Fatherly IQ: Survey Shows Time-Strapped Families Rely on Fast Food

When it comes to feeding a family on the go, convenience beats out cost and personal preference.

by Neel Patel
Originally Published: 
A boy eating a hamburger and fries because his family relies on fast food

Although parents are a lot more conscious about the benefits of eating a home-cooked meal together at the table, that doesn’t mean they don’t still indulge in fast food. Nearly every child who’s grown up in America in the last half-century has intense memories of endlessly badgering mom and dad to forgo the nice home-cooked meal of the evening in favor of an outing to McDonald’s or Burger King or Taco Bell or wherever else they make and sell cheap, delicious meals. A lot of experiences for the typical American family have changed during the 21st century, but our dining habits and love of fast found has not.

Well, not completely anyway. There are certainly many fast food options for families to choose from these days. And the rise of “fast casual” restaurants, which strive to blend higher quality meals with affordability and faster service, have created another market for families looking to eat out.

In an effort to better understand the attitudes parents have toward fast food today, Fatherly surveyed 1000 parents from around the country. By and large, dining trends from the last couple of decades endure. The results illustrate fast food continues to be an essential part of a family’s dining habits in large part because it is a convenient way to feed their families. Here’s what we learned about the fast food preferences of parents in 2019.

Moms Make Most of the Dining Decisions for Kid

67.40 percent of the respondents to our survey reported that they were the ones primarily responsible for making the family’s mealtime decisions (what, where, and when to eat). Of that segment, 64.54 percent were moms. Although dads are certainly taking a more active role than ever before when it comes to these things, meals for the kids continue to be a responsibility most often tasked to women — which includes decisions about fast food and fast casual dining.

How mom or dad dined out differed as well. The majority of moms surveyed were more likely to use the drive through regardless of whether they were with their children or not. This differs for dads who are just as likely to use the drive through as they are to dine in when with their kids.

For Parents, McDonald’s Is at the Top of the Fast-Food Chain

The iconic yellow arches continue to be the most popular option for families. When parents were asked which fast food or fast casual restaurants were among their children’s favorite, 67.70 percent put down McDonald’s, while the nearest competitor was Wendy’s at 33.40 percent.

Moreover, when parents were asked which restaurant they frequented the most with their kids, 44.50 percent said McDonald’s. No other answer choice broke double digits. And 66.00 percent of parents said McDonald’s was the first fast food or fast casual restaurant they had ever taken their kids to — again, the only answer choice to break double digits.

Parents Say Subway Is the Healthiest Fast Food

When parents were asked what fast food or fast casual restaurant gave them the healthiest meal choices for their kids, McDonald’s was finally dethroned. About 34.40 respondents said it was Subway, while second place was notched by Panera Bread with 19.90 percent.

Convenience Is King

61.42 percent of parents said one of the main reasons they take their kids to fast food and fast casual joints because they’re nearby. Surprisingly, costs aren’t the main reason for choosing where to eat — only 11.1 perfect had “affordable” as a top reason, and 34.57 percent listed “pricing” as something they look for. Likewise, family or kid preference aren’t high on the list of reasons to go. It seems that when it comes to fast food, if it’s nearby, they will come.

But Families Don’t Usually Go Inside

If a family wants a dining experience, they’re probably not going to go to a fast food or fast casual restaurant, according to this survey. About 58.01 percent of parents who took the survey said they’ll elect to use the drive-through when they visit a fast food or fast casual restaurant.

Parents Are Budgeting for Other Dining Experiences

Most families do what they can to try to make sure their children are getting exposed to restaurants that exist outside of just fast food and fast casual places. To that end, 39.32 percent of the parents who took the survey try to take the family out to a typical restaurant at least once a week, while another 38.58 percent aim to go at least once a month. Only 1.04 percent of parents said they never take the family out to other kinds of restaurants.

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