Consumer View: Casual Dining

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Taste of food and cleanliness top the list of reasons to dine out.

As new casual dining restaurants appear daily across the U.S. landscape, all are seeking the secret of success. How do they create a unique and different casual dining concept? How can they differentiate themselves from their competitor across the street? It is not uncommon to see a number of restaurant concepts come and go at the exact same location within the span of a couple of years. How does a new restaurant succeed when its predecessors have failed?

To achieve this goal of long-term success, restaurateurs employ varying strategies. Sometimes, they create a novel dining environment. They may outfit their servers in colorful costumes. In other cases, restaurants may try providing unique menu items (such as Weight Watchers items available at Applebee's), or by giving novel names to these items in an attempt to attract a diner's attention, or by providing a family dining experience by offering activity items for children. In yet other cases, the emphasis may be on providing excellent service. And, as many in the licensing business seek to further extend brands into food and beverage arenas, you may want to keep some of this in mind, particularly if your route was co-branding with a casual dining, family friendly restaurant.

While these are all worthy approaches to attracting customers, Maritz Research conducted an extensive study to find out what was really important to casual dining customers. To accomplish this purpose, Maritz conducted an online survey of 1,284 persons who ate at a casual dining restaurant some time within the last three months. All surveys were completed between January 3 and 7, 2006.

Researchers experienced in the study of casual dining restaurants, and a restaurant marketing industry expert, came up with a list of 10 attributes (see chart) they believe drive overall satisfaction with the casual dining experience. Seven different methods were used to assess the importance of these attributes. These methods included something as simple as asking people to rate how important each attribute was on a 1 (not important at all) to 5 (very important) scale, to a far more complex method of calculating the statistical relationship between performance on the attributes to the guests' overall dining experience. While the methods of determining importance produced slightly varying results, all methods showed one thing in common: The taste of the food mattered more than anything else. Other results:

  • The taste of the food was twice as important as having an attentive server.
  • The taste of the food was three times as important as having reasonable prices.
  • The taste of the food was nearly six times as important as providing a comfortable dining atmosphere.

Overall, be sure to appeal to taste buds.

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