A new research report, the second edition of the high-level study The Why? Behind The Dine, explores how consumers’ dining behaviors and preferences have evolved. Its findings provide food for thought for any restaurant executive, particularly if they view the off-premise market as a growth opportunity. As they'll learn, many other channels are also vying for that business.
Read on to learn more from the study, which was conducted by the sales and marketing firm Acosta and RB's research sister, Technomic.
Food and meals: then and now
Picture this: It’s 1985 and about 60 percent of food sales took place in grocery stores. There were about 500,000 foodservice and retail grocery outlets in the U.S. By 2015, the number of outlets had almost tripled to 1.4 million total outlets. During this time frame, total food sales grew from $434 billion to almost $1.4 trillion.
Convenient meal options around the clock
In 1985, about 60% of food sales took place in grocery stores. By 2015, consumers' options for meals had almost tripled, to 1.4 million total outlets. Clearly, the public's dining choices are no longer limited to preparing a meal at home or going out to eat. Today, they can turn to more than a dozen channels for food, from food trucks to meal kits.
Percent of U.S. diners - method of food consumption (past 3 months)
Many of the options drawing increased use didn't exist five or 10 years ago. A look at the ones used by consumers in the prior three months shows dining at home and eating in restaurants are still the most frequently used channels, but the public is clearly at least experimenting with all the others.
Percent of U.S. diners – healthy eating attitudes
Interest in health and "cleaner" foods is one of the factors driving the experimentation. Freshly prepared supermarket meals are viewed as preferable to frozen entrees, and even food trucks are perceived as providing a fresher option, according to study co-author Acosta.
When comparing diners to grocery shoppers, diners prioritize different digital tools for their restaurant experiences
Consumers are also learning more about the food they eat. Digital-based media have emerged as a familiar and regularly used channel for getting the information.
Key takeaways for foodservice operators
The researchers drew a number of takeaways specifically for restaurateurs. Among their recommendations:
- As meal solution options continue to expand and grow, look for innovative ways to deliver increased convenience for consumers. Consider incorporating digital tools that make ordering easier and faster, or adding pick up/delivery for prepared meal choices.
- Continue to adapt and evolve menus to be more transparent using fresh ingredients and locally sourced, sustainable choices where possible. Promote these ingredient changes on your menu and in your marketing materials.
- Become a part of your diners’ digital and social interactions by embracing technology to drive consumers to your location, website or app, and actively engage with diners when they are on-site.