Diners who have visited a casual dining chain in the last 6 months would be likelier to return if the chains served fresher food, according to TrendSource's 2018 Food Service Industry Report.
The report—which considers consumers' perceptions, practices, priorities, and pain points in the casual dining industry—focuses on the top-20 chains in the United States, from Texas Roadhouse all the way to Denny's and back. For owners and operators, there is comforting and distressing news alike.
The majority of respondents choose casual dining chains for their comfort and casual atmosphere, because they are easy for everybody in a group to agree on, and because they can "be themselves" within them. As menus become increasingly complex at the hottest dining spots in town, many consumers find comfort in the familiar and simple, and casual dining chains seem to have that in abundance. These are not places to see and be seen, and, for many respondents, that is a positive attribute. For them, these establishments feel familiar and comforting, and that is an image operators must lean into.
But familiarity can breed contempt and, over the years, it seems consumers have grown savvy to the fact that foods are often prepared off-site and heated in the restaurant. Thus, they want these chains to serve healthier, fresher, and more interesting fare, which as TrendSource's Director of Client and Consulting Services, Sarah Rowlett, notes, "is easier said than done" for many operators. "Pivoting to fresher food may require a rethinking of their culinary approach and business model," she notes, "but it may ultimately prove to be a necessary change as today's restaurant goers expect fresher and even local options at their local eateries."
As the full report illustrates, casual dining chains, for the most part, have convinced consumers that their prices, menu variety, and even service are serviceable; consumers just want the food itself to be better. The report additionally breaks diners into clusters based on their dining priorities, separating the experiential eaters from the trend setters and the flavor fanatics. How can restaurants best appeal to these demographically disparate but ultimately similar groups of diners?
Also, which restaurants scored the highest among respondents; how do suburban, rural, and urban diners differ; and is anybody all that interested in pick-up and delivery? Find out the answers to these and other questions by downloading the full report.