Consumers Trade Up From QSRs, Trade Down From Upscale Casual

Published in CSP Daily News

Fast-casual, traditional-casual dining cutting into fast-food, upscale casual-dining visits

CHICAGO -- Customer enthusiasm is up in the casual-dining segment. But new challenges are emerging for casual-dining operators as the lines continue to blur between limited-service fast-casual restaurants and full-service casual-dining chains. Consumer expectations are shifting as customers continue to trade up and trade down across the casual-dining spectrum.

"Consumers in search of a casual-dining occasion have plenty of choices, and their expectations are changing," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of foodservice consultancy Technomic. "Whether their needs are driven by price, food quality, overall value or simply the dining experience itself, operators need to know how to stay competitive."

Technomic's Future of Casual Dining Consumer Trend Report found:

  • More than four out of five casual-dining consumers say they visit fast-casual (85%) and traditional casual-dining restaurants (82%) at least once a month, and 40% of casual-dining consumers visit upscale casual-dining restaurants just as often.
  • Consumers' fast-casual and traditional casual-dining visits appear to be cutting into fast-food and upscale casual-dining visits, as consumers trade up from quick service and trade down from upscale casual-dining restaurants to these locations.
  • Compared to two years ago, consumers today are more likely to visit casual-dining restaurants for a variety of occasions--including, but not limited to, routine lunches, everyday occasions, special occasions and meals with colleagues and family members.
  • In an effort to compete with quick-service restaurants, leading fast-casual brands have expanded breakfast offerings by 31% since 2011; however, there's still plenty of opportunity as just 31% of leading fast-casual restaurants offer breakfast.
  • A third of consumers say they are ordering from the healthy menu more often than they did a year ago at fast casual (36%) and traditional (34%) casual-dining restaurants, but just 27% of consumers say the same for upscale casual-dining restaurants.
  • While price is a major deterrent for some upscale casual-dining consumers, 41% of consumers indicate that meals at these locations are worth the price because of the overall dining experience.

Chicago-based Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support. Its services include proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry.