Restaurant customers traded down in 2012 — from entrées down to appetizers, from bottles of wine down to glasses, and from expensive entrées down to cheaper ones — according to point-of-sale data analyzed by research firm GuestMetrics LLC.
GuestMetrics analyzed more than 250 million checks at full-service restaurants. During the course of 2012, the number of entrées ordered declined by 1.5 percent, while orders of appetizers and sides grew by 2.8 percent.
The average price of an entrée was $11.56 in 2012, compared with $5.57 for appetizers and sides, indicating downward pressure on average checks, GuestMetrics said.
The fastest-growing appetizers were wings, oysters, ribs and empanadas, according to the data.
Among entrées, the largest categories — steaks, burgers and pizza — “actually held up fine,” GuestMetrics president Brian Barrett said. He added that the decline was driven by less prevalent items, which he said suggests "an underlying shift taking place in consumer preference to more mainstream entrées."
Items containing protein did particularly well, growing overall by 2.1 percent, while non-protein dishes grew by just 0.3 percent. Among protein, beef did the best, particularly burgers, rib-eye steaks and filets. Seafood dishes grew most slowly, particularly shrimp, bass, clams and tuna, “though their sluggish performance was partially offset by strength among oysters, salmon, grouper and trout dishes,” Barrett said.
Peter Reidhead, GuestMetrics’ vice president of strategy and insights, noted that beef’s performance was an indication that Americans remained price-conscious. The average beef dish costs $12.89, about 10 percent less than the average seafood dish, which costs $14.40.
Desserts, wine sales drop
Dessert sales also fell by 2.3 percent, GuestMetrics found. Sales of brownies and cakes fell most steeply, while some desserts, most notably cheesecake and crème brûlée, were ordered more often in 2012, according to GuestMetrics.
The company also found that the number of wine bottles ordered in restaurants and bars dropped dramatically between 2011 and 2012 — by 13 percent — while the number of glasses of wine rose by 4 percent. The drop could be attributed in part to consumers who still “feel pressure from a sluggish economic recovery," according to GuestMetrics chief executive Bill Pecoriello.
The cost of the average bottle of wine was more than $43, compared with an average glass price of $9.60, according to GuestMetrics.
Overall, wine by the bottle represented just 13 percent of wine items ordered. Wine by-the-glass orders accounted for the remaining 87 percent — a growth of 2.2 percentage points during the year.
Varietals that gained the most share were Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec. The biggest losers were Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Grigio, but those four varietals still hold the top spots in 2012. Sauvignon Blanc rounded out the list of five most popular varietals.
Contact Bret Thorn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary