Restaurant customers have such firmly established ordering habits that, even though chains introduce as many new menu items and limited-time offers as ever, only 30 percent of customers would try something new, according to new research from The NPD Group.

The Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm found in its latest report, “Menu Item Trial: Motivating First-Time and Repeat Orders,” that 70 percent of consumers surveyed this past October about their most recent restaurant visits responded that they ordered menu items they have ordered before.

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In general, consumers try an unfamiliar item based on perceptions of how it might taste or how it looks, but they also might consider other factors like price point or an item’s healthfulness, the report found.

The survey results also suggest that operators do not have to drastically increase their limited-time offers or their output of new menu items to get their customers to branch out: Many respondents indicated that they tend to order items in the same food category as their familiar, regular orders when they try a new menu item. Of the 30 percent of customers who did venture outside their normal patterns to eat something different, the vast majority, or 73 percent, tried an item that already was a regular fixture on the restaurant’s menu.

Source:  The NPD Group/Custom Survey, October 2013

Meanwhile, 17 percent of consumers surveyed reported that they tried a brand-new item, while another 10 percent of respondents said they opted for a limited-time offer.

Consumers reported a greater willingness to try new things at full-service restaurants, with the casual-dining segment showing the most trial in NPD’s study. Forty percent of consumers who had tried a new item recently bought that dish at a casual-dining restaurant while 25 of those respondents tried something new at a midscale or family-dining restaurant.

Quick-service restaurants accounted for 19 percent of new menu items tried in the report, followed by fast-casual brands, which accounted for 12 percent of trial.

Consumers cited full-service restaurants’ food quality, freshness and ease of sharing as major reasons why they were comfortable trying something different in those settings.

In both the casual-dining and family-dining segments the most common type of new item ordered was a main dish or entrée, followed by a sandwich and a side dish. The most popular kinds of new items ordered at quick-service eateries were sandwiches, followed by main dishes and breakfast items. Fast-casual consumers tried a new main dish most often, followed by sandwiches and side dishes.

“Insight into the reasons why consumers try a food or beverage menu item that they have not purchased before provides restaurant operators with the knowledge required for successful product innovation, introduction and marketing,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant analyst, said in a statement. “In addition, stimulating menu-item trial and delivering a satisfying experience should lead to repeat visits and sustained customer loyalty.”

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