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Consumers' 'Path to Plate' Has Many Twists & Turns

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Acosta Sales & Marketing teamed up with Technomic to explore how consumers decide what's for dinner. Their joint foodservice report, The Why? Behind The Dine, details the complexities of consumers' "path to the plate."

These complexities include dining decision drivers, the price/value equation and digital dining tactics.

"Determining what to eat for dinner was once a simple decision, but today consumers' 'path to the plate' is chock full of intricacies," said Colin Stewart, senior vice president of Acosta. "As factors such as family and friends, convenience and value intersect with the exponential growth of meal solutions, diners are influenced by overlapping and interrelated variables at every meal."

The joint research found that diners are taking advantage of a variety of meal options. In the past 30 days, 86 percent ate at a restaurant; 71 percent ordered food for pick-up or carry out, or ordered from a drive-thru; 66 percent brought home prepared foods from a grocery store; and 48 percent ordered restaurant food for delivery.

State of mind compels dining decisions. The most influential drivers behind both bringing home prepared foods or determining when and where to eat out are reflective of how consumers feel at the time. Specifically, the report revealed that:

  • Not wanting to cook is the most important reason consumers brought home prepared foods from a grocery store (46 percent), followed by convenience of already being in the grocery store (44 percent), cost compared to eating out (34 percent), and being easier than preparing foods from scratch (34 percent)
  • Consumers cite mood as the biggest driver (44 percent) of going out to eat for dinner, followed by being too tired to cook (42 percent), family asking to go (41 percent), and special events such as birthdays or anniversaries (41 percent).
  • When it comes to where to go out for dinner, family is the biggest influencer (51 percent), followed by location/travel distance (44 percent) and mailed coupons/flyers (35 percent).

Consumers are also continuing to look for value, according to the research. Younger diners and those with children are the most price-conscious and likely to engage in promotions and savings strategies. The data revealed:

  • Thirty-five percent of Millennials shop for meal deals before they choose where to eat, followed by 29 percent of Gen Xers, 21 percent of Boomers and 16 percent of Silents.
  • Thirty-five percent of Millennials eat out at specific times to take advantage of meal discounts, such as happy hour or early bird specials. Twenty-three percent of Gen Xers, 17 percent of Boomers and 12 percent of Silents do the same.

Lastly, the survey found that digital technology is shaping the dining experience, too. Diners are strategically leveraging digital tactics, from social media to mobile technology, to facilitate their experience and especially save money. For instance, the report noted: 

  • More than half of diners indicated they were influenced by restaurant email with coupons/offers when deciding what to eat or what they order.
  • One in five diners have taken a photo of their meal and posted it to social media, or sent it to family/friends while dining out.
  • Twenty-seven percent of diners have posted on social media about their dining experience.

"Our research indicates dining decisions are both situational and budget driven," added Bob S. Goldin, executive vice president at Technomic. "Without a common path across consumer groups, it's more challenging than ever for foodservice operators to compete. However, by better understanding diners' key behaviors, operators can not only maintain but grow their share of the plate."

The Why? Behind the Dine survey was fielded in July with a random sample of 1,500 U.S. consumers via Acosta's proprietary ShopperFirst methodology.

Jacksonville-based Acosta Sales & Marketing provides a range of outsourced sales, marketing and retail merchandising services throughout the United States and Canada. Technomic, headquartered in Chicago, is a fact-based research and consulting firm.

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