How to Increase Full-Service Dining Visits


Canada’s 2009 economic downturn hit the full-service restaurant (FSR) segment hard. But, now there are positive signs that increases in visits to this large market segment may help boost the foodservice industry’s recovery in 2013.

So far, the segment’s numbers are on the rise. Visits were up three per cent in 2012, compared to 2011, reaching 1.66-billion FSR visits. But, while those statistics are encouraging, traffic levels have not returned to 2008 levels, when 1.76-billion visits were recorded.

To spur additional growth, operators must understand what drives consumers to FSRs. So, it may help to know that when FSR customers were asked what they expect from visits, top expectations focused on food and the overall dining experience. The NPD Group’s new report,“Full-Service Dining: What Customers Want (4th Edition),” shows 77 per cent of FSR visitors expect higher quality food, which they can’t get from a quick-service restaurant (QSR). They also want a better experience — the atmosphere, service and look that full-service restaurants offer. These expectations are also the main reasons they choose FSR over QSR.

And, as the economy has improved, more people have begun to treat themselves again, which is exactly why many visitors choose a full-service restaurant. Reasons for visiting vary from “had a coupon” to “was running errands,” but the majority of the time people want to treat their family or friends (22 per cent) or celebrate a special occasion (20 per cent). Of course, there are always those who don’t want to cook or clean up, accounting for another 15 per cent of visits.

Operators can drive traffic by focusing on key reasons consumers choose FSRs. The top reason is convenience (in terms of location); the next three drivers are food-driven, with customers expecting better-tasting food, higher-quality food and a specific favourite menu item. Differentiate your restaurant by focusing on the quality and taste of your most popular items; that can prove more important than pricing messages. In fact, “menu variety” and “value for money” are ranked the same (14 per cent) in NPD’s Full-Service Dining report, suggesting consumers are swayed as much by menu options as they are by the value equation.

Meanwhile, as mentioned in January’s article, online marketing is becoming an important tool, so restaurateurs need to build a social-media presence. About one-third of FSR visitors continue to say they rely on social media peer-to-peer recommendations, so this is an opportunity to cost-effectively engage fans online by encouraging them to provide feedback using social media tools such as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Chowhound. The launch of the ‘Our Food. Your Questions’ McDonald’s campaign is an example of an innovative and simple strategy to engage online consumers.

Full-service dining’s positive visit growth over the past year is exciting news for a segment that experienced declines for several quarters. To continue on that path, drive more visits by offering the quality food and dining experiences Canadians seek, while encouraging guest to share their experience with their friends on Facebook, Yelp and Twitter.

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