Consumer confidence is on the rise when it comes to eating out, according to a new survey conducted by Market Force Information, a customer intelligence and customer experience management solutions. The survey looked at dining preferences and trends, and indicated a much more robust picture of consumer confidence than was evident six months ago.

In December of 2009, just 5 percent of consumers said that they expected to eat out more in the coming months, while more than half said they were fearful of the economy and expected to eat out less than they had in prior months. That picture changed dramatically over the past six months, with the figures more than reversing.

Today, one in four consumers expect to eat out more this summer, and just 8 percent remained pessimistic about dining out. Sixty-seven percent expect their eating out patterns to remain the same.

Everyone’s a [food] critic

The survey also looked at social media trends and how they are influencing restaurant choices. In the past 30 days, almost one in two consumers had read an online review, blog or tweet about a restaurant to get a recommendation, and 13 percent had posted an online review after dining out. This further substantiates that consumers are the new “media” and that they are turning to social media to gather and share information and opinions on dining establishments. It also points to how crucial each customer interaction is to the success of restaurants.

“One of the most interesting findings from this survey was that a ‘Very Satisfied’ customer — one that gives a five out of a five rating — is three times more likely to recommend a restaurant (both on- and off-line) to a friend than a merely ‘Satisfied’ customer — a four out of five,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force Information. “Because of the long-term effects that recommendations have on a restaurant’s reputation, a one point disparity in a rating scale can spell the difference between real sales growth and a stagnant business.”

Watching what we eat

Not surprisingly, the survey also revealed that consumers are paying more attention to what they are eating and the food choices they are making. Almost half of consumers indicated that it’s extremely important for restaurants to provide nutrition and calorie information, and about a third said they want portion control. This points to consumers actively thinking about how to make healthy choices in restaurants. However, the use of organically and/or locally grown foods fell further down the list of important factors compared to six months ago.

The survey was conducted in May and June 2010 among the Market Force network of more than 300,000 independent mystery shoppers and merchandisers. The pool of 4,600 respondents ranged in age from 18–72 with 60 percent reporting incomes of more than $50,000 a year.

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