From The Desk of Robert Carter: Capture Lost Customers

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[dropcap size=big]E[/dropcap]nticing families to eat out more often represents an untapped opportunity for restoring healthy growth to the foodservice industry.

Families want to eat at restaurants, they just need the proper incentive. Defined as two adults with children under the age of 13, families are making fewer restaurant visits than they did five years ago, as tracked by the NPD Group’s CREST Market Monitor; much of this decline is at lunch and supper. During 2014, families accounted for 1.9-billion restaurant visits, but that traffic is down 143-million visits from 2008. Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) have experienced the sharpest declines, with 66 million lost visits, while full-service restaurants (FSRs) have lost 40-million visits. And, although modest check increases show family spend is on the rise, the big opportunity here is in restoring the volume of families using restaurants back to 2008 levels.

QSR operators have the most to gain from enticing families back. Much of the promotional focus during the last five years has been on breakfast and snacking dayparts. Although families are responding and increasing their visits at these dayparts, which offer cheaper options, they are not frequent users. And, while any growth from this demographic is hard won, it’s resulting in less visits at lunch and supper.

But, there’s an opportunity to shift the menu innovation and marketing communications employed at breakfast and snacking dayparts and give families a reason to visit at lunch and supper. Chef-inspired menu innovation has been targeted to adults, but there is an opportunity to apply this creativity to kids’ menus as well. Kids’ tastes are more adventurous than they were in the past; this group is consuming more Asian dishes, seafood, beef, yogurt, vegetables, smoothies and other specialty beverages. Parents’ decisions are impacted by the tastes of their children, and winning increased visits requires developing kids’ menus that are more inspired than just offering chicken fingers and fries. Simplify this menu and appeal to maturing tastes. Demonstrate the value associated with a prepared lunch or supper meal for families. Time and convenience, as well as innovative pricing strategies, will motivate today’s families to eat out of home.

Focusing on wooing families back to restaurants at lunch and supper is worth the effort; recapture a share of the $949 million annual spending lost from family visits since 2008.

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