Restaurant consumers reduce spending, but how varies with income

Restaurant consumers reduce spending, but how varies with income

According to Restaurant DemandTracker, a recent survey of restaurant customers in the United States, 1 in 4 Americans continue to reduce their spending on restaurants, but the likelihood of people cutting back and how they economize varies across different demographic groups.  Overall, 25% of all restaurant consumers said they have been visiting restaurants less often in the past year.  Lower-income households (those making less than $40K) are most likely to be cutting back (31%), however even 16% of higher-income consumers (earning $100K+) are spending less.

Among all consumers who are economizing, the most popular way is going to less expensive restaurants (59%), followed by ordering less expensive food items from the menu (55%), taking advantage of more discounts/promotions (51%), and ordering fewer food items (46%).  Less prevalent ways to economize include sharing food items (20%), ordering fewer alcoholic (15%) or non-alcoholic (12%) beverages, and ordering less expensive non-alcoholic (10%) or alcoholic beverages (8%).

How restaurant consumers economize varies with their income.  Among lower-income people, the most popular way to economize is eating less expensive food items (61%), followed by going to less expensive restaurants (58%) and taking advantage of discounts (50%). Among medium-income consumers, the most popular way to economize is going less expensive restaurants (60%), followed by taking advantage of discounts (53%) and ordering less expensive food menu items (51%). And among higher-income households, the most popular way to economize is going less expensive restaurants (62%), followed by taking advantage of more discounts (52%) and ordering less expensive food menu items (44%).

In the most recent wave of the survey in July, the casual-dining and family-dining restaurants with the strongest brand image for providing good value among those consumers who have visited were Applebee’s, Chili’s, Denny’s and Waffle House, each with 43%. They were followed by Shoney’s at 42%, and Cracker Barrel, Friendly’s, and Logan’s at 41% each. The casual-dining restaurants with the weakest image on “good value” were Hard Rock Café (12%), Bahama Breeze (14%), and Romano’s Macaroni Grill (17%).

“Attracting the millions of restaurant consumers who are value-conscious to your restaurant requires understanding who they are, how and why they’re cutting back on spending, how they view your brand today, and what you can do to drive traffic and loyalty,” said David Decker, President of Consumer Edge Insight. “Providing good value is key to stop them from trading down to a less expensive restaurant is key.  Given the popularity of trading down to less expensive food menu items, it’s important to make sure your lower-priced menu items deliver levels of satisfaction and perceived value that will keep customers coming back.  And the relatively low prevalence of consumers cutting back on beverage spending at restaurants suggests that keeping your alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage offerings compelling could result in significantly less pressure on your beverage sales than on your food sales.”

Restaurant DemandTracker, a new syndicated consumer research service from Consumer Edge Insight, provides an in-depth analysis each quarter of how key economic and secular factors impact restaurant demand and which brands are best-positioned to succeed.  Data for the most recent Restaurant DemandTracker was collected in July 2012 via an online survey of over 3,100 US consumers, age 18 and over, designed and weighted to be representative of the US adult population that visit restaurants at least once per month.  Some of the topics covered include economic factors driving changes in restaurant patronage, impact of health trends on overall patronage and by segment, changing demographic profiles of restaurant segment users, and numerous brand performance metrics. The research covers the quick-service, fast-casual, casual-dining, and fine-dining, and pizza-takeout segments in detail.

Consumer Edge Insight LLC is a market research and consulting firm that helps clients who want to have deeper insight into how consumer behavior is changing around the world and how to profit from those changes. We help companies monitor key trends and develop strategies to enhance shareholder value.  In the restaurant industry we have marketing partnerships with GuestMetrics, BlackBox Intelligence, and People Report.  For further information, contact David Decker,, or visit