Alas, last week’s National Restaurant Association 2011 forecast calls for slow growth for restaurants. But one part of your customer base should grow at a much-faster rate: social media users, who eat out more frequently than the general public. No wonder 80 percent of operators tell NRA they now see social media as a key marketing tool.
The real growth rate foreseen by the National Restaurant Association is tepid—1.1 percent after adjustments for likely inflation, slightly better than Technomic’s earlier prediction of 0.7 percent. The most hopeful sign was the amount of pent-up demand for restaurant meals that exists among consumers. More than two out of five consumers say they are not dining out or using takeout as often as they would like. Let’s hope an economic recovery in 2011 gives them the money to indulge as they prefer.
But at least the report give operators a heads-up on how they can attract more of the business that is available: Go after the ever-growing social media-using crowd.
NRA’s Restaurant Industry Forecast defined social media savvy consumers as those who are frequent users of at least one social media tool. The list includes Facebook, Twitter, mobile phone applications such as Foursquare or Urban Spoon and online review sites like Yelp. Here’s what the NRA found about their dining activity.
“These individuals dine out more frequently than the general public: 92 percent eat a meal at a sit-down restaurant at least once a month (compared with 84 percent of all adults) and 87 percent purchase a meal or snack from a quick service restaurant or carryout place at least once a month (versus 83 percent of all adults).
“In addition, 51 percent of social media savvy individuals say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle, while among all consumers that number is 43 percent.”
No wonder restaurant operators are going after this group. While the aforementioned eight of 10 say social media will become more important marketing tool “in the future,” many are taking action today. More than half of the restaurant operators NRA surveyed for this report said they are likely to incorporate Facebook, online review sites, Twitter and blogs in their marketing mix during the next two years. Why not? If the NRA is right, that’s how you reach the heart of the market you’re trying to attract.
There’s also a bright note if you’re eager to embrace another hot industry trend, food trucks. Forty-seven percent of consumers told NRA they would be likely to patronize food trucks if their favorite restaurants operated those trucks. Which is to say that for the broad populace, food trucks are cool, all right, but they would be cooler if the food came from restaurants with which the customers are already familiar.
There are plenty of great food trucks out there now, but this statistic is telling us that if you own a brick-and-mortar restaurant and want to do a food truck version of it as a spinoff, your moment has come.