Dinner's long decline

Feb. 16, 2010

Historically, supper is the meal that leads the restaurant industry out of a recession, but that won't be the case this time, according to a new study by market research firm The NPD Group. Supper is the restaurant industry's largest sales generator but has been the weakest performing meal period for the past decade, reports NPD.

The report, "Getting a Grip on the Supper Market," addresses the daypart's long-term decline.
"Just to give you immediate perspective, for the year ending December, supper visits were down 5 percent compared to a year ago, accounting for the steepest decline of all the dayparts," said NPD's Kim McLynn. "Morning was down 2 percent, lunch down 3 percent and ‘p.m. snack' was down 1 percent."     According to the NPD study, which examines how the supper market has weakened and analyzes how each generation uses restaurants, multiple factors have contributed to the decline in supper visits. Among the most important factors is that the aging of the U.S. population has resulted in a fundamental shift in the profile of supper restaurant users. 
The study reports that whereas younger consumer groups had and continue to have the highest usage frequency of restaurant suppers, their pullback on usage has narrowed the frequency gap – and the sheer number of aging Boomers has increased the importance of more mature adults attending the supper occasion outside the house.   "The fact that older consumers make up a larger portion of the population – and are lighter restaurant supper users – is part of the explanation for this slip in per capita visits, but not the full explanation," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD's restaurant industry analyst and author of the study. "Even if you subtract out the changing age composition of the population, restaurant usage for supper would still be slipping. While this is especially notable since the recession began, it was also visible between 2002 and 2007."

Other dinner-depressing factors include the current economy, and also a more enduring belief that meals prepared at home are more nutritious, often taste better and have better controlled portions.

Riggs says supper visits have been cut back by all but the most mature age group. The heaviest restaurant supper customers – the 18-to-24 and 25-to-34 age groups – have cut back the most, dropping 13 visits per year, respectively, over the last eight years.

Riggs stressed that even before the current economic situation, consumers were shifting how they addressed their needs to feed themselves and their families at supper. She said this means restaurant owners should focus on influencing buying rate momentum and need to better understand what appeals to their target customers.   "Through product and concept innovations, availability, understanding their consumers' value perceptions, right pricing, and targeted messaging, they can re-attract consumers to restaurants for supper," she said. 

*Flickr photo by 27147.  

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Trends / Statistics

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