Could this be a defining moment in the chain restaurant industry?
The answer is, "yes," according to a 1,008-consumer survey recently conducted by AlixPartners in the U.S. It found most (57 percent) of those polled nationally said that although they plan to eat out pretty much the same number of times this year as last, frequent diners said they planned to curb the number of visits to fast food and fast casual restaurants.
The diners, who in past polls had eaten at QSR and fast casual brands at least twice weekly, said they were going to cut about 8 percent of their visits to QSR concepts in the coming year and about 13 percent of visits to fast casual concepts, which tend to be more expensive per meal than what's available at fast food brands.
What's stealing your diners? In a word, wanderlust.
For most respondents, the motivation for cutting trips out to eat was to save cash, chosen as the top of 16 options by half of those polled as their primary reason for fewer meals out. But also registering fairly significantly as a reason for staying home was a desire to eat more healthfully, cited by 44 percent of those polled in this frequent-diner group.
"While lower fuel prices have helped operators by putting more money in consumers’ pockets, that’s become a two-edged sword as cheap gas and the lowest air fares we’ve seen since the recession seem to be enticing consumers to allocate at least some of their restaurant spending on travel and other experiences." AlixPartners' Adam Werner
About 32 percent, however, are cutting their dining out budgets in order to save funds for travel experiences. In fact, the poll also found that the "non-restaurant sector" that most surveyed said they most hoped would get better was meals served at hotels. Nearly a quarter of the respondents wanted improvement in these types of offerings.
Other reasons for eating out less to save money among those polled tended to revolve around the priorities of their specific age group, according to the survey's results. For instance, huge variations exist between how millennials and baby boomers were planning to spend all the saved "eating out" funds this year
Typically, baby boomer types were stocking up on cash for retirement, while millennials were saving money mostly for personal services, like those purchased at salons and spas, including haircuts, manicures and pedicures, as well as time-saving household services like dry cleaning and housekeeping. In fact, only about 29 percent of baby boomers were saving for such expenditures, while 46 percent of millennials were.
"While lower fuel prices have helped operators by putting more money in consumers’ pockets, that’s become a two-edged sword as cheap gas and the lowest air fares we’ve seen since the recession seem to be enticing consumers to allocate at least some of their restaurant spending on travel and other experiences," AlixPartners Managing Director and Co-director of Restaurant, Hospitality and Leisure Adam Werner, said in information accompanying the survey results.
Millennial diners are also most driven to save eating-out cash for "experiences," like travel and other memorable activities, according to the poll. Most in this group said they'd eat about four fewer fast food and fast casual chain meals to save funds for such life experiences over the next 12 months.
That bodes well for concepts that make eating at their restaurants something of an experience. It's likely no mistake then that these are the most "tech-nified" consumers, as well, with strong attachment to social media and other ways to show their friends what great experiences they're having. Apparently though, just eating at a restaurant doesn't qualify in most cases anymore.
Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at other findings of this study around the use of technology in limited-service restaurants, as well as how the whole "holistic" trend is registering with consumers and other topics of food service sector interest.