The lunch market has been the driver behind a surprise increase in the total amount of money UK consumers will spend on eating out in 2011.
UK consumers are set to spend £42b on eating out this year, 2.8% more than 2010, according to industry analysts Allegra Strategies. In its Eating Out in the UK 2011 report, Allegra attributed the rise to an increase in frequency of visits at the low- to mid-value end of the market, rather than higher spending per head on the same number of visits.
Anya Gascoine Marco, head of food and beverage insight at Allegra Strategies, told Caterer and Hotelkeeper: "Consumer behaviour this year was interesting because I was fully expecting total spending on eating out to be flat or even slightly down. We are seeing the same in the coffee-shop market. Eating out is now truly part of people's daily life. They are far more comfortable going out for lunch than they were last year and that is partly down to there being more choice at a low price."
She added that aside from sandwich chains and fast-food outlets, it was new fast-casual offerings including the likes of Leon and Chilango that allowed customers to sit down and eat withing 15 to 30 minutes that were really driving the lunch market.
"Operators like Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Nando's and Gourmet Burger King are the ones that could benefit from this trend," she said. "They are realising that people want to come in, grab something, sit down and eat in a short period of time. Having that kind of offer is going to be absolutely fundamental in the next year."
Meanwhile, the more expensive end of the market (at around £26-£30 per head) appeared to bring customers through the door. Gascoine Marco said Allegra had analysed 110 menus for different branded chains and found that the more expensive French-style brasseries had increased their prices the most. Somewhat unpredictably, though, the fine-dining end of the market - where prices are typically around £50 a head - is still faring well, according to the report. "There is a 5% like-for-like increase across the board in fine dining," she said. "People are seeing Masterchef and other celebrity chefs on TV and realising they don't have to be in a bow tie in order to enjoy a good meal. So there is also that aspect of saving up for a good meal. Rather than going out to a £30-a-head restaurant twice a month, they are saving up and going to a fine-dining restaurant once every two months or maybe just once a year."
Allegra also predicted that 2012 would be a tougher year for eating out, with slightly more consumers indicating that they would cut their spend. But 2013 is expected to be better, with a predicted fall in inflation and rise in average earnings as the economy strengthens.
Highlights from the Allegra Strategies Eating out in the UK report
● One in nine meals are being consumed away from home in 2011, increasing from 2010 levels of one in 10
● Lunchtime visits are increasing, from 3.4 per month in 2010 to 4.1 per month in 2011
● Lunch is the most popular meal eaten out of home, with 34% of consumers having at least one lunch meal out per week. This compares with 23% for dinner and 15% for breakfast
● One in 2 adults regularly uses vouchers, compared with one in 3 in 2010
● Coffee shops have the highest visit frequencies, with 23% of customers making at least one meal purchase per week
● Previous experience continues to be the main driver of venue choice for consumers
● Health consciousness has become more important to consumers, as 92% state they have or would like to have a healthier lifestyle, compared with 88% in 2010
● Local and regional sourcing remains the most important ethical initiative for operators to engage in, according to 43% of consumers
● Over half of consumers stated that they prefer to eat out at establishments where ingredients are locally or regionally sourced.
By Neil Gerrard
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