Consumers want clear value propositions, differentiation from casual-dining restaurants

For casual-dining concepts, which account for more than one third of total U.S. restaurant industry sales, the past two years have seen traditional and upscale casual restaurants battling soft same-store sales, as consumers traded down to lower priced fast-casual competitors and prepared more meals at home. A new study by Technomic shows that even as consumers are expected to loosen their purse strings in 2011, finding a good value is still of the utmost importance.

“Consumers have become very adept at getting the maximum value from each dining experience.” says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. “Operators should avoid getting caught in the middle. Your value statement needs to be loud and clear so the customer knows what you are offering and why they should come to you.” Tristano explained that surveyed consumers said traditional casual offerings are too similar across brands, and that upscale casual chains do not offer a dining experience that justifies their higher prices.

The Future of Casual Dining Consumer Trend Report was developed by Technomic to help restaurant operators and suppliers stay abreast of consumer attitudes and trends within the  full-service and fast-casual dining segments.

Interesting findings include:

  • More than seven out of ten consumers who have been using coupons more often as a way to cut down on casual dining expenditures say they will continue to do so even as their finances continue to improve.
  • Consumers say upscale casual-dining restaurants significantly outpace other casual-dining sub-segments for offering healthy options, likely because of the association consumers make between quality and healthfulness.
  • Casual-dining operators are using small plates, snacks, bar menus and combo deals in order to attract value-conscious diners. Smaller portions are another way to satisfy consumer demand for healthier menu items, providing fewer calories along with lower prices.

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