Consumers seeking customisation and bold flavours as dining out declines

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 13th August 2008

More than one-third of American consumers (35 per cent) report they are eating or buying dinners out less frequently than one year ago as the need to offer an edge to the value offering becomes pivotal for restaurants.

Foodservice consultants Technomic advise that money issues dominated the reasons for decreased patronage; 77 per cent of those cutting back are doing so to save money, while 59 per cent said they have less money to spend and 46 per cent cited the price of restaurant meals.

“It’s vital for operators to provide consumers with added value incentives to maintain and grow their business,” said Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of Technomic. “Consumers want to feel that their dinner experience is a good value regardless of the price point. Special offers, promotions, family-pack and combo meals promote that perception. Beyond increasing the value proposition for consumers, bundling items in a combo meal helps operators to build add-on sales.”

The findings, which come from Technomic’s Dinner Occasion Consumer Trend Report, highlighted that customisation now factors strongly into consumers’ value equation. The majority of consumers (58 per cent) want to be able to substitute or choose a side dish, with the ability to alter a meal on the menu important to some.

The cost pressures seemingly have resulted in a cut back on the amount of food being eaten, with 29 per cent admitting they sometimes make a meal out of appetizers.

The research also established that an edge was needed for restaurants to maintain financially viable during difficult economic times. Ethnically-inspired dishes and bolder flavour profiles that consumers cannot easily create at home are considered an important part of the dinner experience. In America, Mexican is the leading ethnic dinner option among both full- and limited-service restaurants, while Asian flavours are also especially popular and gaining greater notoriety.

Convenience was found to be an important factor in dinner trends, including ordering, parking and location. Just over a quarter of consumers said they often view menus online when choosing a dinner venue, while 38 per cent said free and easily accessible parking was important for choosing takeout. Convenience was also the top reason for choosing a retail meal.