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Declining trends for casual dining? It’s not the end

Peter Berger | Nov 18, 2016 Peter Berger 11/18/16

For the last few years, many restaurant industry publications have made predictions about the end of casual dining. The rising influence of new regional fast-casual concepts—as well as increasing grab’n’go options from supermarkets and c-stores—don’t do much to dispel the rumors either. It seems almost every week there is another casual dining concept filing for Chapter 11 restructuring. We rarely hear about new or growing casual dining concepts in the US—and most of the growth that does occur happens internationally. Yet SMG is proud to have added many new casual dining partnerships in 2016, and we were curious to learn more about the future of this segment within the restaurant industry.

Measuring the data

SMG has a number of measures to help brands understand where they perform relative to the marketplace, and we were happy to put them to work to better understand this accelerating trend in the casual dining segment. We used BrandGeekTM—SMG’s market intelligence tool that reports consumer feedback and behavioral data over time—to dig even deeper into the shifting dynamics within the restaurant space. 

Analyzing the data
Looking at data from the past year, we identified the following trends:

  • Fast casual has continued to gain visit share
  • Casual dining has seen a general decline in visit share
  • Convenience is the number one driver consumers cite for visiting both segments 
  • Fast casual diners cite a Specific Menu Item as driver number two 
Although casual dining is in decline, motivators can tell us where these brands can focus their efforts to remain competitive. Since Specific Menu Items are important to fast-casual diners, casual dining retailers should focus efforts on boosting menu offerings to help win back visits. Closing underperforming locations—and improving the brand’s image and offerings at the higher performing locations—can help casual dining brands focus their efforts and respond to this recent shift in the market.

2015-2016 Visit Share - blog 

The good news
Our data shows Previous Positive Experience is the second highest driver for consumers to visit casual dining restaurants. This is an excellent motivator for any segment—it means casual dining brands can focus on delivering a great experience to their customers to drive traffic and loyalty to their restaurants. Of course, the task is not easy. It means marketing efforts must be in lockstep with operations and training—and all customer touchpoints must be measured and monitored to ensure a quality experience is delivered to every customer every single time.
It’s true that many brands within the casual dining segment are struggling—but many also continue to succeed. As the data shows, focusing efforts on the customer experience is paramount for casual dining retailers to continue growth and win more market share. 

BrandGeek’s capabilities don’t stop at tracking broad industry trends in real time—it can also filter down the data to answer specific research questions about your brand, instantly. As an example, we recently conducted an independent analysis to measure the specific impact of Chipotle’s health safety concerns, as well as their efforts to recover. You can find those results in our report here.

If you want to find out how the power of BrandGeek™ can help you keep the pace with consumer trends in your industry, read our in-depth blog post about the tool here.

Peter Berger 
VP, Customer Engagement – Restaurant