Why McDonald’s Owns California’s Late-Night Drivers

Waze’s Bart Kloosterboer also explains why Whataburger is so big in Texas.

The late-night dining wars among the major national and regional quick serve restaurants continues to be a tight race in many parts of the country.

Since many consumers are likely to drive to a QSR during those midnight-to-early morning hours, it stands to reason that navigation app platform Waze would have some insights into where consumers tend to head.

Looking at QSR visits state-by-state, Waze spotted some interesting divergences among consumers choices.

For example, western-based independent In-N-Out Burger rules the day in California, but the night still belongs to the nation’s largest QSR, McDonald’s. We checked in with Bart Kloosterboer, a Waze Business Development partner, on what accounts for late night visits and how the Google-owned company works with brands to drive more business during the odd hours.

GeoMarketing: McDonald’s dominance of QSRs has been established a long time. In part, it’s because they have so many more outlets than any other competitor. But is there anything about McDonald’s at night — particularly in California and New York — that make it more attractive to Wazers?

Bart Kloosterboer: As you mentioned, their footprint plays a large role in this dominance. Without day-parting, In-N-Out is actually #1 in California, but they close a lot of their locations at 1am so McDonald’s steps in after that to own the night. We also have regional McDonald’s ad programs in place in those states, which helps McDonald’s take a larger portion of overall navigations.

What explains Whataburger’s strength in Texas? 43 percent is a considerable number. How does it compare to daytime visits?

What really helps Whataburger grow their share of the market during the night is that they are open 24/7. When looking at the overall, non-dayparted top 10 QSR chains in Texas, we see that Whataburger accounts for 17 percent, making them a good second behind Chick-fil-A (25 percent). Whataburger’s nighttime creative is an example of how brands are stealing marketshare from competitors overnight, literally.

Can you say if you’ve noticed any unusual trends for nighttime QSR dining? Have the ages changed? Are there more visits during the period you looked at versus the year before?

After correcting for user growth, we’ve seen roughly 35 percent more navigations to fast food chains between midnight and 5am in the US for the month of January YoY.

Is Waze’s use of Branded Pins, Zero-speed Takeovers, and Promoted Search different during nighttime driving versus daytime?

The actual ad units themselves are the same during all hours of the day, however during the night time we see fewer brands live so it’s a great way to capture the attention of the Waze audience. Also, since the Waze background is darkened during the evening, the Pins may even stand out more.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.