The unexpected findings from a national study on consumer dining out trends — people are eating out less to save money to travel more — are not limited to that finding alone. The survey, published by AlixPartners, also uncovered a few surprises concerning consumers' views of restaurant technology, loyalty programs third-party delivery services and menu prices.
While many consumers found the useful, some weren't impressed. Baby Boomers, for instance, are far less likely to see technological augmentations like digital menu boards and kiosks as desirable than their younger, tech-weaned millennial counterparts.
The study found that just 18 percent of Baby Boomers see high-tech accoutrement as important to their dining out decisions, while more than twice that number of millennials said restaurant tech was important to whether they ate at a restaurant. In fact, a substantial 42 percent of all consumers polled said they'd never accessed any special technologies when eating out, although both millennials and Baby Boomers said free Wi-Fi in restaurants and online ordering were important to their dining decisions.
(Dis?) Loyalty programs
Loyalty programs of all types — digital, card or key fob-based, or any other form — aroused little consumer sentiment in the food service field. Less than one-fifth of those polled (19 percent) said loyalty programs were critical elements to their eating out choices. Those who did use the programs and their perks, however, are increasing their usage. For instance, 36 percent of respondents said they're now using two or more restaurant loyalty programs regularly, up 5 percentage points from last year.
One other restaurant offering often augmented by tech — meal delivery — also registered differently in the study with different age groups. For instance, half of the millennials polled said call-in-advance delivery was key to their dining choices, while 46 percent of Baby Boomers preferred the well-established "in-the-moment" delivery programs like calling for a pizza for home delivery.
"Technology continues to be a mixed bag in the restaurant industry," AlixPartners Managing Director Eric Dzwonczyk, said in company information released with the study results. "There still doesn’t appear to be a lot of consumer 'pull' for many technologies, as food quality and price trump everything else. On the other hand though, millennials generally crave new technologies, so going forward the challenge may be how to balance diverse technologies preferences across consumer groups, without compromising service and operations along the way."
The poll found a lot of interest among consumers in the development of more delivery options from traditional casual dining brands, as opposed to fast casual and fast food. But the study suggests that those casual dining concepts might want to do some groundwork before leaping to a third party to deliver their food to homes and offices. For instance, 71 percent of those polled wanted their deliveries to come directly from the restaurant's staff. A mere 8 percent preferred delivery though a third-party service, according to the poll.
Tomorrow, a look at what this survey found about consumers' views on raising workers' wages, menu pricing and future best bets for growing a restaurant brand with the diner of tomorrow.