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Did you know that 70% of all restaurants are standalone entities rather than attached to chain brands?
While the headlines and mainstream media outlets would have us believe that the majority of the restaurant industry is operated by big names and chain eateries, offering vouchers and seasonal deals which range from free meals for children through to 2-for-1 deals on certain days of the week and special festive dishes, the largest portion of the industry is in fact made up of one-off restaurant names and single brands.
When we really delve deep into the restaurant industry and its prominence in the food and drink sector, it soon becomes apparent that restaurants are as subject to trends as any other part of the overall food and drink industry – relying heavily on consumer preferences, lifestyle choices and the economy in general.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not just those with disposable income who look to eat out at restaurants during the course of an average week. With restaurants operating across every budgetary level, from the fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC, to fast casual eateries like Pizza Express and Nando’s, all the way up to the high level restaurants which are often standalone and serve their local community, the range of options afforded to consumers is wide-ranging and all-encompassing – giving every level of customer a way of enjoying the restaurant industry.
An annual report published in 2020 found that 45% of diners eat out multiple times a week – with a further 20% eating out at least once a week. Put that together and you’ve got 65% of the population of the USA who eat out at least once a week – that truly is monumental. And much of this industry growth has come from the way in which restaurants are tailoring their offerings and presenting restaurant options at those varied levels discussed above; not only using tiered restaurant options to determine cost but also relying on chain stores to serve recognisable food, often with the added bonus of vouchers and deals.
When it comes to understanding the growth of the restaurant industry, particularly in getting to grips with the rise in both fast food and fast casual eating options in a world where quality is at its highest, it is imperative to understand that quality must come hand in hand with ease and convenience – and that more than anything, consumers want food and drink options which fit into their lifestyle.
One of the driving forces of the restaurant industry growth, and one of the key ways of ascertaining what separates various eateries from their competitors, is the way that different restaurants approach their target demographic and tie that in with the experience that they offer. Much of this is reliant on knowing who their target audience is, whether that demographic is likely to bring children through the doors and thus whether they need to offer a children’s menu, and how much of the experiential focus is going to be on ambience, food quality, variety of selection, drinks and more. Other areas of focus which rely on various trends and popular requirements include:
As we have already touched on, the majority of restaurants in the industry are standalone and one-off entities – something which is particularly prevalent at the higher end of the scale. What this means is that while restaurants chains and budget-friendly solutions are likely to be found in the densely populated areas with their focus on high turnover and the quantity of consumers that come through the doors, those unique spots and eateries which focus on experience tend to serve local communities rather than a mass market audience. Of course, there are exceptions – with sites like TripAdvisor playing a huge part in elevating the status and popularity of very unassuming restaurants – often because they play host to a great chef or a wonderful array of dishes, or are located in spots which add to the experience and leave consumers revelling in the entire concept rather than just the meal.
When it comes to looking across the top retailers in the restaurant sector, there are a number of different ways of identifying what it means to be at the “top” of the sector: namely the quantity of restaurants associated with a chain or brand name, the popularity and presence of the restaurant online and in the local community, and its success in terms of financial prospects.
When we look at quantity and those brand names and restaurant retailers who occupy most of our high streets and headlines, the top names include:
What do all of these have in common? They have a global footprint, they offer a plethora of deals and vouchers throughout the year to drive consumers through the doors, and they offer cuisine which is approachable and affordable – largely meaning that everyone can find something they like on the menu. They are also the restaurants which have embraced online and other trends in order to remain relevant – and most of all, they have to rely on hitting the spot across all of these areas in order to retain the business which could otherwise head towards a more experiential high end dining experience in one of the many thousands of one-off eateries dominating the industry.
A restaurant doesn’t have to have a sit down location in order to be considered a top retailer in the industry, and that is largely the reason for technology playing such a vital role in the development of the restaurant industry and its consumer interactions. Takeaways operate a large portion of the restaurant industry, with technology driving forward the trend of online ordering and the chance to not only order remotely but also order in advance and select a time for collection or delivery. While all of these are fairly standard things now seen across most of the restaurant industry, particularly those large chains which focus on convenience and consumer ease, the level of service and control that these technological changes present to the customer mean that they quickly have an edge over their competitors. While these technology influences are particularly popular across home delivery and collection restaurant points and chains, another way that they are being used is in restaurant table service, with consumers again being given the chance to order from their table – essentially letting them order when they are ready, and reducing the reliance on body language in ascertaining when a consumer is ready to order.
Another trend which is driving the restaurant industry in a new direction is the increase in consumer focus on reducing food waste and creating sustainable dining solutions which are not only affordable for them and mean that they do not throw money away, but also which link the industry with social responsibility. In the last few years there has been a real drive in the number of charitable initiatives all over the world which commit to picking up leftover restaurant food at the end of every service, and delivering it to homeless charities and to those most in need of a decent meal. Another way in which food waste is being tackled is through a UK app called ‘Too Good To Go’, which was designed by a group of Entrepreneurs and which essentially links local restaurants up to a central app whereby consumers can go online and find out which restaurants are selling reduced cost leftover stock from their day of service. Not only is this an excellent way of selling food which would otherwise go to waste, but it also gives local eateries a chance to be recognised and found on a popular app which is being used by captive potential customers.
Set menus and peak dining times are another trend which is on the rise on a global scale, as more and more restaurants seek to fulfil the demand for restaurants which provide and adjust their menu prices in light of dining time and peak hours. 72% of people who took part in a recent survey said that they would be more willing to spend money at a restaurant if it operated on a varied price structure basis, taking into account when a diner is looking to eat and lowering the price outside of peak dining times – leading to many restaurants creating set menus which tailor the dining options and prices according to different times of the day. While chain restaurants tend to roll these kind of initiatives out in stages across different locations and multiple outlets, the majority of standalone restaurants benefit from being able to trial different structures at different times and work out which serves their target audience best.
And then we have one of the major trends which has long been a part of the food and drink sector as well as the hospitality industry as a whole, and which often becomes the main drivers of high end and Michelin star restaurants being considered as must-do’s within the dining sector. We are of course referring to experiential dining: a concept which can range from the fun and the whimsical, through to the formal and luxurious, and all the way across to the downright bizarre and distinctly memorable.
Some great examples of experiential dining, stemming from what we like to refer to as the Willy Wonka concept which dropped consumers right into the heart of the action, include:
In essence, experiential dining combines food with fun and creates scenarios where the food is only part of the overall experience – lending itself supremely well to gifted experiences, and allowing restaurants to utilise additional platforms and marketing techniques in order to advertise their locations and offerings.
When it comes to the restaurant industry, the overriding focus is always on the quality of the food and the way in which that food is presented to and accepted by the consumer. The biggest thing that restaurants continually focus on is understanding their target audience and finding ways of delivering what that customer or audience want without becoming monotonous and boring. This could mean new deals and discounts. It could mean seasonal dishes and new product launches. It could even mean an innovative experiential concept which allows the consumer to experience a little more than a standard meal. However, if standalone eateries want to succeed in a saturated industry packed full of chains and big named retailers, finding their USP and using it to reach that perfect audience is key.
For a section of global and local eateries and restaurants which serve up deals and vouchers, head to our Restaurants page.
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