According to Allegra Strategies’ Eating Out in the UK 2011 Report, consumers are eating out more now than in recent years, with one in nine meals eaten out of the home compared with one in ten meals in 2010.
But while the market is standing strong, particularly when compared to high street retailers, it is still to return to pre-recessionary growth levels which at its highest peak grew by 8.3 per cent in 2007.
Lunch is the most popular mealtime eaten out of home, with visits increasing from 3.4 per month last year to 4.1 per month in 2011.
A third of the public now consume lunch out of home at least once a week, making the mealtime more popular than breakfast (15 per cent) and dinner (23 per cent).
Allegra’s report found that at lunchtime consumers are looking for convenience and quality, while in the evening their desire is for food quality and atmosphere. However the main driver of choice for consumers still rests on previous experiences.
Anya Gascoine Marco, Head of Food and Beverage Insight, Allegra Strategies, said: “There is a strong opportunity for operators to harness the increasing lunchtime frequency with express delivery formats and reduce dependency on evening day-parts.
“The increasing visit frequency shows that regardless of prevailing economic conditions, people are determined to continue to enjoy themselves when they can.
“There is still concern in the industry however and rightly so, as key economic indicators show no signs of significant improvement until at least 2013.
The report also shows that restaurant discounting is still a heavy part of diners’ social lives and has in fact become a ‘permanent feature of the market’. In fact half of diners now regularly use discount vouchers compared to a third in 2010.
“More engagement from operators with the evermore sophisticated UK consumer is essential to strengthen loyalty and attract new customers and help them move away from their habitual discount voucher use,” added Marco.
Dietary health has become increasingly important to consumers, with 92 per cent now wanting a healthier lifestyle compared to 88 per cent in 2010. Provinciality also remains a high priority for consumers, with over half preferring to eat at restaurants where ingredients are locally sourced.
“Consumers are looking for improved healthier options to be available, together with a commitment from operators to showcase ethical practices.”
The report also highlights social media as an essential platform to develop communication with customers and drive revenue.