Learning New Habits

August means Back to School. Long gone are the summer months where kids take a break from school. But for the rest of us, this summer was a time for learning. Restaurant owners and parents alike learned new lessons on how dinning out deals can make a difference.

Casual-dining chains discovered the power of the packaged deal this summer when they introduced a variety of bundled or multiple meal deals that notably increased customer visits, said officials at market research firm The NPD Group. Deal-related restaurant visits were the only occasions that showed any growth in the 3rd quarter. Those visits rose 2 percent. By contrast, non-deal-related visits to restaurants decreased 5 percent. Kids-eat-free offers were especially popular as a way to lure families into eating out, especially at dinner, as evidenced by such deals from IHOP and Tropical Smoothie Café or variants like Boston Market’s “two kids eat free” deal and Quaker Steak & Lube’s “parents eat free” promotion.

NPD attributes the increase in traffic to consumers’ love of a deal. In the third quarter, deal traffic was up 14 percent from a year earlier and now accounts for 22 percent of all visits to casual-dining restaurants. By comparison, deal traffic accounts for 24 percent of all visits to quick-service outlets. The percent of visits spurred by deals and the rate of increase are the largest ever seen by casual dining, according to NPD.

I am often asked by both restaurant managers and parents about the longevity of these “Kids Eat Free” specials. As the economy gets better, are we going to see these specials start to disappear? The answer is the same for both parties. From a parent’s point of view, we are developing new habits with how, when and where we go out to eat. Even my kids, 10 & 12 years old, now know that they are more likely to eat out when they remind us of who has a “Kids Eat Free” special on any given night. These new habits will continue even after the economy recovers. Restaurants are also learning new habits. They call them “Marketing Strategies”. These new “habits” are most times built around traditionally slow traffic nights. Many restaurants have invested time and money into the development and advertisement of these specials and will in most cases keep them in place.

We have already seen an increase in the number of “Kids Eat Free” specials throughout the industry this year and look forward to seeing even more in 2013. The bottom line is that both restaurants and parents will benefit from these specials and will continue to use these new habits, hopefully, for years to come.

Dated: 10/8/2012


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