In recent years, the culinary landscape has witnessed a notable shift in consumer behaviour. In particular, we are seeing more individuals opting for quick service restaurants (QSRs) and takeaways over traditional dine-in establishments and, according to Restaurant Online, mid-market casual dining is now struggling to compete.

Studies from Mordor Intelligence show that the market size for QSRs will have grown to 34.07 billion in 2024 and the humble burger is at the forefront of the sector, making up 30.86% of its growth. In addition to this, consumers are rapidly heading online for their meals, leading to the online food delivery market projecting a growth rate of 16.24% this year.

Whilst several factors contribute to this trend, there’s one reason that stands out: shorter attention spans. And with social media playing such a big role in consumers’ lives, there seems to be a stark similarity between QSRs and TikTok…

The history of ‘bite-sized’ media

As any digital native will tell you, it started with Vine. Launched in 2013, the social media network gave you six seconds to make an impact, whether that be comedy sketches or day-in-the-life videos. But when TikTok was incorporated into the lip-syncing app, short-form content as we know it today was born.

TikTok undoubtedly has become a large influence on consumer culture, but it begs the question of whether having so much short, snappy content at our fingertips has caused us to have shorter attention spans. And with QSRs growing in popularity so rapidly, it seems as though this has now extended to the dining sector. People don’t want to sit down for hours in a restaurant – they want quick, efficient dining experiences.

Do we have your attention?

With the shift in consumer attention spans and people increasingly searching for speedy dining experiences, it’s easy to see why QSRs have become popular. The UK is by far the biggest fast-food consumer in the world, with around 22 million fast-food and takeaway meals being eaten per week in 2022. We now live in a society where a quick bite is more important than an enjoyable experience, and pub chains and fast-food outlets like Five Guys are the consumer’s desire.

However, when consumers do want to indulge in dine-in establishments, it seems that they now favour experiences over high-quality cuisine. One such example is Karen’s Diner – with 32.4 million likes on TikTok, their USP is their rude and disorderly staff, rather than the food itself.

The food industry’s relationship with TikTok trends is at an all-time high, with establishments such as Karen’s Diner and Le Petit Chef (a projection-based four-course dinner popping up around London and Birmingham) benefiting from their lightning-strike influence.

The rise of at-home eating

While TikTok undoubtedly influences consumer behaviour, it is essential to recognise that the shift towards QSRs and takeaways is influenced by a myriad of factors. Most significantly, affordability and convenience play a large role in shaping dining culture, especially in an era marked by fluctuating incomes and changing lifestyles.

This has led to a rise of ‘at-home dining’, prioritising extravagant home-cooked meals (the recipes found on TikTok, of course) and takeaways as a little luxury. Perhaps this is due to the continuing fallout of Covid in 2020, with people realising that they prefer to stay in. But with channels like TikTok emphasising the easiness of at-home cooking and takeaway culture (especially through trends like Mukbangs and ‘What I Eat in a Day’), more consumers are turning to cheap and quicker alternatives.

In essence, TikTok’s bite-sized videos are shaping our dining decisions, but they are only one component in the formula. The surge in QSR visits is a blend of social media influence, economic realities, and changing lifestyles. People are opting for food options akin to their own lifestyles – and as the food industry continues to evolve, it must turn to TikTok to stay in tune with consumer trends.

Are you a restaurant owner who has seen this shift? Or perhaps you’re thinking of starting your own QSR? If so, we would love to hear from you on X and Instagram!