In early 2014, the NPD Group released a study showing that casual dining restaurant traffic showed a decline of two percent. This is a trend that has been going on since 2009, totaling a loss of 7.1 million visits. Research also shows that diners are becoming more selective about when and where they dine. Since the 2008/2009 recession the average person is eating in more and dining out less.
However, the fine dining segment has seemed to remain flat showing no significant increase or decrease in their restaurant traffic. This is probably due to the fact the fine dining tends to be reserved for special occasions and is a strategically thought out plan. Whereas casual dining was once seen as the go-to standard for friendly lunches or dinners, or even for the family that just doesn’t want to cook.
The good news is a frequent reason why major casual dining chains are not affect by declining traffic is something that can be overcome. In fact, all restaurants should consider addressing this issue.
One common thing that larger restaurant chains have that the average small or independently owned restaurants often does not have is quite simply, a strong identity. It is not just the major corporate chains that are seeing an increase in their restaurant traffic, but it is the restaurants with a “niche” (fresh/local seafood, farm to table, gourmet hamburgers, etc.) and “identity” (beach casual, classic elegance, modern) as well. This does not mean you have to slap the word “fusion” onto your restaurant either. There are always things that can help any restaurant build or strengthen their identity.
One of the most fun things you can do is innovate. Become an “out of the box” thinker when it comes to your cuisine and food presentation. There is a lot of new innovation going on in the world of food and restaurants. The popularity of cooking competitions on major networks is defiantly not hurting the industry either. “Foodies” are seeing new trends and ideas and want to experience something unique and special as well. Diners love to flock to the new hip restaurants to taste trendy cuisine as well as see the eye catching ambiance.
Another element that can sometimes be forgotten is the overall customer experience. Think about it: Who doesn’t want to have a dining experience where their personal and specific needs are met? Not to mention the times you walk away from the restaurant knowing the name of your server and feeling like you have gained a lifelong friend. Developing a reputation for going above and beyond for a customer and making them feel special can easily set your restaurant apart from the competition.
Most importantly do not forget about the power of consistency. No one wants to cross their fingers in hopes that your establishment is clean and your food tastes as they remember. With the exception of menu updates and seasonal cuisine changes, people are coming back to you for a specific type of dining experience. Staying true to your brand and identity will keep them coming back for more.
Finding, adjusting or even sustaining your restaurants identity came become overwhelming if you let it. Remember to create balance and have a well thought out marketing plan to help you achieve you goals.