Casual Dining Chains Focus on Attracting Women through Menu Innovations and Accented Light Fixtures

Marketing to Women: Addressing Women and Women's Sensibilities, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Casual Dining Chains Focus on Attracting Women through Menu Innovations and Accented Light Fixtures


Casual dining restaurants regardless of whether they serve lobster, Kung Pao chicken, or hamburgers--are all built on three factors: food, service, and atmosphere.

But this simplicity can be deceptive when it conies to the guest experience. It takes more than just good food, adequate service, and a friendly atmosphere to attract guests in today's challenging and competitive market conditions. "We know casual dining is not necessarily the bright shiny star that it used to be and that there's pressure," says Brinker International's Wyman Roberts. "There's pressure from fast casual, there's pressure from casual plus. And so the question isn't 'is it viable?' It's 'who's going to win at this game?"

Casual chains also face tough competition from mom-and-pop diners. "So one of the things 1 always have to remind people of is that casual dining is 75% independents," says Dine Equity's Julia Stewart. "It's made up of 25% chains. So the reality is stealing market share comes largely from independents. And they're everywhere you look. And so our opportunity in terms of stealing share and differentiating ourselves comes as much from independents as it does from the brands."

Casual dining chains eye women as the essential component to drive traffic to their locations. Women may solicit others' opinions in selecting where to dine, but they make the ultimate decision. "Men usually go where women want to go to make them happy," says Darren Tristano of Technomic market research.

WOMEN'S BIGGEST ET PEEVES WHENDINING OUT

Fellow diner is rude to the server              34%

Diner guest texts. talks on cell                21%

Diner guest wants to split check equally, but   14%
ordered more expensive items

People nearby are too loud                      12%

Diner guest quibbles over every charge on bill   8%

Waiter takes dish away before finished           8%

Diner guest eats your food without asking        3%

SOURCE: self magazine

SOURCE: self magazine, Blake Miller, 4 Times Sq., 5th Fl.,
New York, NY 10036; 212-286-6025; blake_miller@condenast.com;
www.self.com.

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Full-service casual dining restaurants generate $201.5 billion in sales each year, according to the National Restaurant Association. While many of the tactics and enhancements are arguably gender-neutral, there's little question that most current innovations are women-focused. "The marketing of lighter and healthier items is meant for women. Women are wine-oriented, so when you see half-off wine promotions, you know that it's meant for women," says Tristano. Chains also realize that women are more receptive to their efforts. "Men, particularly when it comes to alcohol, want to go to the place where they know their favorite beer is served. They are in the comfort zone arid aren't going to change [their dining location]. Women are also more impulsive in deciding where to eat," says Tristano. While men prioritize atmosphere, making sure the game is available, women equally care about food, service, and atmosphere.

Menu

Women don't want heavy, calorie-laden dishes. "The object is not to have a menu of 1,000 items, but rather items that the consumer wants and needs," says Stewart.

Olive Garden is introducing small plates and more flavorful dishes. "One of the biggest needs at Olive Garden beyond affordability is the opportunity to have experience that's a little lighter and a little fresher," says Darden's Andrew Madsen. "And that's why we introduced the lighter Italian fare section recently, and we've seen a very good response to that core menu section."

Applebee's recently expanded its menu with fewer than 550 calories, including Napa Chicken & Portobellos and Roasted Garlic Sirloin.

Red Lobster is expanding beyond seafood. "We need to make the brand more relevant for non-seafood occasions," says Madsen. "So we're still going to be fundamentally a seafood restaurant, but in a party of 3 or a party of 4, there's always somebody that doesn't want seafood. …

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