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Technomic, GroundTruth reveal restaurant chain opportunities by season

Measuring Restaurant Performance by Season report reveals chains’ best seasons

Now that winter is in full blast, restaurant operators are looking ahead to spring and 2019 as a time for change and renewal. But fast-casual operators won’t need to change too much: spring is their best season. This, according to a joint report from GroundTruth and Technomic, A Year in Review: Measuring Restaurant Performance by Season. According to the data, spring is the season in which fast casuals index highest for foot traffic in the year.

While performance by seasonality insights shows spring as the strongest season for fast casuals, operators and executives in this segment would likely benefit the most from strategizing growth around other, weaker seasons and turning their attention to the colder months.

Spring blossoms for fast casuals

GroundTruth, a location platform, focused on improving company marketing, sales and growth, and Chicago-based consultancy Technomic, Inc. reveal some groundbreaking insights and find that each segment grouping has its own strongest season.

Fast-casual foot traffic is indexing at 100.4 for spring, while QSR (fast food/beverage grab-and-go), casual/fine dining and midscale segments (sit-down chains emphasizing breakfast and lunch) index between 98.7 and 100.3 for this season, compared to their others. Notes Restaurant Performance by Season, “…quickly prepared yet high-quality meals; the focus on seasonal, fresh spring ingredients; and grab-and-go bundles for the plethora of spring holidays and celebrations…” are the biggest draws for fast casuals.

QSRs, fast casuals have strong appeal in warmer months

When measured by share of visits, Panera Bread (15.9 percent) and Chipotle (11.3 percent) are the top players within the fast-casual segment. In their report, GroundTruth and Technomic indicate that Panera’s clean (a.k.a. clean-label) messaging has a strong appeal to health-conscious diners. Another draw was a focus on springtime produce. Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries and Granola and Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad were big winners, with their emphasis on fresh, seasonal fruit.

QSR has indexed the highest during the summer months with a score of 101.1. Competing segments have indexed between 96.2 and 99.6 for this season. This is largely driven by foot traffic and all-daypart business. Using traffic as a barometer, McDonald’s is the strongest performer in this segment, with Starbucks a distant second. Measuring Restaurant Performance by Season finds that McDonald’s has 23.6 percent share of visits in the summer months, while Starbucks has just 8 percent. QSRs draw 70.3 percent of foot traffic among restaurants during the summer months.

McDonald’s is also the leader in breakfast compared to many of its competitors, largely because of adding new menu items. McDonald’s 23.8 percent share of breakfast during summer fares well against the next highest breakfast QSR performer, Jack in the Box, at 20 percent. McDonald’s also did well in launching innovative variations on cold-brew coffee, including Cold Brew Frappe and Cold Brew Frozen Coffee. According to data from Technomic’s Consumer Beverage Report, 25 percent of consumers say they would order cold-brew coffee at a restaurant if available there.

Midscale and casual/fine dining segment groupings heat up as temperatures drop

Fall is the midscale restaurant segment’s best season. This segment scored 103.2 for foot traffic compared to competing segments’ score between 99.3 and 102.4, indexed across their seasons. Midscale’s slowest share of business versus competitors is summer, when they only capture 5.5 percent of business, their lowest share of traffic by season.

Cracker Barrel is a leader when measured by consumer rankings of brand appeal using Q3 Technomic Ignite data, due to menu innovation and their retail goods business. Also, Cracker Barrel has the highest foot traffic share among competitors (23.2 percent), because it performs well both in the traditional breakfast daypart and at dinnertime.

Ground Truth Technomic report Applebee's performance by season
Chart A: Applebee’s Winter LTO performance. Graphic by Technomic, GroundTruth.

The combined segments of casual dining/fine dining have their best season in the winter, indexing at 104.4, compared to competing segment scores of 98.8 to 102.8, when measured by foot traffic across their seasons. Applebee’s is a leader in this grouping, having 11.2 percent share of traffic, and a clear winner among competitors for late-night visits, taking 18.2 percent of traffic. The next closest late-night competitor was Buffalo Wild Wings at 15.6 percent. Limited-time promotions, discounted deals and specially-priced drinks-of-the-month are part of the formula that is keeping Applebee’s ahead of the pack in the late night.

Using Technomic transaction insights, coupled with GroundTruth’s location data, Applebee’s Winter LTO Burgers were found to have craveability scores of 58.3 percent to 66.4 among consumers, and draws of between 62.3 percent and 72.1 percent (See Chart A.) The Triple Bacon Burger LTO scored the highest (58.3) in craveability and the Caprese Mozzarella Burger (72.1) had the highest draw.

Restaurant operators can use competitive insights and strategize opportunities around the seasons in which their performance is softest (index lower). GroundTruth and Technomic found several conclusions and recommendations for restaurant operators and chains. For full-service operators, these include offering smaller, lighter and more shareable bites and marketing restaurants as destination for a relaxing summer breakfast or as gathering places for after work. To limited-service, they offer up this advice: Promote fresher ingredients and preparations just as often as in the warmer months and start winter and autumn promotions early to attract consumers as the colder seasons progress.

To get a full list of recommendations and the accompanying data, read the full groundbreaking Technomic-GroundTruth Measuring Performance by Season report here.

Photo credit: McDonald’s (featured: Commerce City), Technomic (graphic)

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