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Who’s eating where?

It is not just the dismal economy that is leaving restaurants trolling for customers—it’s the changing attitudes of customers themselves. A two-year study by NPD, the foodservice market research group, found that age demographics and dining-out frequency are shifting in surprising ways.

DOWN: Young adults 18 to 24 have been cutting back on restaurant dining from 254 per capita visits in 2007 to 233 in 2008. This group has typically been a heavy user of restaurants and foodservice and one of the most lucrative, spending $42 billion in 2008.

Food preferences are also changing for younger consumers as they seek out healthy options, fresh ingredients and higher food quality. Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, notes that today’s 18 to 24 years olds are looking for something completely different than the same demographic five years prior. “It will be important for restaurant operators to understand these preferences in order to get them back in,” she says.

UP: One group that has increased its visits to restaurants over the past year is Baby Boomers, ages 50 to 64. According to NPD’s research, in 2008 the number of per capita visits of these seasoned eaters was 209, up from 204 in 2007 and 201 in 2003.

DOWN: Families with young children are also eating out less. Since bringing the kids out raises meal costs by almost $8, couples are rethinking their habits. Both quickservice and full-service restaurants experienced traffic losses in 2008 with kids under 13 years old. “Considering the cost of adding kids’ meals to a restaurant check, it’s not surprising that adults are deciding to keep the kids at home,” Riggs notes. 

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