Trendsights: Upping Your Dinner Game

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Trendsights: Upping Your Dinner Game

By Bonnie Riggs, The NPD Group - 01/03/2018
dinner plate with fork, knife and spoon

Every day, we face multiple choices, both major and minor, when it comes to where and what to eat for dinner. The decisions range from the simple “Am I hungry?” to the not-so-simple “Do I have all the food and beverage components to prepare a meal at home?”

Dinner is an essential part of our daily routine, and there is always the question of meal preparation. As a result of our ever-changing lifestyles, we’re busier than ever, working, taking the kids here and there, attending social events, and on and on. These activities result in many people and their families needing to think seriously about their dinner options on a regular basis.

Despite busy lives, we increasingly choose to eat our dinner meal at home. Today, 80 percent of dinner meals are sourced from home. Even with more dinner meals eaten at home, it still remains an important occasion to the foodservice industry, with nearly a third of all visits taking place at dinner. Further, dinner accounts for more than 40 percent of foodservice industry dollars or, said another way, $179 billion annually.    

Source of Dinner Trends

Since the recession, it’s a fact that restaurants and other foodservice outlets have lost share to home-prepared meals. In 2017, 18 percent of dinner meals were purchased at a foodservice outlet or restaurant, down from 23 percent in 2007. However, keep in mind that 49 percent of these dinners that are purchased from a foodservice outlet are consumed at home, which presents an opportunity for convenience stores.

Dinner foodservice visits to c-stores currently represent only 7 percent of total c-store foodservice visits, but that single digit can easily be turned into a double-digit. It will take understanding how consumers make dinnertime decisions and identifying where there are opportunities and how those decisions can be influenced.   

When We Decide Where to Get Dinner

We’ve all been there. We’re in the mood for something to eat, but not sure what it is or where we should go. Should we go to a sit-down restaurant, use takeout, or just stay at home and eat in? There are always lots of options available, but that serves only to make the decision-making process more difficult. The question is: When are these decisions made? How often is this decision made at the last minute, and how does that impact the decision to turn to foodservice for dinner?

To answer this question, we at NPD conducted a proprietary study that addressed the issue, “Eat In or Out? What Drives Dinner Choices.” The study showed nearly half of the decisions about where to get dinner are made that day. There are two different kinds of consumers: those who plan where to get their dinner in advance and those who make their decision the day of.

Of particular note, the closer we get to dinnertime, the more likely we are to choose foodservice or a restaurant. Among the last-minute decisions, more than a quarter of dinners are won by foodservice. And the closer we get to the weekend, the more foodservice wins the up-for-grab dinners.

Decision Drivers for Eating Dinner In vs. Restaurants

Even in challenging times, we find many benefits to visiting restaurants or getting takeout for dinner. Dinner out is considered a treat in a variety of ways. Many consumers continue to point to the fact that there’s work involved with an in-home prepared meal — work from which foodservice spares them. When it comes to eating at home, the decision is largely tied to the cost associated with going out to a restaurant for dinner.                                         

Consumers Find Many Benefits to Using Foodservice for Dinner

The importance of enticing consumers to leave their homes is especially important at the dinner meal occasion.

How do c-store operators win this battle? The first way is with the menu offering. Menu offerings need to beat what consumers have available at home. New menu offerings must stimulate interest with variety, freshness and quality, which go a long way in meeting value expectations and the desire for more healthful meal options.

At the same time, increased focus on service should have favorable payoff, as many of these visits are driven by loyalty. Superior service and speed of service are critical components of driving customer loyalty. Making customers feel valued is the key to building customer loyalty.

These are the wants and needs to meet in order to lure consumers off their couches and into your convenience store for dinner.

Trendsights is an exclusive bimonthly feature that appears in Convenience Store News.