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U.S. income gap squeezing restaurants; fruit tops for snackers

U.S. income gap squeezing restaurants; fruit tops for snackers

• U.S. income gap, shrinking middle class hurting restaurant traffic • New app matches mood, food • Consumers give restaurants a failing grade in healthy dining options • Fruit is the all-day snack, consumers say • Tabletop taps lets diners try before they buy  

The yawning gap between high- and low-income groups, along with a shrinking middle class, is affecting restaurant business, according to the NPD Group.

Hardest hit have been QSRs, which saw flat visits in the year ending June 2014 compared to the year earlier, while visits to fine-dining concepts grew 3 percent during the same period. Total restaurant traffic was flat for the period, NPD research shows.

Overall traffic remained flat because about 80 percent of all restaurant visits involve QSRs, and the increase in fine-dining traffic represented a much smaller number.

“Low-income consumers, who are heavier users of quick-service restaurants, were most adversely affected by the Great Recession and have less discretionary income to spend on dining out,” NPD noted. The firm’s restaurant industry analyst, Bonnie Riggs, says most Americans are more conscious of their spending and “want to be certain that the return on their investment in a restaurant meal is a pleasurable dining experience that meets their needs and expectations.”

Calling itself “Spotify for eating out,” a new iPhone app called Fyne allows users to find restaurants based on their mood.

Here’s how it works: the Fyne menu presents a list of possible options, including In a Rush, Chill Out, Surprise Me, Be Happy, Celebrate, Get Focused and others. The app then pulls together a list of restaurants in the neighborhood that fit the bill based on atmosphere, menu and review analysis. Choose one, and you get links to a map and phone number.

“Your mood defines your ability to enjoy a location,” says founder Raman Shrivastava. “If you want to go out and celebrate, for example, you won’t appreciate that literary restaurant you wen to for a quiet lunch, you want something with a bit of spice.”

Consumers think many restaurant chains are failing to present healthy options on their menus.

A whitepaper from Technomic shows that most consumers say restaurants should be offering healthy options. But less than half of consumers say leading restaurant brands are doing a “very good” job of that.

The exceptions are Jamba Juice, Jason’s Deli McAlister’s Deli, Whataburger, The Cheesecake Factory, Bonefish Grill and Bahama Breeze Island Grille.

Fruit is the one snack most consumers will choose, regardless of the time of day.

A recent survey by the Culinary Visions Panel found that fruit, vegetables, bakery items, yogurt, chips, candy and chocolates rate among the most popular snack choices. Other top options: mini meals, cheese, nuts, specialty snacks and savory snacks.

Aside from fruit, it’s no surprise that consumers prefer different types of snacks depending on the hour. Yogurt and granola are popular in the morning; chips and candy are tops in the afternoon and evening. There are generational differences in snacking habits as well. Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer bakery products as an early morning snack, versus 34 percent of Millennials; smoothies are the snack of choice for the younger group, compared with 16 percent of Boomers. 

Tabletop taps at one Miami gastropub let patrons sample beers and cocktails before they commit.

Six tables at Batch are equipped with a four-option tap, which generally offers a rotating choice of two beers and two cocktails. Groups seated at the tables can sample one-ounce pours of each selection, and if they like it enough, purchase a full portion on the spot.

“I wanted to create an approachable way of sampling new drinks,” says owner and createor Kevin Danilo. “Our specialty cocktails—from the Irish Handshake to the Santiago Sling—aren’t your typical drink orders, but after one sip they will definitely become your new favorites.

Batch’s bar also is equipped with 14 beers and a variety of white and red wines on a tap controlled by the bar staff.

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