Finding Direction in Orientation – M&C Report

March 13, 2012

Finding Direction

Research finds a few differences between gay/lesbian/bisexual restaurant consumers and straight consumers in the United States.

Depending on the source, somewhere between 3% and 8% of the U.S. population self-identify as members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, LGBT population estimates vary widely, from the Office for National Statistics’ 1.5% up to 6% or 7%.

A 2011 study by the Williams Institute, a division of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law whose mission is to “advance sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship,” found that nearly 4% of the U.S. population is openly LGBT, with 3.5% identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 0.3% identifying as transgender.

Using those percentages and the most recent U.S. Census Bureau population figures, that translates to roughly 10 million LGBT consumers in the United States, making them worth studying as a consumer group.

Although in many ways LGBT consumers’ behavior, attitudes and preferences are not all that different from those of the general population, there are some areas in which pronounced differences are visible.

The Strength of Youth

Technomic surveyed 500 consumers, half of whom self-identify as gay/lesbian or bisexual. The LGBT panel skews significantly younger than the straight panel: 25% of straight panelists are 55 or older while only 9% of gay/lesbian respondents and 2% of bisexual respondents are in that age group; and 20% of straight panelists are 45-54 while 16% of gay/lesbian respondents and 5% of bisexual respondents are 45-54. The difference may be due to younger generations being more comfortable with discussing their sexual orientation. Older LGBT consumers, while perhaps not “in the closet,” may be less willing to talk about orientation and chose not to participate.

So we have to keep in mind when examining demographics such as relationship status and employment, and even behavioral tendencies such as use of drive-thrus and consumption of adult beverages, that these LGBT consumers skew younger and thus are less likely to have settled down.

For example, 54% of gay/lesbian respondents and 37% of bisexual respondents are single, compared to just 22% of straight consumers. Because the LGBT pool is younger, it makes sense that a lower percentage of them report being married or in a committed relationship.

Nearly one out of three gay/lesbian consumers live alone, compared to 11% of bisexual respondents and 12% of straight respondents. LGBT consumers are far more likely to live with other adult family members, such as parents or grandparents, than straight consumers are. A sizeable percentage of LGBT panelists are students (5% are part-time students and 16% are full-time students); many of those who live with other adult family members are likely college-age students living at home.

Employment Figures

Technomic asked consumers to describe their employment status to gain insight into their discretionary spending ability. A large percentage of all consumers (43%) are working full-time, with little difference between straight and LGBT respondents. Straight consumers are slightly less likely than LGBT consumers to work part-time: 15% vs. 18%.

Twelve percent of all respondents are full-time students and 3% are part-time students. LGBT consumers are more than twice as likely to report being students, which aligns with the younger age skew of LGBT panelists.

Unemployment percentages were slightly higher for LGBT consumers than for straight consumers. Again, the LGBT panelists skew younger, and unemployment rates among Millennial workers are higher than the national average.

Eating Patterns

Those in the LGBT panel make breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack purchases at slightly higher rates than straight consumers. LGBT respondents report dining out an average of 2.7 times for lunch and 2.6 times for dinner in a typical week. The mean figures are slightly lower for the straight population (2.4 and 2.2, respectively).

A look at the use of different types of restaurants finds that consumers’ patronage of fast-food chains does not vary much by sexual orientation. A majority of all consumers (54% of LGBT and 56% of straight respondents) visit quick serves at least once a week. Meanwhile, the percentage of consumers who say they patronize QSRs once every two to three weeks is 26% for the LGBT set and 25% for the straight set.

The LGBT community patronizes fast-casual chains such as Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill less frequently than the straight population: 43% of LGBT respondents order from fast-casual chains at least once every few weeks, vs. 49% of straight respondents. Twenty-one percent of straight consumers, vs. 18% of LGBT consumers, visit FCRs once a week or more often.

Consumers’ patronage of casual-dining chain restaurants also varies by sexual orientation. A slightly higher percentage of LGBT consumers visit CDR chains once a week or more: 15% vs. 11% of straight consumers. But at the same time, the percentage of consumers who say they visit CDRs less than once a month or never is higher for LGBT respondents.

LGBT panelists revealed much higher frequency rates of local bars and taverns than did straight panelists. Fourteen percent of LGBT panelists, compared to 7% of straight panelists, say they visit neighborhood bars and taverns once a week or more often. Further, nearly one in four LGBT panelists (24%) say they visit these types of establishments once every couple of weeks; just 18% of straight panelists said the same.

Attractive Attributes

Technomic asked panelists about an array of restaurant attributes related to service, atmosphere, value, convenience and décor to gauge how these characteristics impact their limited-service and full-service restaurant selections. For many of the attributes, the percentages are very similar for LGBT and straight consumers. However, for some attributes, significant differences exist.

