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Goodbye Full Service, Casual Dining Is Good Enough

What choices are Britons making when they eat out? Foodservice industry figures from global information company The NPD Group show that casual dining as of year ending March 2014 has increased annual traffic by 11.6% compared to five years ago.

That means 47 million more visits to casual dining restaurants now than in 2009. This is a strong performance given that the overall market in Britain for eating out of home has lost 4.8% of its traffic in the same five year period.

Among some 30 brands that NPD Group says are contributing to the growth of casual dining are: Café Uno, Nandos, Wagamama, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Strada, Yo Sushi, Zizzi, Carluccio’s and Giraffe (see Note to Editors).

The success of casual dining compares to quick-service restaurants serving fast food (burgers, chicken, fish and chips, sandwiches, and including coffee shops and bakery outlets), which recorded only 4.2% traffic growth over the same five year period. Casual dining is taking business from full service restaurants, which have seen traffic decline by 11.4% since year end March 2009.

It’s not only price. Despite the average bill per visit of £11.90 for a dinner, casual dining’s growth has outpaced the cheaper fast food channel, where the average bill per visit is much lower at a tempting £5.06. Casual dining is only slightly more affordable than the full service channel, where bills per visit work out at £15.17.

Instead, The NPD Group says consumers like the combination of the ambiance and quality of food of a full service restaurant and the speed and delivery of a fast-food/quick service restaurant.

Britons also see casual dining as a good family option when eating out. At dinner time, 36% of all the meal occasions in casual dining restaurants are due to family visits, whereas they only account for 25% of the meal occasions in restaurants generally. The ‘family factor’ is a much stronger motivation for choosing casual dining than with fast food and full service choices. Around 11% of the visits in casual dining are because “Kids like it there”; this motivation only applies 6.5% of the time for restaurants in general.

“People are telling us that casual dining is the best of both worlds – speed combined with a good ambiance,” said Cyril Lavenant, Director of Foodservice UK. “The new casual dining restaurants are proving popular with people who want good food in a pleasant environment but who are also keeping an eye on what they spend. In difficult economic times, consumers need to save money. That helps to explain why full service restaurants have suffered. But casual dining is successful because it offers a good experience when eating out and a good option for when people want a ‘treat’ for themselves or their kids. The food is also priced at the level that makes it easy for younger people to dine out.”

The casual dining sector remains small, accounting for only 4% in traffic terms of Britain’s total foodservice market that generates 11 billion visits annually. But The NPD Group says further growth is likely. Casual dining visits in Britain grew 1.5% in the year ending March 2014 while fast food restaurants grew 0.6%.

Cyril Lavenant added: “The success of casual dining in Britain is the beginning of a new way of eating out; this is definitely not a blip. At The NPD Group we believe that casual dining restaurants will continue to take business from full service restaurants.”

Full-service restaurants: these include more formal / traditional restaurants and those serving Greek, Indian, Japanese, French and Italian food, as well as Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican and Spanish restaurants.

Fast casual dining: refers to restaurants that offer consumers a fresh alternative to traditional fast food and generally pay greater attention to food quality and service, as well as ambiance, décor and design.  NPD Group includes the following restaurants in its Casual Dining category:

Ask Pizza & Pasta / Azzurro / Bella Italia / Café Rouge / Café Uno / Chiquito / Frankie And Bennys / Garfunkels / Harry Ramsdens / La Tasca / Little Chef / Nandos / Old Orleans / Pizza Express / Pizza Hut / Road Chef / T.G.I. Fridays / Wagamama / Gourmet Burger Kitchen / Strada / Yo Sushi / Zizzi / Camden Food Co. / Carluccio’s / Fine Burger Co. / Giraffe / Le Pain Quotidien / Prezzo / Roosters Piri Piri / Byron.

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