Independent restaurant operators may face a tough road these days, but they may have one advantage over chain restaurants: many consumers prefer them.
According to a report from market research firm Mintel Group, 43 percent of American consumers who have visited an independent restaurant in the past month said they make a point of seeking them out over chains.
Independents, however, could do a better job of offering promotions and limited-time offers to compete with chains, Mintel said. Meanwhile, chains could borrow a page from indies by offering more unique menu items.
More than half of consumers surveyed — 52 percent — said they visit independent restaurants to support their local community/economy, while 51 percent agree that independent restaurants do a good job of supporting their local communities, according to the report. By comparison, 37 percent said the same of chain restaurants.
“People take pride in their communities and will often reward local businesses that make their community a better place,” Eric Giandelone, director of Mintel Foodservice, said in a statement. “The primary way indies underperform in relation to chains is through a lack of promotions and limited-time offers — two things that could be easily addressed with social shopping and social networking sites.”
Most consumers, 56 percent, said they were willing to pay more at an independent restaurant, the report found. However, of those who had not been to an independent restaurant in the past month, 22 percent said it was because they deemed indies too expensive.
“While chain restaurants are able to offer up a big helping of value and convenience, they need to focus on areas of opportunity where independents are rated better, such as unique menu items and local flair,” Giandelone said.
According to 42 percent of those surveyed, independents are superior to chains when it comes to food quality and the ability to customize orders, Mintel found.
However, 21 percent said chains are better when it comes to convenience, and 20 percent said chains offer faster service.