Family-dining restaurants are expected to experience a lingering recessionary slump over the next four years, and price-focused promotions are not likely to turn around sales trends, according to a report from market research firm Mintel.
Through the recession, the family midscale segment has been the most negatively impacted, the report found. Mintel said 80 percent of family restaurant diners are eating out less because of budgetary concerns.
As a result, the firm projects that family restaurant sales will decline by 7 percent over the next four years.
“Playing the pricing game has not proved successful for family restaurants,” said Eric Giandelone, Mintel’s foodservice director.
While value is a key factor in driving traffic — 70 percent of diners said value is an important attribute in selecting a family restaurant — Mintel said restaurants have an opportunity to employ a more sustainable approach to value that could move the needle: add more healthful menu items and meet diners’ need for convenience.
Thirty-four percent of restaurant-goers say healthful food is a factor in selecting a family restaurant, according to Mintel.
Several family-dining chains have been beefing up their better-for-you options in recent months. Denny’s has been promoting its new Fit Fare menu  with items lower in calories and fat, and IHOP has expanded its Simple & Fit options, all under 600 calories.
Watch a commercial for Denny’s Fit Fare line; story continues below
Convenience is another key aspect, the Mintel report said.
While 75 percent of diners use the full-service experience at such restaurants, families are more likely to say that service is typically too slow. As a result, family restaurant visits tend to be limited to weekends, when guests have more time, the report found.
Offering express meal options at lunch and dinner during the week could help, Giandelone said.
“By utilizing an ‘express lunch’ concept, family midscale restaurants can attract the business crowd during the week and perhaps implement a ‘family express dinner,’ where families can still enjoy their sit-down experience, but at a pace that coincides with their busy weeknight schedules,” he said.
Shari’s Café & Pies this week introduced new Trio-Fecta Lunches with a 15-minute service guarantee.
Trio items include a choice of soup or salad, half a sandwich, a drink and a slice of pie for $7.99, all served within 15 minutes on weekdays between 11 a.m and 2 p.m.
Michael Kiriazis, Beaverton, Ore.-based Shari’s vice president of marketing, said the promotion allows the 103-unit family-dining chain to better compete with quick-service and fast-casual restaurants.
“Many of our guests want a full-service lunch experience without the time commitment — and at a competitive price point of $7.99,” Kiriazis said in a statement.
The Trios deal “provides them with value and variety, and now the commitment to speed of service. Nobody else in the family-dining category is doing this.”
Mintel also found that 59-percent of diners saw a convenient location as a key factor in selecting a family restaurant.
Still, value remains the focus of promotions throughout the segment. This week IHOP rolled out a “7 for $7” limited-time offer  that lets guests select seven meal options, each for $7.
Watch a commercial for IHOP’s “7 for $7” menu; story continues below
Similarly, Denny’s has been promoting its $2 $4 $6 $8 value menu with 16 options at those price points.