This post is part of the On the Margin blog.
Teens have reduced their spending, and they’re spending less of it at restaurants, according to Piper Jaffray’s fall survey of teen spending habits.
The semi-annual survey found that overall teen spending fell 4.4 percent year over year. And the amount they spend on food fell to 22 percent from 24 percent in the spring, though teens still spend more on food than on anything else, and the 22 percent is still historically high.
The survey mirrors overall restaurant industry trends while adding another pain point for an industry hoping to see demand for dining out increase. Restaurants are facing intense competition, with same-store sales and traffic falling for the past two years, amid overdevelopment and stagnant demand.
Nicole Miller Regan, analyst with Piper, said that restaurants are in a “contraction phase.”
Piper has been doing the survey since 2001. The Minneapolis-based investment-banking firm surveyed 6,100 teens with an average age of 16 years.
Teens are an important demographic, if for no other reason than because companies able to reach this group can hope to build some customer loyalty that lasts years. Indeed, Amazon — overwhelmingly teens’ favorite shopping website — is launching a new strategy to help them shop on the site by themselves.
Teens’ preferred restaurant brand is Starbucks Corp., which has been the most preferred brand among upper income and average income teens for several years.
Upper income teens’ favorite brands after Starbucks include Chick-fil-A, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Among average income teens, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. were favorites.
Interestingly, Chipotle has long been the second favorite brand among upper income teens, even after a series of foodborne illness outbreaks hurt the Denver-based chain’s reputation. It was only until this year that it fell to third.
And among average income teens, McDonald’s finished second behind Starbucks in every survey from 2011 until the fall of 2016 when it was supplanted by Chick-fil-A. It has finished third ever since.
Teens’ spending preferences reflect overall trends. They are less likely to dine at casual-dining restaurants, and much more likely to prefer chains without wait staff. But the shift from full service to limited service has been dramatic.
In the spring of 2009, in the midst of the recession, 57 percent of teens said they preferred full-service restaurants, while 43 percent preferred limited-service restaurants, including fast-food chains and fast-casual concepts.
That has more than reversed since: In the most recent survey, only 37 percent of teens preferred full-service restaurants, while 63 percent preferred limited-service concepts.
That shift should give restaurants more reason to look for ways to make their concepts more convenient, especially full-service restaurants. Many are already doing that, as chains like Outback Steakhouse explore delivery more aggressively while Olive Garden pushes more to-go orders.
“We expect to see operators continuing to evolve and improve value propositions around convenience, menu/taste profiles, enhanced service initiatives and physical assets,” Miller wrote. “We refer to this dynamic as a ‘blurring of the lines.’”
Marketing executives looking to reach these teens should note a few other things:
They strongly prefer Snapchat. Among social media platforms, 47 percent of teens said they preferred Snapchat, compared with 24 percent who said Instagram and just 9 percent who said Facebook.
They watch a lot of Netflix and YouTube. Teens prefer video streaming — their preference for linear television fell 2 percent since last fall, continuing a long-term trend. Teens preferred Netflix (37 percent) or YouTube (29 percent) while cable television was cited as a favorite by 22 percent of teens.
Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.
Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze