Fewer Consumers Trying New Casual-Dining Restaurants

In an intensely competitive industry, Pizza Hut, Golden Corral and Joe’s Crab Shack pull in the most new diners

With the economy rebounding, are restaurants driving more new foot traffic and acquiring new customers? According to a new study of 7,000 consumers by Market Force Information, despite the recovery, fewer consumers are trying out casual-dining restaurants compared to two years ago. This may be a result of fewer new choices to try in the category, as just 11% of consumers reported trying a new casual-dining chain in the past 90 days, whereas in 2011, 27% had tried a new casual-dining brand in the previous 30 days.

Those consumers experimenting with new restaurants are primarily tempting their taste buds at chains serving continental fare, steaks and seafood – three restaurant categories showing healthy sales growth. Restaurants specializing in continental cuisine attracted the most new patrons by a wide margin, with 18% of consumers indicating that they’d tried one in the past 90 days. Steakhouses ranked second with 11%, seafood restaurants were third with 8%, breakfast chains ranked fourth with 7% and pizza eateries rounded out the top five with 6%. (See Graph 1.)

Graph 1: Types of Casual-Dining Restaurants Tried Most in Past 90 Days

Graph 1: Types of Casual-Dining Restaurants Tried Most in Past 90 Days

Brands were closely clustered in attracting new customers. Out of the restaurant chains studied, Pizza Hut did the best job of attracting new visitors, just edging out Golden Corral, which ranked second, followed by Joe’s Crab Shack, Red Lobster and Olive Garden. (See Graph 2.) The top 10 casual-dining restaurant chains were separated by less than one percentage point, calling attention to the tight race among a variety of restaurant brands to capture new customers.

Casual-Dining Restaurants Tried in Past 90 Days

Graph 2: Casual-Dining Restaurants Tried in Past 90 Days

The Friends and Family Factor

Market Force’s study also suggests that those closest to us tend to wield the greatest influence on our buying decisions. Of the respondents who had tried a new casual-dining restaurant, nearly 40% were spurred by the recommendation of a friend or family member. One-quarter stopped in after seeing the restaurant when driving or walking by, while 17% cited a specific promotion or coupon and 9% were led in by a TV or radio ad. (See Graph 3.)

Fewer Consumers Trying New Casual-Dining Restaurants

Graph 3: Reasons for Trying a New Casual-Dining Restaurant

Not OK To Be Just OK

Consumers were also asked to rate their customer experience eating at a new restaurant and, while 48% said they were delighted, the remainder said it was either just OK or bad. This could point to a missed opportunity for restaurant operators who may not see return visits from 52% of their first-time diners. Dollars spent on marketing are feasibly wasted and the cost of customer recovery goes up.

“There’s so much competition out there and it’s only getting more difficult for restaurant operators to attract new customers. For discerning diners, it’s a case of one strike and you’re out, so being adequate is no longer good enough,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. “We’ve found that delighted customers are nine times more likely to recommend a restaurant than those who had just an OK experience. This tells us that chains that truly wow their customers on their first visit can establish brand advocates who are almost guaranteed to recommend the restaurant to friends and family.”

For those who reported dissatisfaction, the most common reasons given were that the price was too high for the quality of food, the food quality was poor and the food was too unhealthy. Several other areas of operational excellence were also cited, including slow order times, unappealing atmosphere and sub-standard service. (See Graph 4.)

Fewer Consumers Trying New Casual-Dining Restaurants

Graph 4: Reasons Why Dissatisfied With New Restaurant Experience

Missing a Social Opportunity

Market Force found that social media continues to play a major role as a means for consumers to get information on restaurants overall. Forty-one percent said they read an online review, blog post or tweet about a restaurant before dining there. What’s more, 18% fed back into the social system by posting an online review, blog or tweet about restaurant.

In the casual-dining segment specifically, relatively few (less than 8%) reported posting a comment on the restaurant’s Facebook page after trying it for the first time. However, brands are potentially missing a sizeable opportunity in nurturing those relationships, as only about half of those who posted to the restaurant’s Facebook page heard back from them.

Survey Demographics

The survey was conducted in March 2013 across the United States. The pool of more than 7,000 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 60% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 75% were women and 25% were men, and nearly half have children at home. For more information on Market Force’s customer intelligence solutions for the restaurant industry, visit

Market Force is the leading global customer intelligence solutions company for multi-location businesses, including major retailers, restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, financial institutions, entertainment studios and consumer packaged goods companies. With more than 125 years of combined industry experience, Market Force Information has pioneered the industry with a suite of customer intelligence solutions – from proprietary decision-support tools to 600,000 field associates across North America and Europe who conduct mystery shopping, to real customer surveys, to contact center solutions and social media monitoring. Its solutions enable brands to identify the actions required at the store level to increase customer loyalty and improve financial performance. Market Force was named one of Forbes’ America’s Most Promising Companies in 2011. For more information, visit http://www.marketforce.com.