According to a new report from Technomic, customer enthusiasm is up for the casual dining segment. This comes after a few years of a slowdown for the segment, as Recession-weary customers traded sit-down meals for cheaper, faster fare.
Still, casual dining operators now face new challenges as the lines continue to blur between limited-service restaurants and full-service chains. Consumer expectations are shifting as customers continue to trade-up and trade-down across the casual dining spectrum.
"Consumers in search of a casual dining occasion have plenty of choices, and their expectations are changing," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. "Whether their needs are driven by price, food quality, overall value or simply the dining experience itself, operators need to know how to stay competitive."
According to the "Future of Casual Dining Consumer Trend" report:
- More than four out of five casual dining consumers say they visit fast casual (85 percent) and traditional casual dining restaurants (82 percent) at least once a month, and 40 percent of casual dining consumers visit upscale dining restaurants just as often.
- Consumers' fast casual and traditional casual dining visits appear to be cutting into quick-service and upscale dining visits, as consumers trade up from quick-service and trade down from upscale restaurants to these locations.
- Compared to two years ago, consumers today are more likely to visit casual dining restaurants for a variety of occasions, including, but not limited to, routine lunches, everyday occasions, special occasions and meals with colleagues and family members.
- In an effort to compete with quick-service restaurants, leading fast casual brands have expanded breakfast offerings by 31 percent since 2011; however, there's still plenty of opportunity as just 31 percent of leading fast casual restaurants offer breakfast.
- A third of consumers say they are ordering from the healthy menu more often than they did a year ago at fast casual (36 percent) and traditional (34 percent) casual dining restaurants, but just 27 percent of consumers say the same for upscale restaurants.
- While price is a major deterrent for some upscale dining consumers, 41 percent of consumers indicate that meals at these locations are worth the price because of the overall dining experience.
Read more about foodservice trends.