September 2005 Edition
Who's Eating Where

Who’s Eating Where?


Demographic information can help identify your best customers and when and where they want it.


You may have a great menu and first-rate service, but unless you know who wants what you’re serving—and where, and when, and how often they want it—you’re operating in the dark. Knowing your market is part of your business.

NPD Canada, a division of the market information company The NPD Group, tracks sales and market data that can be vital to making decisions about menu changes or customer service.

According to NPD’s data, people aged 35 to 49 are pulling their weight as customers. They account for 31% of restaurant traffic in Canada , even though they only represent 24% of the population. Quick-serve restaurants are the choice of this age group about two-thirds of the time, and people in this age group are also the biggest drive-thru and telephone delivery customers. However, the trend toward older customers using full-service restaurants more often is evident here: this group is still more likely than younger people to go to a full-service restaurant.

The older crowd is now starting to go out more: the 50 to 64 age group is the fastest-growing age group for restaurant visits, NPD data indicates. This trend is driven by aging Baby Boomers, who continue to influence eating habits. The Boomers were the driving force behind the rise of fast food in the 1960s, fern bars in the 1970s and the trends in take-out food that marked the 1980s and 1990s. The emerging demand for healthy food in restaurants is the latest trend fuelled by Baby Boomer tastes.

The NPD Group’s recently released report on the eating habits of Baby Boomers found that well over half of Boomers were concerned about fat and salt content in food, and almost as many were concerned about cholesterol. These worries are even more pronounced in the older Baby Boomers, who are now in their 50’s.

Dining out is often the time when people are likely to ignore dietary restrictions and indulge, but it is still wise to include menu choices that incorporate these health concerns, NPD found. Burgers and fries continue to be one of the most popular orders for all American adults—Boomers included. But as they have aged, Boomers have also expanded their palate, developing more of a taste for seafood, steak, soup and salad than they had in their younger days.

Those areas can provide great opportunities to offer menu alternatives that are more in tune with the health concerns that are becoming more important to this key demographic. For instance, a side salad with low-fat vinaigrette is a standard alternative to fries. A hearty vegetable soup made with low-sodium stock and flavoured with herbs is a delicious starter without the health concerns of deep-fried appetizers. A heart-smart grilled fish entrée can be just as tempting as a steak. And those who can’t resist a steak may be looking for a lean cut with a choice of sides—including a lower-fat option, such as rice, instead of a baked potato laden with sour cream. Offering a relatively guilt-free dessert, such as an elegant fruit sorbet, can make a difference to these important customers. However, NPD also found that taste remains the primary driver, so make sure you’re cutting fat and salt, but not flavour.

NPD credits the graying 50 to 64 age group for the current growth in independent operators. Independents, especially family independents, are outpacing chain restaurants in growth. Another trend propelled by the 50 to 64 age group is breakfast growth. Breakfast is currently the fastest-growing time of day for foodservice, according to NPD.

Keeping up to date on trends is imperative for foodservice operators to make the most of opportunities. NPD’s CREST market intelligence service provides up-to-the-minute information on consumer purchases of meals and snacks. Restaurateurs can also get information from trade magazines and conferences, and by keeping a sharp eye on the competition.

To pinpoint who is buying what, Environics Analytics goes beyond age groups with a geodemographic segmentation system called PRIZMce. There are 66 PRIZMce clusters, ranging from the highest socioeconomic status to the lowest. Each group has a descriptive name (Cosmopolitan Elite, Young Digerati, Solo Scramble) and a lifestyle profile that includes income, location, age and buying habits of people in that group.

These lifestyle groups are then linked to PMB Print Measurement Bureau data, which indicate print media usage and other marketing data, to provide a snapshot of who is using which products and services. The data for restaurant use is divided into eat-in, take-out and delivery service.

The group with the highest percentage of people who frequent eat-in restaurants five times per month or more is Electric Avenues—young, upper middle class urban singles. The number of Electric Avenues who dine out five or more times per month is 30%, which is almost twice the Canadian average. The Nouveau Riches group—prosperous suburban families in Quebec —has the second highest percentage of frequent diners, at 28%. The young, mid-scale urban singles of the Grads & Pads group is a close third, at 27%.

Of the 10 groups with the highest frequency for dining at eat-in restaurants, five of those groups are urban, five are young and five are francophone.

The groups frequenting take-out restaurants have a different mix. There is no Francophone presence in the top 10 of this category, but urban customers are even more prominent, with seven of the top 10 groups comprising city dwellers. Four of the top 10 groups are predominantly young people.

The group with the highest frequency in the take-out category is Continental Culture, a group of younger urban Canadians with a high percentage of second-generation European immigrants. About 15% of this group eat take-out five or more times per month. Grads & Pads scored second in this category, with 12% getting take-out five times or more per month. Urban Spice—young, lower middle class singles living in urban, multi-ethnic neighbourhoods—are the third most frequent take-out customers, with 11% taking home meals five or more times per month.

For restaurants that deliver, customers are a mix of both downscale and wealthy urbanites. Young Francophones and immigrants living in downscale neighbourhoods in urban Quebec are the most frequent customers. About 10% of the Quebec Melting Pot group orders delivery five or more times per month—almost five times the Canadian average. About 8% of the Furs & Philanthropy group—educated, professional, cultured urban families order delivery five times a month or more. The very affluent Cosmopolitan Elite, who live in Canada ’s wealthiest urban neighbourhoods, are the third most frequent delivery customers, with 7% ordering five or more times per month.

Not surprisingly, frequent delivery customers are clustered in urban areas, where delivery is more widely available. Seven of the top 10 groups in this category are urban, with the remaining three dwelling in suburbia.