Value still rules among U.S. diners

Published on
June 7, 2009

Restaurants must offer value to get guests in the door this summer, and even though they may be eating out more frequently while on vacation, Americans' thrifty habits will stick around for a while, according to restaurant analysts.

"Consumers will continue to be value-minded, spend less than they have in the past and eat more at home," Darren Tristano, executive VP of research and consulting for Technomic in Chicago, told SeafoodSource. "The new value equation [in restaurants] includes free food, such as a free slice of pie [with a meal]."

Once guests are seated at the table, restaurants can up-sell them on liquor, dessert and other "luxury" items, said Tristano.

Because more guests are looking for a deal, seafood chains are adding more small-portion and value-oriented items to the menu. For example, Bonefish Grill recently began offering "petite-size, hand-held" menu items, including Bang Bang Shrimp Taco and Maryland Crab Cake Sandwich.

"There are opportunities to do fish tacos, which could be a lower-priced menu item, and they could be differentiated with different spices," said Tristano.

These type of items will likely lead to high profit margins. "You can reduce your portion size to keep your costs down, and you can offer a portion size that is going to be more advantageous to the consumer," noted Tristano.

Ways restaurants are trying to boost their sales this summer include creating excitement around the various Alaska salmon runs, discounting lobster entrées and sides, and tying seafood into summer festivals and local restaurant weeks.

In mid-May, King's Seafood Co. in Costa Mesa, Calif., which operates 12 King's Fish House restaurants and other concepts, launched "Lobster Fest." The promotion features 10 different sizes of live Maine lobster at reduced prices, along with several limited-time menu items such as Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese and Lobster Bisque.

Real Seafood Co. in Ann Arbor, Mich., is promoting its specials, including a three-course lunch for USD 12 (EUR 8.58) per person, during Ann Arbor Restaurant Week from 14 to 19 June.

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