The survey of 300 people by The Mystery Dining Company (TMDC) also found that although half of its respondents are expecting to eat out up to five times in December, many of them are not planning to book tables in advance: 58 per cent said they would make an advance reservation for half of their Christmas meals while 6 per cent said they were not planning to book at all.
The findings mean operators offering ‘good value’ and being flexible with walk-ins versus bookings, will benefit from last minute trade, according to Sally Whelan, director at TMDC.
“We know that it is perceived value for money that is a key behavioural driver when it comes to choosing where to eat and in terms of evaluating the overall experience so with so many customers saying they are unlikely to book ahead this may be something that operators hoping to attract walk-ins may wish to consider,” she said.
However, Whelan warned that cutting back on certain areas, such as making portion sizes smaller or having fewer staff on duty to help boost profits during the festive season would not be wise for a business.
“It’s vitally important to remember that customers are increasingly savvy when it comes to assessing value for money. Cheap meals and an experience that offers value for money are two very different things and if your promotion is not executed well, a discount offer actually has the potential to undermine a restaurant’s reputation with loyal customers and leave a damaging first impression with new ones, which will have a long term impact on the business,” she said.
TMDC suggests focusing on a strong drinks offer over Christmas as 8 per cent of respondents said they’d be looking to trade up to a premium drink and 35 per cent would be ‘uncharacteristically’ varying their drink selection.
“It’s important that staff are properly briefed and are able to make suitable suggestions – offer a good value festive bubbly as an aperitif, if customers seem to be hesitating over wine lists, make sure staff are able to point out that the venue can also do a range of cocktails, mixer drinks and beers as well as non-alcoholic beverages,” Whelan said.
“Customers will be seeking small indulgences and often the power of suggestion – such as 'would you like to begin with a nice glass of Prosecco or a Gin and Tonic perhaps?'– can often be very powerful at this time of the year.”
Number of diners expecting to eat out in restaurants between now and the New Year:
- None – 1 per cent
- 1-2 times – 19 per cent
- 3-5 times – 48 per cent
- 6-10 times – 24 per cent
- 10+ times – 8 per cent
Number of diners expecting to eat out in pubs between now and the New Year:
- None – 4 per cent
- 1-2 times – 42 per cent
- 3-5 times – 38 per cent
- 6-10 times – 12 per cent
- 10+ times – 3 per cent