Casual Dining: A Fresh Perspective

Companies are being challenged to seek new ways to remain relevant, and to take advantage of the narrowing gap between the value, price, and service propositions between Casual Dining vs. Fast Casual
Bill Conn Alice CampbellRestaurant industry studies and reports have brought much attention to the shift in consumer choices and the flattening of year-over-year same store sales growth that the Casual Dining segment has been experiencing in recent years. However, there are still many exciting growth opportunities and ways that Casual Dining can flourish.

Overall the restaurant industry is on the rise, with sales for 2017 expected to peak at around $800 billion according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2017 Outlook report. While Full Service (which includes Casual Dining) is seeing a decline in sales growth the Full-Service category still comprises the largest industry service segment making up nearly one third of the restaurant industry’s total sales. In fact, sales are greater in Full Service than both Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) and Fast Casual segments combined.
 

With projected sales of more than $260 billion for 2017, the Full-Service sector may have flattened in system growth, but it is not going away. Companies are being challenged to seek new ways to remain relevant, and to take advantage of the narrowing gap between the value, price, and service propositions for Casual Dining vs. Fast Casual.

Key areas that we are seeing Casual Dining Operators focusing on to narrow the gap include:
 
  • Intensified focus on food quality and freshness, farm-to-table offering, made from scratch, health-conscious menu choices and environmentally friendly offerings.
  • Adjusting and broadening menus to meet varying customer dining occasions including better understanding consumer needs for each day-part and offering more diversity, variety, and smaller portion sizes.
  • Adapting service models to meet the changing and diverse needs of consumers, such as adding differentiating service strategies based on the different day-parts. For example, breakfast and lunch offerings, lunchtime speed of service, carryout, and delivery.
  • Leveraging the diverse and profitable separation from Fast Casual by providing superior drink offerings, both in the alcoholic and non-alcoholic space.
  • Leveraging FOH, BOH and customer facing technologies that enhance speed of service, quality and customer satisfaction.
  • The use of customer loyalty programs, increased spend on social media, mobile platform consumer engagement, online marketing and shifting away from traditional advertising.
Casual Dining leaders are also implementing new strategies to meet the changing needs of their consumers. Here are just a few examples of Companies that are finding success through these new opportunities:
 
  • Cheesecake Factory is partnering with DoorDash as its exclusive delivery partner.
  • Dallas-based TGI Fridays introduced online take-out orders a year ago and has seen sales grow by 30%.
  • Bloomin Brands has invested in take-out and delivery for diners who don’t want to leave home.
  • Applebee’s offers appetizer and entrée dinner menus for two at a fixed price of $20 / $25 providing customers a variety of new flavor choices focused on customer value and ordering convenience.
  • Chili’s Bar and Grill has continued to evolve its tabletop technology by offering many new features to improve service times and the overall guest experience including: tabletop ordering, self-cash out, drink re-ordering, check-splitting, loyalty points tracking and redemption and carryout ordering.
These are just a few examples of tremendous success stories where Casual Dining is finding new traction and driving incremental sales and traffic. The recipe for Casual Dining to remain the most viable and competitive customer choice for many years is to couple creative new strategies, together with an unwavering commitment to great service, great people and great food (all of which never go out of style).

About Bill Conn

Bill Conn is Senior Vice President at HVS Executive Search based in Atlanta. He began his hospitality executive search career in January 2001. Bill has led many senior hospitality executive searches across all functional areas including CEO/C-Suite, Operations, Human Resources, Marketing, Finance, Development, Culinary and Supply Chain. He views his role as that of a strategic partner helping his clients achieve their business goals. Bill takes a great deal of pride in the fact that he has built a vast network of strong relationships over the course of his career. The foundation of those relationships is trust and staying connected. Bill is a graduate of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business with a minor in Economics.

About Greg Palmer

Greg Palmer is Senior Vice President at HVS Executive Search based in Orlando. Greg’s career in Human Resources, Retained Executive Search, Organizational Development L&D and Technology spans 30+ years in the restaurant, hospitality, retail, franchising, lifestyle and wellness, retail and home services industries. A cum laude graduate of West Virginia University with a B.S. in Business Administration and Organizational followed by   graduate studies in Industrial Relations and Organizational Theory provided a foundation for Greg’s post college-start in the retail sector before joining PepsiCo where he held progressively more responsible roles spanning 12 years in learning and development and human resources, ultimately serving as Division Director of Human Resources and L&D for Pizza Hut. Following PepsiCo, Greg held a series of senior and c-level human resource, executive search and technology leadership positions across Companies ranging from small emerging brands to midscale enterprises in both the public and sectors. Greg has also accumulated 15 years of expertise in senior level retained executive search including the most recent 5 years with HVS. Greg is an active member of SHRM both at the national and local levels. 

2 Comments

  1. Great perspective on an every changing restaurant category in order to keep up with consumer demands.

  2. Great insight to a challenged segment!

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