To explore the ways purchasing decisions vary across different groups, Nation’s Restaurant News canvassed six experts in the fields of consumer behavior, branding, foodservice and demographic trends for their insights into the mind of today’s consumer.
On the assumption that food quality and value were universally important, we removed those from the survey, revealing the less tangible elements of the dining experience that make restaurant brands resonate with diners.
The experts were asked to use their professional opinions to consider seven attributes through the perspective of 10 different consumer groups. For each of the 10 groups they ranked the following attributes in descending order of importance to that group: atmosphere in the restaurant, authenticity of the brand, convenience, healthfulness of the food, personal connection with the brand, service style and social responsibility of the brand.
• Robert Hardy; founding partner, Bellwether Food Group; Topsfield, Mass.
• Dave Jenkins; partner, CustomersDNA; Inverness, Ill.
• Dennis Lombardi; executive vice president, WD Partners; Columbus, Ohio
• Bonnie Riggs; restaurant industry analyst, The NPD Group; Port Washington, N.Y.
• Gary Stibel; chief executive, New England Consulting Group; Westport, Conn.
• Darren Tristano; executive vice president, Technomic; Chicago
Convenience reigned, with the panel citing that as most important for six groups. Atmosphere also was a key driver, ranking in the top five for all of the demographic groups.
Beyond those aspects, the nuances of each demographic group begin to emerge. As a rule, younger consumers — Under 18, Millennials and Gen Xers — were said to care more about a brand’s authenticity. In fact, that quality was said to be most important among the Under 18 group. Older consumers and those with families were more likely to be drawn to brands that offered a service style suited to their needs and brands that offered healthful cuisine.
Still, personal connection with a brand emerged as a universally desired trait, underscoring the idea that today’s restaurant consumers want more than just to fill their bellies. They seek a deeper relationship with brands that can seamlessly blend into their lifestyles and offer experiences uniquely tailored to their needs.
For the full report, including additional demographic breakdowns, restaurant chain case studies and added input from industry experts, see the April 30 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News. The following pages are only a sample of the report. Subscribe to NRN here.