5 ways to boost traffic and sales

The 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry report finds restaurants are as competitive as ever in capturing stomach share.

The restaurant industry remains intensely competitive in 2020—and the value consumers get for the money they spend can be a key differentiator, new National Restaurant Association research suggests.

Roughly 8 in 10 restaurant operators say customers are more value-conscious than they were two years ago, according to the Association’s 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry report. Consumers surveyed for the report gave high ratings to food quality, cleanliness and service at restaurants—but satisfaction rates dipped slightly when it came to the value received for price paid.

Smart operators can use value to draw guests in, says Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president of research and knowledge. He notes that 45% of consumers report they aren’t using restaurants as often as they’d like—the highest level in seven years. “The level of pent-up demand suggests that as guests manage their total restaurant spend, the value proposition is an important way to extend the consumer’s food dollar.”

The report includes five strategies to increase traffic and sales:

  1. Maintain a robust loyalty program. Nearly half of restaurant operators said it is harder to hold onto customer loyalty now than two years ago. The report notes that 83% of adult consumers said they were more likely to visit restaurants offering loyalty and rewards programs.
  2. Create a house account. Sixty-eight percent of all consumers—and nearly 8 in 10 millennials—said they would likely take advantage of a house account if a restaurant they visited offered it. How would that work? The customer prepays a certain amount to the restaurant and gets a bonus amount added to it. For example, a customer who pays $100 receives a total of $125 to spend. The restaurant deducts funds from the house account when the consumer patronizes the restaurant.
  3. Offer real-time specials via smartphone. Roughly 87% of consumers said they’d likely pay attention to and try to take advantage of specials offered via smartphone app. The special could be an offer of lower prices or a free appetizer, dessert or drink. Depending on how busy the restaurant is, a manager could change the offer each day.
  4. Introduce variable pricing. Three in 4 adults said they would pay attention to variable pricing if offered. A restaurateur, depending on how busy the business is at a certain time of the day, could raise or lower prices on menu items. This price flexibility would work best for menus on tablets or video boards.
  5. Get involved in your community. Consumers—especially younger ones—notice when restaurateurs make charitable donations in their communities. About half of the consumers surveyed said they were likely to choose a restaurant based on how much it supports charitable activities and the local community. That jumps to 70% among Gen Z respondents.


The 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry report includes extensive data on operations, food and beverage and workforce trends. Access the report here.

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