Consumers dining out less, rank price more important: Acosta CORE report

About a third of consumers are choosing less expensive restaurants, deploying tactics to save money on meals

Despite inflation, consumers continue to dine out; but with prices rising, 54% of consumers are dining out less often. This is one of the observations that sales-and-marketing firm Acosta revealed via a recently-released report from its CORE Foodservice Division. Moreover, according to “The Why? Behind the Dine,” about a third of consumers are trading down rather than not going out, opting to eat at less expensive restaurants due to inflation. These diners are also seeking deals and choosing less expensive meals, indicates the report, which utilized an online survey to gather consumer insights.

Consequently, meal price has grown in importance, with 41% of respondents indicating it is most important when choosing a limited-service casual restaurant (fast casual). This elevates meal price to the second-most important reason in choosing a fast-casual eatery, plus it increased 6 percentage-points from the previous survey. It follows food quality (53%), which is the most important factor. Menu variety (38%) came in third.

In casual dining, food quality is the most important factor in choosing a restaurant (54%). Meanwhile, menu variety (40%) and service (37%) rank second and third in importance. In upscale casual, food quality (46%) is also the top factor in choosing a restaurant. There, though, service is second (31%) and menu variety is third (28%) most important.

“COVID-19 hit the foodservice industry hard,” said Travis King, President of CORE Foodservice. “While recovery remains on track for 2024, consumers are feeling the pinch of inflation and reacting accordingly. To continue participating in dining out activities, many are sharpening their focus on costs.”

So, what are the top reasons to eat out at a restaurant? A total of 53% of respondents said lack of motivation to cook is the top reason to dine out, while 51% said craving a certain meal is most important. Having no time to cook (33%), say consumers, is the third-most important reason, up 13 percentage-points from the last survey.

“Consumer priorities are evolving, but interest in dining out remains stronger than expected during an inflationary period,” added King. “This is largely due to pent up demand resulting from COVID-19 and an increased reliance on foodservice as employees return to the office. But inflation’s tipping point is yet to come. As financial strain worsens, quality service is becoming increasingly important. Providing a valuable dining experience will be critical to incentivize cost-wary consumers in the coming months.”

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COVID-19 accelerated consumers adopting carryout and delivery. Indeed, 75% of consumers participated in carryout in the last three months, according to CORE’s “The Why? Behind The Dine.” And 48% participated in delivery in the same time period.

When it comes to carryout and delivery, packaging is king. Consumers ranked packaging supporting ready-to-eat food as most important (74%) in this area. Packaging that preserves food quality ranked second (64%). A total of 44% of consumers said packaging that “you can eat out of” was most important, so it ranked third overall.

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