Lunch remains the most popular time for patronizing restaurants, recent consumer research shows, but restaurants need to reach a diverse dining-out audience in different ways.
The first “Dining Out” study from group-buying service LivingSocial, released last week, found that consumers eat out at the midday meal more than at any other time.
The survey of 4,000 consumers in the United States found that, on average, Americans eat 2.6 meals at restaurants per week at lunchtime, compared with 1.4 average weekly sit-down dinners and 0.8 average weekly breakfast or brunch visits.
But another study published by Chicago-based research firm Technomic found that different generations of consumers view lunch and their conceptions of value at that meal differently, necessitating many varieties of menu items and price points for restaurants.
For example, according to Technomic’s “Lunch Consumer Trend Report,” the Millennials, or diners aged 18 to 34, are the heaviest users of restaurants at lunchtime and are the diners who use value menus most often.
At the same time, older consumers are likely to be value-conscious, but they tend to order off value menus infrequently when eating lunch out.
“Baby boomers are motivated heavily by value, but other significant motivations include health and quality of food,” said Sara Monnette, Technomic’s director of consumer research. “The most health-conscious consumers skew 45 and older, so their value equation is different than that of a younger person who sees value primarily as a price issue. Older consumers are less likely to perceive value in dollar menu items because of the broader context of their motivations.”
Technomic’s findings are based on the online-survey responses of 1,500 consumers in the United States.
The firm found that fast, portable and inexpensive options at lunchtime were the highest-rated priorities during the workweek for consumers. However, during weekends, restaurant patrons gave greater importance to customization and fresh preparation when evaluating lunch choices.
Although Technomic survey respondents reported they are packing their lunch more during the workweek due to economic concerns, 35 percent report that they still buy lunch at a restaurant at least twice a week.
Another challenge for restaurants is that more than half of all consumers indicated that they skip lunch at least once a week, and about two-thirds said they replace lunch with a snack at least once a week. However, restaurants still can appeal to these consumers by offering more healthful menu items and smaller portions at lower price points, Technomic said.
About 47 percent of all respondents said they stick to the same few restaurants for their lunch visits every week. However, 40 percent said they eat many different things off their favorite restaurants’ menus, meaning that menu variety and customization will continue to loom large for restaurants looking to increase their share of lunchtime traffic.