What moms want when dining out

Moms plan to cut down on dining out this year, and when they do go to restaurants with their families, they're more likely to choose a place that is kid-friendly and offers value, according to new research from BOHAN Advertising.

David Bohan, chairman and CEO of the Nashville, Tenn.-based ad agency, said that while many moms are less open to some restaurant industry trends gaining steam with consumers as a whole — such as social-media offers, mobile marketing and ethnic flavors — the majority of restaurants should keep aware of that important demographic group as they tailor their concepts to a wide range of customers.

“In QSR, fast casual and casual dining, family dining [occasions are] part of the experience, and you’ll have to go to that market,” Bohan said. “A kid-friendly environment is key to that, but from a marketing perspective, don’t go overboard on being kid-friendly and move away from people who are empty nesters, single, or married without kids. It’s about the combination of food and environment and having a menu mix that’s going to appeal to people across a wide range of ages and palettes.”

Of the 585 mothers with two children living in the household responding to BOHAN’s WhyMomsRule.com survey, 58 percent said they would reduce their families’ visits to restaurants this year. Most moms, or 66 percent, said they would cut down on restaurants visits at breakfast, compared with 58 percent who said they would go out less often at lunch and 50 percent who plan to dine out less for dinner.

Moms said a family-appropriate environment was critical to their dining-out decisions, with 87 percent saying restaurants need to have items their kids will like, 78 percent wanting their kids to enjoy the overall experience, 70 percent seeking available kids’ items that are healthful, and 65 expressing a desire for a kid-friendly atmosphere, BOHAN found.

Families also will continue to seek ways to save money in restaurants, even as the nation’s economy shows signs of stabilizing and recovery. Sixty-three percent of moms plan to order from a value menu more often this year, while 62 percent plan to buy more discounted items, 57 percent plan to use more coupons, and 54 percent plan to order more combo meals.

Mothers’ survey responses indicating less optimism in the economy and more importance on finding value “tells me that moms are more cautious in this [economic recovery],” Bohan said. Even if GDP continued to grow and unemployment were to recede, moms’ value consciousness likely would remain a permanent change, he added.

“We’re going to continue to see [value seeking] for at least five more years,” he said. “Through the recession, many marketers have taught people to do that, but Mom’s definition of value is not just a dollar meal or menu. It’s a combination of price and quality that you’re delivering at your establishment.”

“The more we focus on delivering real value, not just discounting price, the better we are at building our brands,” he added.

The sources of those value propositions, however, tend to differ from consumers as a whole. Mothers largely prefer getting coupons in the mail, the newspaper, or through e-mail loyalty clubs. While many restaurants are investing in social media and mobile-coupon programs, mothers aren’t on board yet. Mothers surveyed by BOHAN reported that only 7 percent get coupons via social media, and only 1 percent receive them on mobile phones.

“Moms are clearly adapters and users of social media,” Bohan said, “but they’re looking to those tools for reviews, or for connection to friends and family, not yet as methods of receiving discounts. They fear those to be spam.”

Bohan pointed out, however, that the study showed a lower rate of response in favor of social media and mobile marketing because results weren’t broken down by age. The younger the demographic, he said, the more likely there would be mothers open to mobile or social discounts.

“If restaurants develop a mobile strategy to younger consumers, male or female, single or married, kids or not, you’ll have more of an effect,” he said. “We didn’t age-categorize this survey, so that’s part of the reason it came in against mobile marketing.”

Survey respondents also said trends in emerging ethnic cuisine don’t resonate with them. Currently, 45 percent of moms order ethnic foods no more than twice a year, and 40 percent said they’d order such meals less often this year, compared with only 15 percent who would order ethnic food more. Mothers’ unfavorable opinion of ethnic food and restaurants may have much to do with the definition of the word, Bohan cautioned.

“‘Ethnic’ might have changed like the American palette has changed,” he said. “That word might mean a real niche like Cambodian or Vietnamese, where Chinese and Thai food have now come to the mainstream, just like Italian and Mexican food before them.”

While 63 percent of moms in BOHAN's study said they plan to make more easy-to-prepare meals at home this year, only 9 percent plan to buy more prepared or frozen meals at grocery stores, which many operators and experts predicted during the economic downturn would pose a much bigger threat.

“Grocery home meal replacement is not as appealing, and that’s due to price point,” Bohan said. “When this started, there was a distinct advantage to the consumer. Grocery pricing has reached parity with restaurant pricing, and with some of the upscale grocery chains, it’s more than restaurant pricing. That should provide hope for the restaurant sector.”

BOHAN provides marketing services to nonprofit organizations and businesses in the consumer, health care, and hotel and restaurant industries. Among BOHAN’s foodservice clients are Fazoli’s, Stoney River Legendary Steaks and Back Yard Burgers.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]