Monthly patronage is relatively stagnant among family-style and traditional casual-dining chains, in line with the ongoing top full-service chain sales slump. However, data from Technomic’s recently released “2016 Future of FSR: Family & Casual Dining Consumer Trend Report” shows the unexpected ways that full-service dining is growing traffic and sales. To start, the report shows that upscale casual-dining chains are actually pulling ahead for monthly patronage: more consumers now (36%) than in 2014 (31%) say they are visiting upscale casual-dining chains at least once a month.
The reason patronage has stagnated at family-style and traditional casual-dining chains is largely because consumers are not increasing their lunch or dinner dine-in frequency at these locations. This is likely due to the often-cited price concerns and lack of disposable income for these occasions. On the other hand, more consumers are visiting upscale casual-dining chains for lunch and dinner dine-in occasions now than they were two years ago. Consumers say they are visiting these concepts more often now than in 2014, thanks to a livelier dining ambiance; a better overall value offering; and higher quality food and beverage items.
Outside of lunch and dinner, family-style and traditional casual-dining chains are experiencing increased patronage from consumers for less-traditional dayparts, and this will be the key to them growing sales in future months and years. More consumers now than in 2014 say they are visiting both family-style and traditional casual-dining chains for brunch and late-night dining. In addition, more consumers now than two years ago say that breakfast, brunch or late-night items would compel them to visit family-style and traditional casual-dining chains more often if they were offered.
Younger consumers are driving the increases for brunch and late-night patronage, as they are more likely than their older counterparts to visits FSRs for these dayparts. Brunch appeal is accentuated by adult beverage programs, a casual and often lively atmosphere, and a lower price point than dinner. Late-night visits are driven by a desire for a lively and adult social experience: 40% of consumers’ recent late-night snacking occasions at FSRs were with friends, compared to an average of 21% for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The future of casual-dining may rest in top chains’ abilities to maximize their nontraditional daypart traffic, especially at family-style and traditional casual-dining chains. Upscale casual-dining chains will want to make sure they maintain their competitive edge in the coming years.
Originally appeared in the January, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Consumers Boost Business at Full-Service Restaurants in Unexpected Ways.