Packaged Facts announced the release of "The U.S. Foodservices Landscape 2010: Restaurant Industry and Consumer Trends, Momentum and Migration," an examination of recent and future consumer habits and attitudes surrounding dining out.

The company said the research shows that as a market already marred by recession-related discretionary spending cutbacks, the U.S. foodservice industry should look to the "millennials" (also known as Gen Y) as a bright spot to lead restaurants out of the economic doldrums.

Restaurant users aged 18-34 are an industry sweet spot, with usage and usage frequency patterns across restaurant segments, according to Packaged Facts' proprietary Consumer Restaurant Tracker. Within the cohort, restaurant users aged 25-34 spend the most money at restaurants on a per meal basis and also have the big party sizes resulting in a total spend per visit that is 25% above the average. Likewise, healthy eaters and technology-savvy diners who utilize ordering technology spend more than average per visit and have higher party sizes.

Consumers have become significantly more value-conscious, the report found. About 50% of respondent adult (18+) restaurant goers say they are more likely to eat dinner at home -- and almost one-third doing so "a lot more" -- compared to three months ago. Besides eating more at home, the proprietary data reveals that an increasing number of consumers are inclined to spend more money on groceries or to "pack a lunch, breakfast or snack" in the next three months rather than splurge on takeout or delivery.

"Our data indicates that grocery store sales rose 4% between February 2009 and February 2010, underscoring the trend toward food at home, which continues to exhibit momentum," said Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. "This shift toward food at home at the expense of food away has produced a triple threat to the restaurant industry: declining guest traffic, declining average check, and declining sales."

Packaged Facts estimates that sales at eating and drinking establishments will fall 2% in 2010, then increase by 2% in 2011. Full-service restaurants, segment sales of which are forecast to fall 4% in 2010, will lead the drop before increasing 1% in 2011. Meanwhile, limited-service restaurant sales are forecast to drop 1% in 2010 and then rise by 2% in 2011.

Restaurant usage and usage frequency also strongly correlate to household income, with the exception of the fast food/QSR (quick service restaurant) segment, which enjoys universal usage across income groups. In the past three months, consumers with household incomes of at least $100K were more likely to use restaurant delivery/takeout/pickup, but only slightly more likely to spend money on meals at restaurants. Meanwhile, their counterparts from less affluent households were more likely to spend money on food for home.

From the May 24, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition