Despite an improving economy, many consumers still equate value with low prices and big portions of food, according to Technomic’s 2017 Value & Pricing Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite. The report suggests ways for operators to promote value without relying on price. Even if your operation caters to customers who pay less than they would in a streetside restaurant, these suggestions from restaurant operators can help you engage deal hunters.
1. Quality counts
Pushing premium ingredients and scratch-made preparations is an effective way to promote value and differentiate menu items, according to the Technomic study. More than a third (37%) of consumers are seeking out higher-quality items at restaurants more often than they were two years ago. To increase customers’ perception of quality, Togo’s Sandwiches recently began sourcing oven-roasted, deli-style turkey breast that’s hand-sliced daily. Togo's now places a quarter-pound of turkey—a larger portion than before—on top of the garnishes in its sandwiches rather than beneath them so customers taste the turkey on their first bite.
2. Flavor boosts value
Taste and flavor are the attributes that equate to value, according to 86% of consumers. Flavor creates craveability, and restaurants are playing that up in menu descriptions and new item introductions. For example, Zoe’s Kitchen, a Mediterranean fast-casual concept, recently launched four sauces that hit on global trends, including Israeli skhug (citrus sauce with hot peppers, cilantro, lemon and olive oil) and Tunisian harissa, a spicy red pepper puree. To compete for breakfast customers, Whataburger introduced a Spicy Strawberry Chicken Biscuit and Spicy Strawberry Sausage Biscuit, both slathered with a berry and jalapeno jam.
3. Make limited-time offers really special
Younger consumers in particular see value in experiencing a can’t-miss opportunity or eagerly anticipating the return of a favorite. Twenty percent of 18- to 34-year-olds equate uniqueness with value, something that drives the success of such items as Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino. Fast casual Sweetgreen—a favorite of millennials—is playing up its seasonal and local bent by partnering with high-profile chefs in local markets, such as Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, to create limited-time salads. Some colleges, hospitals, senior-living facilities and even K-12 schools invite a local restaurant chef to create a special dish that runs for a week or rotates into the menu from time to time.
4. All-you-can-eat deals drive traffic
Fifty-two percent of consumers see unlimited plates of food and refills as a value indicator, up from 47% two years ago. Chains are capitalizing on the appeal of all-you-can-eat, with TGI Fridays recently instating its onetime Endless Apps LTO as a permanent part of the menu. Others have tried shorter-term deals tied to a specific promotion. Houlihan’s, for example, commemorated National French Fry Day this July with a special of bottomless Parmesan fries.
5. Sustainability is a selling point
In 2017, 57% of consumers say knowing that restaurants use sustainable foods is an important aspect of their dining experience. Noncommercial operators are pioneers in sustainability efforts, and many effectively market clean labels and transparency to customers. Restaurants are increasingly tapping into this signal of value. Fazoli’s announced in June that its menu is completely clean and free of all artificial sweeteners, flavors, preservatives and colors.
6. Ramp up service
Although fair prices and deals still reign atop the value throne, efficient service doesn’t lag far behind. Over 60% of surveyed consumers say speed of service, order accuracy and staff friendliness are the top amenities that create value. The staff at Blaze Pizza, for example, memorize the menu through ice breakers and mock orientations in order to properly give customers suggestions on building a pizza.
7. Connect to consumers via mobile apps
Seventy percent of 18- to 34-year-olds say it’s important for restaurants to have a digital loyalty program, a figure that falls to 56% among those age 35 and above. Restaurants are responding to these desires of younger diners, expanding their branded apps to include features beyond simple order and payment options. Noodles & Company, for example, recently rolled out NoodleRewards, which sends customers freebies and deals tailored to their tastes and purchasing patterns. College dining programs are using apps to alert students to high-traffic times at various venues, daily allergen-free menu items and more.