Clear Signs of Improvement for Restaurants

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 |  Includes: CMG, DRI, EAT, SBUX
by: ChangeWave Research

By Paul Carton

By Paul Carton

After four months of little to no change, two recent ChangeWave consumer surveys show clear signs of improvement for the restaurant industry – with Olive Garden (NYSE:DRI), Red Lobster (DRI), Chipotle (NYSE:CMG), Maggiano’s (NYSE:EAT) and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) showing the most momentum.

To start, better than one-in-ten respondents (11%) now say they’ll spend more money at restaurants going forward – 1-pt improved over August.

Another 36% say they'll be spending less, also 1-pt better than previously.

Other positive signs:

  • Looking at the past 90 days, 27% of respondents say they've spent More than planned on eating out and only 19% Less than planned – a net 11-pt improvement since May
  • The percentage who say they’re Ordering Less Expensive Items on the Menu (26%) has declined 3-pts, as has the percentage who say they've been Skipping Beverages when dining out (29%; down 3-pts)
  • And while 35% say they’ve been Eating More Meals at Home over the past 90 days – that’s 2-pts less than previously

Winning and Losing Restaurant Categories

We next asked respondents to tell us which types of restaurants they'll be eating at more or less often over the next 90 days. The one category showing improvement since our May survey was Upscale/ Fine Dining Restaurants (Change in Net Difference Score = +4).

And for the second consecutive survey, the category of Fast Food Restaurants (-4) has experienced the largest decline – evidence that consumers are "trading up" when it comes to dining out.

Individual Restaurant Chains. Here’s a look at the 4 best positioned and 3 worst positioned restaurant chains in terms of where respondents say they’ll spend more vs. less money over the next 90 days:

Coffee Buying Trends. For the second consecutive survey Starbucks (SBUX; +5) has experienced the biggest improvement of any coffee shop or restaurant surveyed. They are clearly a momentum winner at this point of the recovery.

Other Industry Trends

Frequency of Dining Out. A total of 12% say they expect to dine out More Frequently over the next 90 days compared to the previous 90 – and 26% report they’ll dine out Less Frequently. All told, these results are 5-pts less than the previous survey, most likely caused by seasonality factors (i.e., the end of summer vacation).

As a follow-up, we asked those consumers who expect to dine out 'More Frequently' over the next 90 days to tell us why – and 26% say it's because Restaurants are Offering a Better Value (up 8-pts). Another 25% say they have Less Time to Cook at Home (up 5-pts).

In a positive sign for the overall economy, one-in-ten (10%; up 5-pts) say it's because they're Not Trying to Save as Much Money, and 8% (up 3-pts) because they're Less Concerned About Job Security.

Reasons For Dining Out Less Frequently. Saving More Money (36%; down 4-pts) and Reduced Income (32%; down 5-pts) still remain the top reasons given by those who are dining out less frequently, but each have declined since our May survey.

We note that Recent Purchase of Big Ticket Item (8%) has increased by 4-pts since May – another positive sign for the overall economy.

Mike Wrobel co-wrote this article.