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CHICAGO — Consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting as the restaurant industry works to entice more visits. Therefore, The NPD Group advises foodservice operators and manufacturers to put strong effort into understanding what their customers are looking for when eating out in the coming year.
According to ongoing foodservice market research by NPD, restaurant industry traffic will remain flat through December, while the forecast calls for a 1-percent increase in 2015 due to improved consumer confidence and positive economic indicators.
"The world and foodservice-related enterprises like restaurants, manufacturers and food retailers are changing at an ever-increasing pace," said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD. "But just as much as many things change, the fundamental business principle of knowing your customer and keeping them happy remains the same. In this fast-paced world, consumer must-haves and wants change steadily and operators and their suppliers must stay in tune with these changes in order to drive their businesses forward."
Convenience, value, unique menu items and service are on the list of consumers' must-haves and wants, but consumers' definitions of these factors are continually changing.
Convenience is generally about portability, time savings and order accuracy, but major advances in technology have raised the bar in all these areas, according to Riggs. Online ordering is now a necessity rather than an option that is nice to have, and 2015 will bring an increased number of mobile apps for ordering and payment, as well as other technologies that offer greater convenience for restaurant customers.
Value is another area that has been redefined by customers, according to NPD. The key for operators is to increase the average check by providing more value to the consumer. Food quality remains the most important value driver and should be viewed as a cost of entry. In 2015, operators should offer more choices, such as portion size and the right price; deliver on customization and fresh ingredients; offer different preparation styles; and focus more on quality.
Specifically, NPD recommends that operators:
- Spice it up with different flavor profiles
- Use bolder flavors
- Introduce multicultural influences
- Try new twists on comfort foods
- Increase focus on protein offerings beyond traditional menu items
- Offer vegetarian options
- Emphasize natural and fresh
- Increase availability of portions for sharing
- Provide greater variety
Today's consumers expect restaurant operators to deliver added value by focusing on their specific needs, which include multiple consumer groups.
More people are choosing to dine out alone and are looking for a table out of the way, seat at the bar, social experience (conversation or left alone), and Wi-Fi.
Families with kids
To attract these consumers, restaurant operators should have appropriately-priced menu offerings, offer a kid-friendly environment and broaden their kids' menu offerings. This may require seating and menu changes.
This generation has different needs and higher expectations than their older counterparts. To remain relevant, marketers will need to invest money and resources in connection technologies that appeal to this group.
Boomers & seniors
These diners desire a welcoming environment, more lighting, less noise, easy-to-read menus, comfortable seating and personal attention. Quick-service restaurant operators need to pay attention to their in-store environment, as this group tends to eat more often inside the restaurant instead of using take-out or drive- thru compared to other generations.
"A changing, complex marketplace sometimes requires peeling back the layers and revisiting the basics," Riggs said. "The new year surely will bring more changes, but if operators go back to the basics of understanding and focusing on customers, it will be a more successful and prosperous year."