A study conducted by foodservice research company Mintel shows that consumers may not be fully out of the proverbial woods from the Great Recession.

Most consumers, 60 percent, said the economic downturn changed the way their family spends money. As a result, Mintel's data revealed that 24 percent of restaurant-goers plan to spend less at restaurants in 2011 than they did in 2010.

"Even with the economy on the mend, consumers are still very cautious about increasing their restaurant spending," said Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. "The restaurant industry grew 2.1 percent to reach $403.5 billion last year, but if restaurant-goers reduce how much they spend when they eat out, or only spend as much as they did last year, restaurants could have a slow recovery ahead of them."

Not all news was bad for the industry, however. Ten percent of respondents plan to spend more this year, especially those with higher household incomes.

A majority, 67 percent, of those who expect to spend more plan to do so at a casual dining establishment. This is a big shift from 2009 numbers for the segment, which discovered as much as 31 percent of diners were spending less at casual restaurants.

Also, 66 percent of those surveyed say they plan to spend the same amount when dining out in 2010.

The 24 percent of consumers who plan to tighten their purse strings attribute the frugality to higher prices.

To appeal to this group, Giandelone suggests restaurants focus on value, including limited-time offers, small portion-size options, kids-eat-free promotions and other creative ideas. This will, he said, help consumers feel more confident about spending their dollars at a restaurant versus a grocery store.

 

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