Operators of chain restaurants should understand consumers' motivations for eating out, be mindful of consumers' health concerns, appreciate generational differences in customer expectations, Technomic consultant says

LOS ANGELES , March 16, 2012 () – Technomic Inc. Senior Consultant Matthew Mandeltort said that restaurateurs looking to extend their post-recession sales momentum must understand consumers’ motivations for eating out, be mindful of consumers’ health concerns, and appreciate generational difference in customer dining expectations, Nation’s Restaurant News reported March 15.

In his “Insights Beyond Trends” presentation, Mandeltort said that consumers' increasing interest in customization could have been partially responsible for fast-casual chains’ sales growth. Other types of restaurants can increase sales by figuring out what elements of fast-casual restaurant menus appeal to consumers, and then applying them to their own menus.

Although the recession drove consumers to become more value-conscious, consumers care about factors such as atmosphere, convenience, service and quality in addition to price. Restaurant chains should try to improve consumer perceptions about price in order to attract customers, Mandeltort noted.

Mandeltort said that restaurants should cater to consumers' health worries and add one healthy meal to their menu. Even if no one orders it, the addition will convey that the restaurant cares about the well-being of its customers.

Customers tend to associate a variety of words including “real,” “seasonal” and “fresh” with health, even if the food options to which the labels are attached are not themselves healthful, Mandeltort said.

While younger dinners tend to be interested in the origins of their food — and look for labels such as “local,” “organic,” and “sustainable ” —older diners who are interested in eating healthy look for labels including “low-calorie” and “low-sodium.” Young dinners are more liable to consume foods that are gluten-free, and older dinners are more liable to avoid dessert, cut carbohydrates or count calories in an effort to be healthy.

Younger Americans tend to eat out more often, and 41% of people aged 18-34 eat out two or three times per week. Restaurants can cater to younger generations by employing using such mediums as online videos, social media and text messaging.

According to a survey by Technomic, 68% of consumers like a “relatively quiet” restaurant environment, while 32% preferred a “lively” environment.

Mandeltort said that restaurants should concentrate on consumer insights rather than trends in order to grow their business, and that adaptation will be key to restaurants’ ability to show the modest growth that they are expected to experience in 2012.

The primary source of this article is Nation’s Restaurant News, New York, New York, on March 15, 2012.

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