In rating the importance of attributes at limited-service restaurants, the biggest difference has to do with social responsibility. Sixty-three percent of LGBT panelists—compared to 44% of straight panelists—say that it is important to them that restaurants they patronize are socially responsible. Operators looking to attract LGBT consumers might publicize the aspects of their operating model that are tied to social responsibility, including charitable efforts, local sourcing and sustainability.

Another major skew has to do with adult beverages. Three out of 10 LGBT respondents say that the serving of adult beverages at limited-service restaurants is very important to them; just 19% of straight respondents say the same.

When comparing the attributes that matter most at full-service restaurants to LGBT and straight consumers, the biggest difference has to do with short wait times to be seated. Sixty-five percent of straight panelists rate this as important, compared to 55% of LGBT consumers. Regarding seasonal and limited-time-only menu offerings, just 16% of LGBT consumers, compared to 23% of straight consumers, consider the availability of these items to be important.

LGBT consumers are more inclined than straight consumers to say that delivery service and the serving of adult beverages are important.

Digging deeper finds that 28% of LGBT consumers say they drink all the time or most of the time when they dine out; 24% of straight consumers say the same. Breaking those responses down further reveals that 10% of gay/lesbian panelists and 9% of bisexual panelists said they drink all the time, compared to 7% of straight panelists. More than one in five (21%) bisexual panelists said they drink alcohol most of the time; 17% of gay/lesbian and straight consumers said the same. These figures suggest that adult beverages play a slightly bigger role in the dining-out experience for LGBT consumers than for straight consumers. Again, their youth as a group comes into play.

Key Takeaway

While many restaurant behaviors, attitudes and preferences of LGBT consumers are the same as they are for straight consumers, it’s worth examining this large demographic group. Even if it is their youth that dictates their increased dining-out frequency and desire for adult beverages, for example, their numbers as well as their social consciousness—and young consumers’ tendency to share their opinions and actively engage others—makes the LGBT community a strong market for smart operators.

Restaurateurs hoping to attract these diners will strive to be inclusive—but also youthful and relevant—through their marketing, service and public relations.

Darren Tristano is Executive Vice President of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information, visit

This article came from a print version of M&C Report

Restaurants Cutting Calories for Kids

March 13, 2012

Restaurants Cutting

Restaurants Cutting Calories for Kids

ATLANTA — In moves that could signal a growing demand for healthier food in convenient formats, many fast food and casual dining restaurants have updated their menus with healthy options or have announced plans to design new items with less calories, sodium and fat.

Due to the influence of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative and the medical community’s growing concern about the rise of childhood obesity, kids’ meals have often been a focus for overhaul.

Last week, Chick-fil-A here became the latest major chain to announce a revamped, healthier kids’ meal. The new meal now includes grilled chicken nuggets and a squeezable fruit pouch, and the kid’s meal beverage options will now be limited to 1% milk, apple juice, lemonade or water.

With four grilled nuggets, a fruit cup and low fat milk, the new meal contains 210 calories and 3 grams of fat, an 86% decrease in fat and a 56% decrease in calories from previous offerings, according to Chick-fil-A.

The chain will continue offering higher calorie entrees and sides as children’s menu options. For instance, a kids’ meal that includes six breaded nuggets, fries and low-fat chocolate milk is 660 calories and 27 grams of fat, according to the company’s website.

Chick-fil-A spokesperson Jerry Johnston could not provide an exact time frame for how long Chick-fil-A has been developing the new menu, but the chain has been working on it for some time.

“We do market research, taste tests, focus groups, things of this nature and then this is the result of our research into this new offering,” said Johnston.

At this point Chick-fil-A is primarily getting the word out about the new kids’ meals through communication in-store, according to Johnston.

Chick-fil-A’s new kids menu follows McDonald’s commitment last summer to cut calories in Happy Meals by 20% and automatically include apples in each meal by the end of the first quarter in 2012.

Recent nutritional changes to menus have not been limited to kids’ meals. In the fall, Darden Restaurants, which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze, said it would reduce calories and sodium in menus by 10% within five years and 20% in 10, and that it would “closely look at reformulating, resizing and removing certain items, and introducing new calorie conscious, flavorful choices,” according to plans published by the company.

Darden Restaurants will also make 1% milk the default beverage for kids; offer fruits and vegetables as sides; and redevelop menus to meet specific nutrition standards.

These companies could be reacting to growing demand for convenient, healthier foods for both kids and parents, but it remains to be seen how these new menu items will be received in the market.

