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Restaurants find that upscale food, not deals, lures diners

Value menus and combos drove traffic during the downturn, but now patrons are more interested in healthful eating and premium options, a research firm says.

November 07, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

During the recession, offering deals on meals was key to getting patrons into restaurants. These days, that may no longer be the case.

Combo packages and value menus don't have the same allure for customers that they had in the downturn, according to research company NPD Group Inc. Deal-driven traffic has declined over the last two years, while the number of consumers paying full price has increased 1% each year.

The situation was reversed three years ago.

Now, increased focus on healthful eating and premium options has shifted emphasis from dollar-menu offerings to more upscale foods. And fewer people consider combo meals to be true discount options, especially after years of being conditioned to their presence on menus, NPD said.

Coupons, discounts and senior citizen deals, however, are on the upswing.

"As has been historically the case, when deals are in the marketplace for an extended period of time, consumers tend to expect them or see them as everyday price and not as a deal," NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said in a statement.

Restaurants looking for another way to bring in customers, especially young ones, should consider online menus, according to research group Technomic Inc.

Nearly 60% of its survey respondents born 1977 to 1992 said they look up restaurant offerings online; 32% said they check menus using their phones. Just 17% of Gen X respondents and 8% of baby boomers do the same, Technomic said.

Compared with the older generations, more millennials follow their favorite eateries on social media and check in at restaurants using apps, the research group said. Young patrons are also more interested in ethnic foods and alcoholic drinks.

They're a demographic to which the restaurant industry should pay special heed. Although 38% of Gen X respondents and 37% of boomers said they buy food away from home at least twice a week, 41% of millennials said they do so.

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