Casual Dining can be Fixed! Print
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 16:57

           Okay “spoiler alert” we’ll be discussing the casual dining segment this month but we won’t be “beating up” on them as some industry observers have over the past year.  What we will do is review how the segment came to be and what has changed historically from that point to the present.  Along with way we hope to offer some observations of our own and suggestions on opportunities to move forward for the segment.

            Rewind to the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s when we saw the dawn of the casual dining segment that answered the demand of consumers in family units with the emergence of two working parents who were time-pressed and had the disposable income to venture out to a new breed of restaurant that took a page from McDonald’s in presenting a clean, family-friendly operation with a variety of reasonably-priced menu options.  Please note that those “working parents” were baby-boomers with both Gen-X and Millennial offspring.

            Those aforementioned menus were also designed to appeal to the widest swath of the consuming public possible OR to avoid the veto vote of a family member if the operator didn’t menu “something for everyone!”  Let’s review wisdom from the age of Abe Lincoln, “You can please some of the people all of the time OR you can please all of the people some of the time; however, you CAN’T please all the people all of the time.”  In their effort to please everyone the casual dining menus grew to unsustainable lengths and associated costs rose as well.

            Now back to those “Millennial” kids who were dragged to restaurants by their parents, this group now out-numbers the boomers (Millennials Surpass Boomers; Washington Post, 4/26/16) and they’re seeking something different from their restaurant menu choices.  This cohort is willing to experiment with their food choices, seek new food and beverage experiences and prefer both be sustainable and freshly prepared.  By definition “frozen” is for the ice in their hand-crafted cocktail and not where their steak began its’ journey to their plate.

            This is not the first time I’ve mentioned “demographic shift” when speaking about the changes that are driving consumers choices within the restaurant business.  As changes in the consumer base will continue to happen operators need to be aware of how those changes will manifest in dining decisions.  Equally important is the change in attitude regarding what is offered on their menu’s; does it capture the diners’ interest, is it healthy, prepared in-house from scratch and are the procurement and preparation methods sustainable?  An extensive menu just isn’t in the cards anymore with most listing fewer than sixty (60) items on average.

            As a suggestion for “the fix” mentioned earlier we offer for review the recent article on Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chão (NRN, 3/14/17).  No overburdened menu or staff and all menu items are easily executable.  I’m guilty myself of “over thinking” an issue or challenge sometimes; however, the easy and simple approach (think KISS) is sometimes the best.  The restaurant business isn’t that difficult, prepare the food to the best of your ability, provide prompt and courteous service and maintain a clean and inviting atmosphere.  It doesn’t hurt to keep your eye on societal changes to stay ahead of the curve but the “restaurant basics” will always apply. 

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 July 2017 17:15