Assort to two sides to takeout: home entertainment and household meals

August 13, 2009

Restaurants aren’t getting the sit-down traffic and table turns they’d like in this recession, but they’re not total losers either

Restaurants aren’t getting the sit-down traffic and table turns they’d like in this recession, but they’re not total losers either. People certainly eat at home more and are spending more dollars on food buying in supermarkets. Yet when social occasions arise, they often turn to restaurants for catering and takeout.

A new Technomic study, POP: Parties Off Premise, says that when people entertain at home - as more than a third (36%) report doing more than a year ago - they source food equally between restaurants (68%) and supermarkets (69%). Findings indicate strong momentum behind this trend:
•    Over the next year, 40% of consumers expect to entertain at home more often.
•    More than half of consumers (53%) say they bought platters and other prepared foods for the recent July 4 holiday, a usage rate that trails only Christmas (66%) and Thanksgiving (61%).

“Consumers tell us they are enjoying reconnecting with friends in their homes,” notes Melissa Wilson, Technomic principal. “The appeal is tied to socializing in a very casual atmosphere where everyone brings a dish to share, often sourced from local restaurants or food retailers.”

While grocers have been nipping at restaurants’ heels for years to secure a fair share of the prepared foods business, in our view the skills of chefs and restaurant marketers who are close to their clientele should be able to convert their offerings to gain a take-home advantage. It is, after all, their core business. They need to worry less about vacant tables and concern themselves more with the cash-flow opportunities that await those who make ordering in easy, delicious and healthful.

We emphasize the latter trait because eateries that offer healthful dishes as well as taste will likelier avoid the veto vote that would block the phone call. We say this because of the results of our own benchmarking survey in June, The Economy & Your Food Shopping Habits. It showed that nearly half of consumers (48%) feel firm that nothing prevents them from eating healthy foods, up from 38% in our January poll. An overwhelming 90% “strongly/somewhat agree” that meals prepared at home tend to be healthier than those eaten out.

Therefore, restaurants that aim to win back business as the recession (hopefully) eases, must understand that price isn’t the only issue for consumers. Health can be a deal-breaker too, and the sooner restaurants adjust their menus and their messaging to consumers, the sooner they can become more attractive meal choices for entire households.