How far will restaurant-goers save?

November 14, 2011

Are restaurants heading towards more a la carte service and meals, as diners aim to save? So far, tap water wins big.

Saving money goes hand in hand with eating and drinking healthier. Just as some shoppers have shed junk foods from their supermarket shopping lists to focus on staples, new NPD Group research shows a decline in beverage servings at restaurants.

On the rise is tap water. Over the past five years, restaurant traffic slipped by one percent, but total beverage servings other than tap water fell six percent. That’s a drop of 2.7 billion servings, notes the NPD report, Beverages at Foodservice:  Satisfying Our Thirst for Beverages. Meanwhile, since 2006, tap water servings rose by 2.8 billion to represent 8% of the 50 billion beverage servings at restaurants.

“Much of the declines in beverage servings are tied to the price/value relationship the consumer perceives,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst and report author.

So The Lempert Report questions what else we will see in meal deconstruction at restaurants, as consumers try to hold the line on spending. Will people decline bread baskets and ask for discounts instead? Will they expect fewer condiments built into the price of menu items, and expect to pay only for the ones they use? Will they buy appetizers instead of main dishes? Will they request to pay less for off-hours dining?

Restaurateurs may soon walk the fine line between helping people save and potentially diminishing the eating-out experience.