Can Coffee Subscriptions Give Burger King A QSR Edge?

Burger King Launches Coffee Subscriptions

The fight to win the loyalty of fast food consumers has always been among the most vicious in all of retail, and today, Burger King introduced a new strategy, one that relies on coffee – potentially, lots and lots of extremely inexpensive coffee, all of it measured out in small doses.

The fast food chain – often remembered by those of a certain age for their paper crowns, and by nearly everyone for its generation-long battle against McDonald’s – has upped its game via subscription eCommerce. Starting on Friday (March 15), Burger King started to allow consumers to sign up for its BK Café coffee subscription program.

That label might sound a little bit fancy – when it comes to coffee, even fast food operations, along with the close cousins known as convenience stores, are trying to win over consumers by going moderately upscale, or at least pretending to – but the BK Café program seems more utilitarian (even working-class) than anything else. For $5 per month, BK Café members get one small coffee per day from the fast food chain.

As one report on Friday (March 15) put it, “that means for February, the shortest month of the year, a daily cup of BK’s Arabica bean coffee would set you back roughly 17 cents per cup.”

BK Café Details

The program reportedly is not limited to morning purchases of coffee, though it cannot be combined with any delivery orders – which means consumers redeeming the coffee via this subscription program must go inside Burger King Stores or use the drive-thru.

As well, BK Café program members must download the Burger King app and use that to sign up for the coffee subscription service – underscoring the importance that fast food operators are boosting their mobile commerce and payment efforts. In fact, as the PYMNTS Mobile Order-Ahead Tracker recently showed, the Burger King app has been downloaded 1.5 million times since the chain launched the $0.01 Whopper offer in December of 2018.

There was no indication on Friday that Burger King would pull the coffee subscription program after a set period of time, though the chain did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But it seemed pretty clear that the Burger King move, at least in some sense, was designed not only to appeal to mobile-minded fans of daily caffeine fixes (that is, pretty all of modern Western civilization), but to gain or at least retain footing in a sector of retail that is going through some tough but also transformative times, as data from PYMNTS and others has shown.

Larger Trends

NDP Group, for instance, has found that visits to QSRs increased only 1 percent year over year in 2018, according to one report – a data point that speaks to the non-delivery aspect of the BK Café program. That market research firm also reportedly found that coffee orders at QSRs increased 2 percent last year.

PYMNTS research, meanwhile, has documented that six out of 10 digital food orders come from mobile apps – an optimistic sign for the BK coffee subscription program, as it will likely lead to those consumers ordering more food to go with their small doses of daily or near-daily caffeine.

And, according to the PYMNTS Restaurant Readiness Index, about 80 percent of both QSR customers and managers have a positive view of loyalty programs. PYMNTS has also found that innovations in the QSR space can boost sales and loyalty – in fact, 62 percent of customers said innovations would make them more inclined to visit QSRs in the future.

Subscription Space

One can genuinely wonder if Burger King might get more uptake with its new coffee program by throwing in free paper crowns for BK Café program members (hey, this story was written on a Friday afternoon, a time of easy goofiness and bad jokes stemming from work-week exhaustion), but one thing is clear: Burger King is playing around in the hot-trending subscription commerce space.

Succeeding there will require the fast food chain to be fast with transactions, and very informative to consumers about the benefits and process of the coffee program, among other traits. That’s because PYMTNS has found, via its Subscription Commerce Conversion Index, that the best performers in that space meet those consumer demands. Subscription commerce winners also provide secure, flexible and clear transactions.

Coffee, even in relatively tiny cups, can do so much.

Study history deeply enough, for instance, and you’ll find direct connections between the consumption of coffee and political movements and revolutions, as well as cultural and artistic shifts. It’s hard to imagine Burger King has anything so grand in mind – hard, but also fun – but there is little doubt this new coffee program is the chain’s latest attempt to gain an edge in the never-ending fast food wars, and to better meet the wants of mobile-minded consumers who don’t mind going to physical locations to meet their caffeine needs.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.