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Faces of the future: What four types of diners are looking for

busy balancers

During a 1965 radio interview, surrealist painter Rene Magritte said of his piece “Son of Man” that everything people see hides another thing—and people always want to see what is hidden. Consumers’ gender, age, ethnicity or income are generally in plain sight. However, sometimes those classifications eclipse diverse habits, needs and motivations—the hidden factors.

In the golden age of social media, dining trends seem to explode and fade nearly as quickly as consumers can send a tweet. To keep a finger on the elusive pulse of today’s diners, operators need to know exactly whom they’re dealing with. Together with data firm Technomic, FoodService Director presents the four consumer archetypes noncommercial operations should be watching—and how to cater to their hidden desires.


 Consumer Breakdown

Demographics were selected to represent the consumers who have the greatest impact on noncommercial foodservice.

Busy Balancers

Ages 25 to 64

busy balancers

Jorge is always on the move. His job as a manager at a hospital has him on his feet all day—not to mention he has three young kids at home. Frequently pushed for time and not always able to cook, he often eats at the dining services his hospital offers. Still, he goes out of his way to be healthy.

Need to know

• Consumers ages 25 through 64 make up more than 17% of Busy Balancers—one of the highest percentages of any age group in the category.

• About half of Busy Balancers—and 47% of those between the ages of 25 and 64—say it’s very important that dining staff is knowledgeable.

• Many Busy Balancers ages 25 through 64 are parents, so ensuring there are kid-friendly features is a must.

Opportunities for operators

  • Bump up prices. Busy Balancers between the ages of 25 and 64 have one of the largest average check spends of all eater archetypes, coming in at just under $26 for full service and over $12 for limited-service away-from-home meals. This group is not afraid to shell out for new and unique menu items.
  • Pack health to go. Although constantly on the go and looking for something to satisfy their hunger, Busy Balancers still want to eat healthy. Among those ages 25 to 64 in this group, roughly 16% say they need healthy food in their away-from-home meal, higher than any other archetype in this age range.
  • Use tech-based ordering services. Roughly 23% of Busy Balancers—and 22% of those between the ages of 25 and 64—say it’s very important for a dining service to provide online, mobile, kiosk or tabletop ordering capabilities.

 Consumer Breakdown

Demographics were selected to represent the consumers who have the greatest impact on noncommercial foodservice.

Functional Eaters

Ages 18 to 24

functional eaters

Aliyah is just looking for some grub that will carry her through her daily grind of full-time coursework and multiple gigs. She’s on a tight budget—this college student won’t be spending $15 on avocado toast anytime soon. Convenience and simplicity are essential for this diner, who does not have much time to cook and makes quick decisions on the go. But keeping up her nonstop hustle is stressful, so any processes geared toward ease and convenience are a big win for Aliyah.

Need to know

• Functional Eaters expect speed and accuracy and do not have time to deal with botched meals. In fact, the only other elements that are equally or more important to this group are the cleanliness of the kitchen and dishes, and the taste of the food.
College-age Functional Eaters opt for healthier options more often than older demographics.

• About 23% of Functional Eaters between the ages of 18 and 24 look for high-value, high-quality items, and 38% dub food quality as very important.

Opportunities for operators

  • Do it for them. Young Functional Eaters generally aren’t caught up in the customization craze. The name of the game for college-aged Functional Eaters is convenience, with only 19% rating customization as very important to the guest experience.
  • Think quick bites. Functional Eaters have a very real need for speed. They appreciate streamlined ordering and payment options that help them grab a snack without missing a beat.
  • Invest in quality over buzz. Functional Eaters don’t need the most on-trend flavors, but they do want substance. Functional Eaters ages 18 to 24 don’t have much to spend on food, but when they do make a purchase, food quality is a high priority, even for takeout.
  • Prioritize packaging, not decor. This demographic is too busy moving to the next destination to appreciate Instagrammable spaces and curated atmospheres. Instead, think food porn and branded packaging for to-go orders.

 Consumer Breakdown

Demographics were selected to represent the consumers who have the greatest impact on noncommercial foodservice.

Foodservice Hobbyists

Ages 25 to 64

foodservice hobbyists

Need to know

• Consumers ages 25 through 64 make up more than 15% of Foodservice Hobbyists.

• Foodservice Hobbyists are early adopters of plant-forward dining.

• More than three-fourths (80%) of Foodservice Hobbyists—and 81% of those between the ages of 25 and 64—say the food quality of away-from-home meals is very important. This is consistent across all segments, as it’d be rare to find someone who doesn’t want quality food. But Foodservice Hobbyists are pickier.

Opportunities for operators

  • Enhance the ambiance. About 45% of Foodservice Hobbyists—and 51% of Hobbyists between the ages of 25 and 64—say it’s very important that their away-from-home dining experience has a pleasant atmosphere.
  • They can afford it. Like Busy Balancers between 25 and 64 years old, Foodservice Hobbyists of the same age have one of the largest average checks of all eater archetypes. On average, they pay nearly $27 for full service—the highest across all segments—and $12 for limited-service away-from-home meals.
  • Build-your-own is key. Roughly 45% of Foodservice Hobbyists—and 47% between the ages of 25 and 64—say it’s very important to customize their orders while dining away from home.

 Consumer Breakdown

Demographics were selected to represent the consumers who have the greatest impact on noncommercial foodservice.

Health Enthusiasts

Ages 65 and up

health enthusiasts

Need to know

• Consumers ages 65 and older make up nearly 18% of Health Enthusiasts—the largest age group in the category.

• Roughly 71% of Health Enthusiasts age 65 and older say a clean interior space is very important whenever they’re dining away from home, the highest percentage among age groups in that archetype.

• While some of these consumers find menu variety important (40%), only 34% of those ages 65 and older in this category do.

Opportunities for operators

  • Offer discount specials. Health Enthusiasts who are 65 and older have the smallest average spend compared to other groups. Cheaper prices may increase appeal among these consumers.
  • Keep it simple. Of all the Health Enthusiasts who are 65 and older, approximately 22% say their overall dining experience needs to be simple—the highest percentage of any foodservice-related need in this age group.
  • Emphasize a quality experience over a speedy visit. Senior Health Enthusiasts care less about finishing their meal quickly compared to younger patrons in the same category. The data shows 23% consider speed a very important trait in their dining experience, compared to 32% of Health Enthusiasts overall.

 Consumer Breakdown

Demographics were selected to represent the consumers who have the greatest impact on noncommercial foodservice.

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