Study: Fine-dining consumers favor independents

Despite a steep decline in sales during the economic downturn, a new study has found that fine-dining restaurants will remain popular with consumers as long as they continue to offer individuality, food quality and a more casual setting.

The study, called “The Changing Face of America’s Fine Diners,” by RestaurantRx Consulting LLC, based in Orlando, Fla., polled 1,600 fine-dining customers across the country last month. It found that about 81 percent of respondents said they preferred dining at a one-of-a-kind establishment, versus at an upscale national chain.

The three most important factors when dining out were food quality, service and VIP treatment, respondents said.

“Fine-dining chains are under a state of siege,” said Steve Mamarchev, a partner at RestaurantRx Consulting. “Their key to success is awarding every guest VIP treatment every time. Restaurant operators need to focus on excellent food quality delivered in a casual ambience.”

The study focused on consumers who ate at fine-dining establishments during the last three months, were 35 years of age or older and had a household income of at least $100,000 a year.

About 69 percent of those polled said food quality was most important to them when choosing where to dine and another 11 percent said consistency was key. About 9 percent said value for their money was important to them.

The study showed 63 percent of those polled said fine diners today prefer simply prepared foods served casually rather than richer offerings delivered in a more formal setting. Additionally, 61 percent said they were adventurous in their tastes and desired new and exotic dishes, while 11 percent described themselves as “steak and potatoes” types.

Inconsistent food quality and service ranked as top complaints. About 20 percent of respondents said inconsistency, as a whole, was their top complaint, and 50 percent said inconsistent food quality was their No. 1 complaint.

When it comes to service, 11 percent said inconsistency in that area was their biggest source of dissatisfaction.

When questioned about value, 52 percent of respondents said poor value for the money was one of their top three complaints, and 42 percent cited high menu prices as a source of dissatisfaction.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected]