Sponsored by Dinova
The fourth quarter is typically considered crunch time for corporations – which means it’s also high-stakes-business-lunch time and time for dealmakers everywhere to sweeten those end-of-year sales pushes with a little strategic wining and dining. For restaurant operators, the normally profitable business dining segment becomes even more so as the season of travel, holiday parties, and customer appreciation food-drops kicks into high gear.
Starting in October (the busiest travel month for corporations) and continuing nonstop into November and December (office parties, catered luncheons and dinners, and private dining events for those extra special clients), there’s a whole lot of dining going on.
Data compiled by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) places annual business dining spend at about $100 billion in the United States. And according to Dinova, the total business dining solutions provider, that sum can be divided into three huge categories of travel and entertainment (T&E) spend – business travel meals (roughly $77 billion), restaurant catering orders ($15 billion), and private dining events ($8 billion).
To make the most of this $100 billion opportunity, operators should take a moment to understand who their business diners are and what drives their dining decisions, and then dig into which marketing methods are most effective for reaching them. Given the rapid growth of delivery and takeout, restaurateurs who are able to counter some of the effects of eroding foot traffic by elevating their appeal to business diners should see dividends that extend well beyond the end of the year.
Size up the value of expense account diners
While the three-martini lunches of Mad Men fame are no longer the norm, data shows that today’s expense account diners do spend more than the average nonbusiness diner, and their checks are more likely to include high-margin items like alcoholic beverages, appetizers, and desserts. In a 2018 business diner research study conducted by Dinova and the GBTA, 22% of business travelers reported not having any company-imposed dining restrictions at all, while another 41% reported having relaxed spending guidelines.
Find your generational sweet spot
Operators who want to hit the ground running with a business dining strategy should dig into the behaviors and preferences of different segments of business diners and identify the target groups they most likely appeal to with their current menu and dining experience. The Dinova study revealed several interesting generational differences among business diners that are worth noting.
For example, baby boomer business travelers expressed a strong preference for upscale-casual restaurants; 79% of boomer participants said they frequented those types of establishments for business dining, compared to 69% for Gen Xers and 47% for millennials. Additionally, boomers reported fewer reservations than any other age group – regardless of job title – when it came to expensing alcohol, snacks, and high food delivery fees. They also reported the highest tendency to take clients out for power lunches.
On the other hand, 51% of millennials said they typically eat at quick-serve restaurants and another 63% choose fast-casual places for business meals — higher than both boomers and Gen Xers. And while 80% of millennials said they consider healthy dining options either “very important” or “somewhat important,” they’re also six times more likely than their boomer counterparts to bring food back to their hotel room for a solitary meal at the end of the day.
For comparison, Gen Xers are the most likely to dine out as a pack for business – having reported the most consistent preference for dining with either co-workers or clients at all dayparts. Somewhat surprisingly, they also showed the highest preference for fine dining restaurants of all three groups (35% – compared with 25% for boomers and 27% for millennials), though their top choice overall was for upscale casual (69%). Their fondness for group dining makes them excellent candidates for filling empty midweek restaurant seats.
Seize the business dining opportunity
In order to get in on some of the Q4 spending frenzy, operators should take what they discover about different types of business diners, and then evaluate which types of the three following critical business dining occasions they’re most ready to address within those groups:
1. Business Travel: For this business dining segment, highlighting local flavors on your menu and special dietary profiles that you can accommodate, such as gluten-free and keto-friendly options, and making sure this information is discoverable online is critical. Not only do 63% of travelers surveyed report having dining-related apps on their mobile phones, they also reported researching their dining options online prior to leaving on business trips. Consider ways to frame any of your restaurant’s special features (such as quiet weeknights that are good for business meetings or quick grab-and-go menu options for guests to take back to the hotel after a long day) within a business dining context.
2. Catering: When it comes to business catering, orders generally fall into two categories – those for in-office occasions (think team training sessions or a big client meeting), and those for drop-off occasions (typically involving a client that’s either being wooed or thanked). Either way, branding is essential for office catering. Food should be presented tidily in packaging that ensures the quality of the meal, with logoed menu cards and/or branded smallware and napkins, so that those who partake will be able to seek you out for additional business. Above all, customer service is key, so make sure that the people who deliver your food are prompt and neatly dressed.
3. Private dining: Industry data puts the amount of time corporate meeting and event planners spend researching restaurant venues at right around 40%; and when the event in question involves VIPs and key stakeholders, the tolerance of the business community for less-than-professional event experiences is slim to none. So if promoting your facilities for office holiday parties and team get-togethers is your goal, make sure you’re prepared with answers to all of the basic questions (how many seats you have, sound system capabilities, private room and valet options and so on) – as well as unique features that you can offer to groups.
The Dinova edge
Savvy operators who are committed to advancing their profile as a business-grade dining option should consider seeing if they qualify for the Dinova marketplace. Dinova’s network of more than 20,000 restaurant locations across the United States has been curated specifically to meet the culinary, price point and quality requirements of business diners – and the company’s restaurant locator app offers business diners a quick and easy way to find employer-approved restaurant options whenever they travel or entertain. Operators get access to millions of high-value business diners to fill their seats, including high-check-average, midweek dining traffic.
For more information about how Dinova can help you attract more business diners, visit www.dinova.com.