Restaurant traffic will be a key concern in 2014 as consumers say they plan to eat out less often — but not necessarily because of budget constraints, as has been the case since the recession. Instead, consumers say they will dine out less frequently next year because of concerns about health. Financial woes have dropped to second place as a concern likely to dampen restaurant visit frequency, according to an industry survey conducted by consulting firm AlixPartners. When they do dine out, however, consumers say they plan to spend less, in part because they’re still looking for meal deals and promotions.
In a twice-annual survey, the North American Restaurant Consumer Sentiment Review by AlixPartners looks at the financial health and performance of more than 80 restaurants and food-service companies representing about $230 billion in annual revenue. It also includes a consumer survey gauging anticipated dining behaviors for the coming year.
Nine months into 2013, the restaurant industry overall is on more solid ground that it was going into the fiscal year, with margins stabilizing, fewer restaurant companies in distress and spending returning to pre-recession levels in some segments, the report found. However, the battle for market share remains a challenge and restaurants will have to be more nimble than ever to compete at a time of shifting consumer preferences.
“Overall, it’s just getting more competitive,” said Molly Harnischfeger, a director in AlixPartners’ restaurant and food-service practice. “It used to be people were thinking about growing market share. Now it’s more about maintaining what you have.” So far in 2013, restaurant spending per person has remained relatively steady over the prior year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The average spend per month by consumers so far in 2013 is about $108.67, compared with $108.11 per month last year — both roughly the same as spending levels in 2006 and 2007, the report said. Consumer concern turns to health
According to the survey, 56 percent of respondents this fall said they eat out at least once a week, falling from 60 percent who dined out that often during the first quarter of 2013. Frequency of dining out per month has dropped from an average of 5.8 in the first quarter to 3.8 in the third quarter.
“The primary driver behind the notable decline in meals out versus earlier this year is that people who had been dining out multiple times per week are dining out less frequently — we’re seeing an overall shift toward dining out only once per week,” said Adam Werner, AlixPartners managing director and co-lead of the firm’s restaurant and food-service practice. Over the past few years, the No. 1 concern impacting frequency of dining out was consumer budget constraints. This year, however that concern slipped to No. 2, while concerns about finding healthful options increased in importance.
The most recent survey found that 60 percent of consumers said they want to eat more healthfully in the next year, rising from 50 percent of respondents in the first quarter. Concern about finances is expected to hinder dining out among 59 percent of respondents in the recent survey, compared with 54 percent during the first quarter and 51 percent last year. The survey found that 64 percent of respondents ranked the availability of healthful menu options as important or somewhat important in choosing where to dine.
Consumers say they also plan to spend less when they dine out over the next 12 months. The survey estimated that the average spend per meal to drop from $14.99 over the last 12 months to $14.32 over the next 12 months, a 4.5-percent decline, largely driven by meal deals.
Still, when selecting a restaurant, consumers say their primary concern is food quality, followed by price and value, and that hasn’t changed, AlixPartners said.
Jim Thomas is a Senior Sales Executive focused on the dining industry for Kronos Inc, a worldwide leader in workforce management technology solutions. Jim was formally an operations executive with both Brinker International and J. Alexander’s Corporation. Read the original article by Lisa Jennings at NRN Online here
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