“It will only make an impact if people buy the products,” said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “The best thing that restaurant chains could do for health would be to offer smaller portions at a favorable price.”

Nestle was skeptical about Chick-fil-A’s motivation, attributing the effort to market expansion “and looking like it is on the side of the angels.”

“The company must think it has an audience for the product and can sell it. Either that, or this is just PR,” Nestle said.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president for Technomic, a Chicago-based research and consulting firm, said that these changes make sense when they stay true to the broader, core restaurant brand. He gave the example of Chick-fil-A’s recent addition of grilled chicken nuggets that aren’t breaded or fried.

“It’s what the brand represents, and it sounds like a good, suitable alternative.”

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Growth Chains: Freshii – Health-oriented operator revamps concept, menu to promote popularity

March 13, 2012

Growth Chains: Freshii

Chains: Freshii – Health-oriented operator revamps concept, menu to promote popularity

Freshii Inc. founder and chief executive Matthew Corrin believes in evolution, a philosophy he demonstrated a few years ago when he decided to remake his original fast-casual Lettuce Eatery salad concept into today’s three-daypart, “health-casual” Freshii chain.

Corrin, a native of Canada who out of college served as a marketing and public relations manager for designer Oscar de la Renta in New York, was a restaurant neophyte when he opened Lettuce Eatery in Toronto in 2005 at the age of 23.

Lettuce Eatery proved to be a work in progress, however. In an earlier interview explaining how the initial iteration morphed into Freshii, Corrin said, “We evolved the business model to offer more things and became ‘Fresh Food, Custom Built, Fast,’” a five-word tagline the chain employed until recently. Freshii’s new, more compact tagline is: “Eat. Energize.”

Menu work with The Culinary Edge consultancy and a survey of current and lapsed Freshii users helped drive changes to the concept, including raising the quality of its food offerings, he said. 

“We took our food from a five, to a nine out of 10,” Corrin said.

He noted the project also pared down the number of standard or “chef-driven” menu offerings. After improving and narrowing the choice of standard items, guests began ordering those dishes more frequently, rather than creating their own specials, he said, thereby making it easier to gauge product usage and control costs.

“We thought this [concept] was all about customization,” but “we’re really being defined by our users as ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh,’” Corrin said.

The modified menu is being used at new locations and will be rolled out to existing stores beginning in the first quarter, Corrin said.

The Freshii concept features an eclectic menu of chef-driven and built-to-order soups, salads, burritos, wraps, and rice, rice-noodle and quinoa bowls served in biodegradable or easily recycled packaging. 

Online and smartphone ordering is supported, but in-restaurant guests fill out menu cards with check boxes to choose from several chef’s offerings or compile their own creations from 70-plus produce, starch, protein, sauce and dressing options.

The chef’s offerings include the Buffalo Stampede salad, $6.99; Buddha’s Satay rice-noodle bowl, $7.99; and the Aztec brown rice and black bean burrito, $6.99. Breakfast items ranging from Greek-style yogurt parfaits to organic oatmeal to breakfast burritos sell from $2.99 to $4.49. 

Chicken and tofu can be added to almost any dish for 99 cents, and steak or shrimp are available for $1.99. 

The recent consumer survey, Corrin added, also suggested Freshii could be a leader in an emerging health-casual segment. 

Corrin said health-casual concepts — which he characterized as mostly one-offs and chains smaller than Freshii — might share service format, pricing and food-quality elements with some prominent fast-casual players such as Chipotle and Panera Bread. 

“But they also have the additional aspect of being associated with health and wellness” by offering foods that feature good fats over bad fats, desirable ratios of carbohydrates to proteins and slow-burning carbohydrates among their potential nutritional attractions, he noted.

“They definitely are in a position where they have a healthier offering and can benefit from messaging that to their customers, provided that they don’t go to the extent of saying they are a ‘healthy’ restaurant,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., said of Freshii.

“They need to stick to the positioning that, ‘We are better for you, nutritious, and mindful of what you eat and what we put in our food,’ without going, ‘I’m a healthy restaurant,’ which could spell a downturn because it does not resonate well with consumers,” Tristano added.

Corrin said units range in size from 300 to 1,600 square feet, with more than half of the system generating annual sales per square foot of about $1,000 and a few doing triple that volume. He said the concept’s exhaust-free equipment package and small footprint means unit-development costs typically run $275,000 or less.

As of mid-February, Chicago-based Freshii had 47 restaurants, about 75 percent of which were franchised, including 27 in the United States, 17 in Canada and three outside North America. 

Corrin said an additional 33 to 38 locations will open in 2012, when the chain will enter the Cincinnati market and build additional stores in Chicago, Houston and Washington, D.C., among others.

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