Key to Growing Restaurant Business Is Getting Lighter Users to Visit More

BY Courtney Huckabay

Getting customers who visit restaurants less to visit more may be overstating the obvious in terms of boosting sluggish U.S. foodservice traffic growth. It turns out that it’s not. If half of the light restaurant users made one more visit per year it would be an incremental increase in sales of $1.1 billion, finds a new report from The NPD Group, a leading global information company.

The report, which is based on NPD’s receipt mining service, Checkout Tracking, and its ongoing foodservice market research, found the majority of consumers (75 percent) who have decreased their restaurants visits say they watch how they spend their money on most or all purchases.

And a high percentage of these respondents think that restaurant prices are too high, according to the NPD report, Losing Our Appetites for Restaurants.

Restaurateurs should consider these feelings when planning advertising campaigns for Easter menus, events and dining specials. The latest research from AudienceSCAN said 8.4% of Americans ate Easter brunch or dinner at a restaurant or hotel last year.

Consumers who have cut back the most on restaurant visits are heavy users, typically dining out three or more times a week. Heavy restaurant users are the perceived low-​hanging fruit for many restaurant operators and the target for promotional efforts. This user group’s visit cutback was a major factor in foodservice traffic growth coming to a halt, says NPD.

Restaurants can persuade them to come back by advertising Easter feasts. According to AudienceSCAN data, 20.9% of Easter Diners learn about these types of events from TV, 19.7% get their info from newspapers, 16.6% get ideas from radio and 11.9% turn to entertainment/​city guides.

Although they may not visit often, NPD finds that super-​light and light users, who typically visit restaurants one time per week, and super-​light users, who visit less than one time a week, are extremely valuable customers. Combined, these two groups account for 47 percent of all restaurant customers in a year, and they spend more per visit than heavy users.  If half of light users made just one more restaurant visit each year, NPD calculated that there would be an incremental sales increase of $1.1 billion. These users told NPD that regular discounts and, more importantly, discounts of their choosing would entice them to visit more.

Adding a reservation button to a restaurant's website could swing the light users. The AudienecSCAN survey found 29.4% of Easter Diners made reservations online via browser, tablet or smartphone during the past month.

Many restaurant operators have spent much of their resources and time in rewarding heavy buyers,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD and author of the report. “It’s important to continue recognizing heavy buyers, but to grow their business operators need to increase visit frequency from all user groups, including light and super light users.”

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.