Casual Dining: A Fresh Perspective
By Bill Conn, Senior Vice President at HVS Atlanta and Greg Palmer, Senior Vice President at HVS Orlando
Restaurant industry studies and reports have brought much attention to the shift in consumer choices and the flattening of year-over-year same store sales growth that the Casual Dining segment has been experiencing in recent years. However, there are still many exciting growth opportunities and ways that Casual Dining can flourish.
Overall the restaurant industry is on the rise, with sales for 2017 expected to peak at around $800 billion according to the National Restaurant Association's 2017 Outlook report. While Full Service (which includes Casual Dining) is seeing a decline in sales growth the Full-Service category still comprises the largest industry service segment making up nearly one third of the restaurant industry's total sales. In fact, sales are greater in Full Service than both Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) and Fast Casual segments combined.
With projected sales of more than $260 billion for 2017, the Full-Service sector may have flattened in system growth, but it is not going away. Companies are being challenged to seek new ways to remain relevant, and to take advantage of the narrowing gap between the value, price, and service propositions for Casual Dining vs. Fast Casual.
Key areas that we are seeing Casual Dining Operators focusing on to narrow the gap include:
- Intensified focus on food quality and freshness, farm-to-table offering, made from scratch, health-conscious menu choices and environmentally friendly offerings.
- Adjusting and broadening menus to meet varying customer dining occasions including better understanding consumer needs for each day-part and offering more diversity, variety, and smaller portion sizes.
- Adapting service models to meet the changing and diverse needs of consumers, such as adding differentiating service strategies based on the different day-parts. For example, breakfast and lunch offerings, lunchtime speed of service, carryout, and delivery.
- Leveraging the diverse and profitable separation from Fast Casual by providing superior drink offerings, both in the alcoholic and non-alcoholic space.
- Leveraging FOH, BOH and customer facing technologies that enhance speed of service, quality and customer satisfaction.
- The use of customer loyalty programs, increased spend on social media, mobile platform consumer engagement, online marketing and shifting away from traditional advertising.
Casual Dining leaders are also implementing new strategies to meet the changing needs of their consumers. Here are just a few examples of Companies that are finding success through these new opportunities:
- Cheesecake Factory is partnering with DoorDash as its exclusive delivery partner.
- Dallas-based TGI Fridays introduced online take-out orders a year ago and has seen sales grow by 30%.
- Bloomin Brands has invested in take-out and delivery for diners who don't want to leave home.
- Applebee's offers appetizer and entrée dinner menus for two at a fixed price of $20 / $25 providing customers a variety of new flavor choices focused on customer value and ordering convenience.
- Chili's Bar and Grill has continued to evolve its tabletop technology by offering many new features to improve service times and the overall guest experience including: tabletop ordering, self-cash out, drink re-ordering, check-splitting, loyalty points tracking and redemption and carryout ordering.
These are just a few examples of tremendous success stories where Casual Dining is finding new traction and driving incremental sales and traffic. The recipe for Casual Dining to remain the most viable and competitive customer choice for many years is to couple creative new strategies, together with an unwavering commitment to great service, great people and great food (all of which never go out of style).