing the wrong music can have an impact. For example, just 17.8% of consumers liked the in-store music at Little Caesars. That’s one of the lowest scores in the industry. If a consumer is faced with two pizza choices and only one plays good music, that consumer could choose the competition.

Therefore, you must make the right music choices and invest time and effort into creating a suitable playlist for your QSR.

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Influence of Quick Service Restaurant’s Service Quality Toward Customer Online Reviews. (2022). Journal of Tourism, Hospitality, and Culinary Arts.

Effect of Music on Consumer Emotions: An Analysis of Pakistani Restaurant Industry. (2021). Journal of Independent Studies and Research.

Which Restaurant Chains Play the Best Music, According to Customers? (July 2018). Restaurant Business.

The Effects of Background Music Tempo on Consumer Variety Seeking Behavior: The Mediating Role of Arousal. (August 2023). Frontiers in Psychology.


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