In today’s high-tech, hyper-busy, Netflix-bingeing culture, consumers are not as interested as previous generations in solving their “dinner problem” by going out to eat. Resulting, in the years-long decline in visits to restaurants at dinnertime. Everyone has felt it.
Recently, however, operators who are finding a way to solve that problem are experiencing growth, according to market-research firm The NPD Group. “It’s very nominal growth, but it’s a change in direction,” said David Portalatin, NPD vice president and food analyst.
With industry traffic hovering between a 1-percent increase and flat for several years, dinner was the only slot to grow this year. In the first quarter of 2018, dinner visits rose nearly 1 percent, followed by a 0.5-percent increase in the second quarter, NPD found.
So what has been the driving force to this surprising growth in dinner?
And it is not just the big chains and restaurants providing this service. The creativity and unique branding of smaller restaurants and micro-chains is driving force of the growth we have seen. How can we tell? Well, micro-chains with three to 19 units are growing purchases from broad-line distributors at a higher rate than large chains. Micro-chains increased case-volume purchases from broad-line distributors by nearly 5 percent in the 12 months ended May. During the same period, large chains only increased case volume purchases by roughly 2 percent.
And this trend has no sign of slowing. Additionally, 49 percent of all meals are consumed at home, NPD found. Not coincidentally, restaurant meals eaten at home are also up.
“The American consumer is just really centered around consuming meals at home today,” Portalatin said. “We consume more dinner at home than we ever have in our history.”
As for what consumers are eating at dinner, Portalatin said there is increasing demand for in-home meals that skew healthier. He pointed to the emergent trend of “blended meals,” those comprised of prepared items purchased from a restaurant, grocery or convenience store and ingredients or dishes already in the home.
By simply being a part of the solution, Portalatin said restaurants can meet consumers’ new dinner needs and grow their business.
Tell us if you have seen a bump in dinner purchases? And if not, what are your plans to capitalize on this opportunity?