Menu inflation to change consumer behaviors, visit frequency: MarketMan

66% think quality will decline as restaurants battle inflation from distributors; 75% will stick with familiar eateries rather than try something new

The cost of menu inflation will impact consumer behaviors, including the frequency of dining out at US restaurants. This will also impact consumer perception of restaurants as 74 percent of diners expect restaurants to cut portions in response to wholesale cost increases. Consumers anticipate restaurants will use a tactic to cut portions but maintain the same price, known in food retailing as “shrinkflation.” The nationwide survey commissioned by MarketMan, a back-of-house restaurant management software company, reveals insights from 1,500 US consumers.

Sadly, 66 percent of consumers think ingredient quality will decline. In fact, they expect restaurants to switch to cheaper and lower-quality ingredients. Additionally, the perception is that this will be done without notifying customers.

Consumers would actually prefer that restaurants be more straightforward with customers. Surprisingly, 66% of diners say they are willing to pay more if restaurant ownership or management explain why prices are going up.

In addition to changes in consumer perception, some behavior changes are brewing. As an example, 75% of consumers say they are likely to patronize restaurants they are familiar with rather than try something new. In addition, a total of 61% of consumers indicated that they are more likely to accept higher prices from small, local independent or family-run eateries versus major chain restaurants.

Diners micromanaging their restaurant experience to lower cost

Moreover, nearly three-quarters of survey participants who go to restaurants will be micromanaging the check if prices go up. As such, 74% say they’ll skip dessert and 72%, appetizers; meanwhile, 71% will order fewer drinks.

For example, nearly three-quarters of survey participants who go to restaurants say that if prices go up, they’ll either skip dessert (74%) or appetizers (72%) and order fewer drinks (71%). Also, 72% also say they will scour the menu for cheaper dishes, and 64% will order shareable dishes to reduce the overall check. Restaurant owners and managers are wise to analyze their menus and adjust inventory management in response, suggests MarketMan.

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Some folks will also look to maximize what they get for free, with two-thirds (66%) of respondents nothing they will ask for more complimentary items, such as bread or drink refills. And at the end of the meal, 82% plan to ask for a to-go box to take away any leftovers.

Restaurant owners and managers can expect consumers to go to restaurants less often (74%). In fact, 41% say they are very likely to dine less often at restaurants.

Survey result details

Here is a breakdown of results from the MarketMan survey that provide insight on some challenging trends that may develop:

  • 69% are likely (including 36% very likely) to order delivery meals less often
  • 75% are likely (including 34% very likely) to mainly stick with restaurants that they know and like rather than risk trying new restaurants that they might not like
  • 74% are likely (including 41% very likely) to skip dessert to save money
  • 72% are likely (including 37% very likely) to skip appetizers/starters to save money
  • 67% are likely (including 31% very likely) to order less food to save money
  • 71% are likely (including 37% very likely) to order fewer drinks to save money
  • 64% are likely (including 29% very likely) to order dishes to share to reduce the overall bill.
  • 66% are likely (including 31% very likely) to ask for more of any complimentary items, such as bread or drink refills
  • 82% are likely (including 47% very likely) to ask for a to-go box to take away any leftovers

“After surviving lockdowns, the hard-pressed restaurant sector must now cope with the impact of rising costs,” said Matt Levin, VP of Marketing at MarketMan. “While there will inevitably be a downturn in demand as menu prices rise, there are a variety of positive takeaways from the research. Local operators are likely to get more sympathy than larger chains, while diners will stick with restaurants they are familiar with, placing a premium on keeping regular customers happy. Most importantly, restauranteurs can succeed by being transparent about their rising costs, consistently measuring and managing portion sizes, and reducing waste.”

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And things could get worse for restaurants: Pilferage may be on the rise. According to MarketMan, 20% strongly agree they are more likely to think it’s acceptable to take things away from expensive restaurants, including table decorations, glasses, cutlery, candleholders, or fancy soap from the washrooms. And, believe it or not, 39% of restaurant goers say they’re likely to bring Tupperware or other containers to fill up and take home food from all-you-can-eat buffets.

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