Continue The Good Fight And You Will Survive
In the days and weeks after Sept. 11th, surveyors found that many consumers had retreated to their homes. With the economy already in a recession, observers of the culinary scene believed the restaurant industry would be hurt even further. In fact, most restaurants were hurting big time, except for the quick service types and those that had mastered the art of takeout. Transfixed by the events unfolding daily on television sets, compounded by layoffs occurring by the thousands all around them, most consumers choose to cocoon in their homes.
Ironically, New Yorkers, who took the biggest hit from terrorists, did not play it safe, at least when it comes to their dining out habits. That’s not to say New York City restaurants haven’t felt the pinch, particularly the upscale restaurants with hefty check averages. But restaurant traffic quickly picked up after the attacks. Dining out, perhaps more than in any other city in America, is a way of life in New York. It’s always been that way there.
Most America cities are nothing like N.Y.C., but they have evolved to a level where restaurants are a near necessity and no longer a luxury. You know the story: Our fast-paced lifestyles, two-working-parent households and kids with activity-packed schedules have made eating out a part of the daily routine.
That point became clear when Americans, who had retreated to their cocoons after the attack, emerged to continue their normal routines far more quickly than most had predicted. Was it because George W. urged them to do so for the good of America? Some, surely. Most, I’m convinced, had little choice but to return to normal life; a life, by the way, that has ticked off many of the third world nations that don’t have plumbing, much less a choice between taking home a chicken from Boston Market or opting instead for the degustation menu at Charlie Trotter’s.
A NPD Group survey of American consumers, conducted from September 21-26, found that 82% of those asked planned to continue dining out at full service restaurants as much or more as they did before the attacks. Of the 18% who said they would not eat out as often, only 3% of them cited terrorist attacks as the reason.
"Despite the national crisis, consumer intentions to eat out appear not to have changed, even though restaurant dining is a discretionary purchase. The bigger concern for consumers moving forward seem to be the general economic slowdown," said David Sheluga of NPD, a Chicago marketing firm that observes foodservice.
Consumers will move forward, nevertheless, because they need you. They may not spend as much eating out, but they will show up. Consider a 1998 National Pork Producers survey that found that almost 75% of the people taking a simple cooking test failed. And don’t forget a McKinsey & Co. report that predicted by 2005 most Americans will never have cooked a meal from scratch.
While life in America has changed after September 11th, and the economy is taking its toll, foodservice is a cutthroat business that has always existed in a survival-of-the-fittest environment. Continue the good fight and, when all the dust clears, you’ll be the ones still standing.