Forget the recession. Simple demographics are what's having the biggest impact on the daypart that matters most to full-service operators — dinner. That's what a new study from market research firm NPD Group concludes, tabbing dinner as the weakest-performing meal period over the past decade.
What's behind the drop-off? Multiple factors, but key is that customers in the age groups that were once the heaviest users in the dinner daypart have cut back. Annual per capita dinner occasions for the 18-31 age group — 28 percent of traffic — have dropped from 79 to 66 over the last eight years. Other age cohorts, except the more mature boomers, did the same.
Will this decline end when the economy recovers? Probably not. “Even if you subtract out the changing age composition of the population, restaurant usage for supper would still be slipping,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD's restaurant industry analyst. “While this is especially notable since the recession began, it was also visible between 2002 and 2007.”
So where does this leave you? “Restaurant operators can't control population trends, but they can influence buying rate momentum by understanding the levers that appeal to their target customers,” Riggs says. “Through product and concept innovations, availability, understanding their consumers' value perceptions, right pricing and targeted messages, they can re-attract consumers to restaurants for supper.”