Consumers may be slowly venturing back into restaurants. But they are not spending as much as they did before the recession began. Industry analysts believe that diners are still seeking value and predict that some of the recently observed behavioral changes may endure for the long term.

Here’s a snapshot of consumer intentions reported by AlixPartners, a business advisory firm:

  • Average planned per meal spending: $11.60 (a 21% drop from $14.70 spent per meal in early 2008)
  • Plan to dine out more in 2010 than in 2009: 58%
  • Plan to eat out 2-6 times a week: 23%

Andy Eversbusch, a managing director at AlixPartners, says “Despite some stabilization of late, the restaurant industry is by no means out of the woods.” Consumers continue to show price sensitivity. They plan to restrain their expenditures on dining out until they are convinced there’s a real economic recovery and they are clearly looking for value. Everbusch also found cause for concern with respect to the 23% of consumers who will dine out 2-6 times a week this year. The percentage compares poorly to the 27% of consumers who ate out at that level in 2009. Everbusch believes this new trend will hit quick-serve operators particularly hard. Fewer people are eating breakfast out, especially since unemployment rates remain high. And about 9% of consumers are stopping by convenience stores for a ready-to-eat option instead of visiting a quick-serve establishment.

To lure more customers through the door, operators are expected to use more coupons and to heavily promote the value of their offerings. This trend will be particularly true for the quick-serve segment.

[Source: U.S. Restaurant Industry Must Reinvent Operations and Menus to Overcome a 21% Gap in Expected Per-Meal Spending versus Pre-Recession Levels, According to AlixPartners Study. AlixPartners. 5 May 2010. Web. 13 May 2010]