Volume 48, Number 4
At no other time in history has so much power rested in the hands of the consumer. In the past, consumer choice was dictated by what businesses decided to offer. Today, the opposite holds true: consumers now fuel what operators feature on their menu. The reality is quickly altering the face of the restaurant industry and promises to further alter what the foodservice industry will look like in the future.
Just look at the recent woes being faced by McDonald’s Restaurants in the U.S., where the leviathan has been forced to restructure domestic and international units by shuttering hundreds of restaurants, cutting costs and selling back corporate stores to franchisees — not to mention, of course, introducing healthier items on an already packed menu. In Canada, the giant is reportedly introducing kale salad and whole grains to its menu, while, in the U.S., it’s testing sirloin burgers. As Robert Carter of NPD noted at the Canadian Restaurant Investment Summit held in Toronto last month, “Consumers are in control, and they’re changing the way businesses operate.”
These days, it’s all about change. But, while today’s consumers clearly want an increasing number of healthier choices, restaurant operators can’t afford to make changes just for the sake of it. First, they need to understand what’s driving it. More often than not, in today’s frenetic time-starved world, change is being fuelled by the rapid rise of technology, the growing need for convenience (see “Top 100 Report” overview story on p. 45) and the increasing influence of millennials. In fact, according to stats from NPD, millennials eat at restaurants more than any other age group, with the average one eating out of home 235 times a year.
Take a look around at the burgeoning options on most restaurant menus, and it’s clear a better educated and informed consumer will no longer put up with the same-old, same-old. Consumers are infinitely more vocal about what they like and don’t like, as evidenced by the growing popularity and use of peer review sites such as Yelp.
Today’s consumers are varied in their demands: they want healthier offerings; they want ethically sourced products; they want to patronize businesses that are treating their staff properly and compensating them well; and, above all, they want innovative offerings. In fact, NPD research shows 22 per cent of consumers will visit restaurants to try unique items. Furthermore, they want to dine in a casual environment, with fast-casual now the fastest-growing segment in the industry. In short, today’s consumers want what they want, when they want it.
For operators struggling to increase their share in an increasingly flat marketplace, the challenge to steal business from somewhere else is an ongoing battle. And, with the rate of change only expected to intensify, operators need to evolve and deliver innovation quicker than ever.