Enticing parties with kids to eat out more often is an untapped opportunity for restoring healthy growth to the foodservice industry.

Inviting families back to restaurants

Enticing parties with kids to eat out more often is an untapped opportunity for restoring healthy growth to the foodservice industry.

For the past five years, restaurant operators across Canada have been focused on driving traffic from Millenials and Boomers. While their population growth is alluring to a foodservice industry making slow gains, families with kids have begun to stand out as a neglected target market, and an opportunity for recovering traffic.

Parties with kids are making fewer restaurant visits than they did five years ago, as tracked by The NPD Group’s CREST® Market Monitor. For the year ended August 2013, parties with kids accounted for 1.9 billion heads through the door, but their traffic is down 97 million visits from levels in 2008. Quick-Service Restaurants (QSR) have shouldered 36 million of those declines, and Full-Service Restaurants (FSR) another 33 million. Modest cheque increases keep spend from families out of the red, but recovering traffic losses is a $634 million opportunity.

For a few years, QSR growth has been focused on breakfast, specialty beverages, and snacking. Parties with kids are responding positively to these messages, but are not heavy users of breakfast. While any growth from families is hard won, breakfast and snacking are not enough to offset losses at lunch and supper. FSR is beginning to recover traffic from families this year as they are responding to deals and visiting more at lunch, but supper is still fairly flat.

With families visiting at less expensive dayparts and using more deals, it would be easy to conclude that the answer is to compete on price. Having a good value strategy is always important, but competing solely on price is a classic ‘race to the bottom’. Families, and adult-only parties, are visiting more at breakfast and snacking because restaurants have been giving them a reason to do so, not just because it is an affordable indulgence.


There’s a big opportunity now to shift product development and marketing communications to giving families that reason to visit at lunch and supper. The restaurants that are still able to attract growth have done so by designing new dishes targeted and tested to meet the needs of particular customer groups. This targeted approach has led some chains to success with families at lunch and supper, but so far it has only been a matter of stealing share.

Chef-inspired menu innovation has been targeted at adults, but there is an opportunity to apply this creativity to kids’ menus as well. Kids’ tastes are more adventurous than they were in the past, and they are consuming more Asian dishes, seafood, beef, yogurt, vegetables, smoothies, and other specialty beverages. Parents’ decisions are impacted by the tastes of their children, and attracting increased visits requires developing kids’ menus that are more inspired than just chicken fingers and fries. Simplify your kids’ menu and appeal to maturing tastes by offering kid-sized portions of the regular menu, or follow customs at Asian restaurants that have families sharing from larger dishes. Sharing platters are also fun and have something for everyone to enjoy.

Still, the economic pinch on families cannot be ignored. Communicating compelling reasons to visit aren’t always just about choosing your restaurant over another meal option, but choosing your restaurant over other types of activities that compete for their budget. Focus on why families should sit around the table sharing a conversation and exploring cuisine rather than sitting in a dark room watching a movie. Or design deals that add value instead of discounts by partnering with cross competitors like dinner and a movie.

Families want to go out to restaurants to eat. They just need the proper invitation.

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About the author

Emma Hyatt is Account Specialist, Foodservice Canada for the NPD Group. The NPD Group has more than 25 years of experience providing reliable and comprehensive consumer-based market information to leaders in the foodservice industry. For more information, visit www.npdgroup.ca or contact Hyatt at emma.hyatt@npd.com.

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