New survey: Restaurant consumers spend more to eat out but cut back on delivery

Restaurant consumer survey reveals price tolerance and increased reliance on technology

Another quarter has come and gone, and as we’ve done for the past 16 months, RMS is addressing the issues confronting restaurant brands, operators, franchisees and franchisors.

RMS’ fall consumer survey addresses price perceptions with questions about technology preferences when it comes to consumers’ interactions with restaurants and their attitudes about delivery. The survey was fielded in early September 2021, with responses from more than 960 US diners in rural, suburban and urban markets.

Here’s an overview of the findings.

Restaurant consumers’ price perception aligns with reality

Pricing has become a hot topic with both Food At Home (FAH) vs. Food Away From Home (FAFH) increasing significantly due to pressures caused by the pandemic. And consumers are aware of it.

When asked if respondents felt they were paying higher or lower prices for groceries, 68% said they felt they paid higher prices for groceries in the past month, compared to 51% in February. 

Survey respondents also indicated they felt restaurant prices were continuing to rise. More than half (56%) believed they paid higher prices for restaurants in the last month, compared to 46% in May and an even lower 35% in February. In this scenario, perception aligns with reality. The fact is, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that inflation at grocery stores (FAH) has increased significantly over the summer and has now caught up with restaurant increases (FAFH).

For the past 12 months, RMS has asked consumers this same question: “How much do you feel prices at restaurants and grocery stores have increased?” According to Francois Acerra, Director of Analytical Services at RMS, consumers have been consistent on this topic. 

“There’s been little variation between now and when we first asked consumers in November 2020,” he says. “The perception of the magnitude of price increase for both FAH and FOH has remained stable at 6%-10%. This indicates that consumers recognize higher prices but may not be able to specifically quantify the magnitude of price increases.” 

Diners on delivery: Don’t get too comfortable

We’ve stated it before, and we’re stating it again: Takeout is here to stay. That’s not to say that consumers aren’t using delivery to get their favorite foods (they are), but the relationship is anything but terra firma. “It’s a slippery slope for delivery and the consumer,” says Acerra. 

In RMS’ fall survey, 60% of respondents made it clear that order accuracy is key if restaurants want to keep the delivery orders coming. Across the generations, that rings especially true for boomers, 70% of whom are concerned about the accuracy of their delivery order. 

Other key delivery insights from the September 2021 survey:

  • Nearly 60% of respondents said they often find the charges were more than what they expected when ordering delivery. 
  • When asked their preference for ordering takeout from restaurants rather than paying a premium for delivery, convictions did not waver from 2020 to 2021. In both years, 57% of respondents said yes, they preferred making the trip for takeout in lieu of paying a delivery fee. 
  • Interestingly enough, RMS did find a change regarding comparison shopping. In 2020, 57% of consumers compared delivery providers before hitting the checkout button; this year, only 49% took the time to do so. 
  • Conversely, only 45% of respondents said they would pay higher prices for the convenience of delivery in September 2021, dropping from 50% in August 2020. 

Technology is not wasted on the young restaurant consumer 

It’s probably not surprising that throughout the restaurant experience, younger generations (Gen X, millennials, Gen Z) tend to be the most supportive and active users of technology. While younger generations and boomers use technology equally (54%) to research a restaurant, the two divide when it comes to all other opportunities for replacing in-person services with technology. You can find the specific results in the complete survey, but overall, the biggest differences between generations when using technology occur when ordering food and drinks and paying the bill.

It’s interesting to note that while 50% of younger generations say they are more supportive of technology, 66% of them reported that they actually call the restaurant to place their order

Other key insights about consumer restaurant technology use:

  • Among all respondents, restaurant-owned apps are preferred over third-party apps when placing an order. 
  • Third-party app use is highest among urban dwellers, with 63% ordering food occasionally (compared to 41% for rural and 53% for suburban respondents). 
  • More than 60% of respondents agreed that technology provides more time to explore the menu. (Note to menu designers: Items that are typically overlooked can get more attention through digital menus.)

Even as operators continue to deal with so many things out of your control (supply chain issues, emerging variants, labor shortages, etc.), it’s wise to consider the distinctions among generations, where possible. When you understand and act on guests’ unique preferences and behaviors, you can begin to favorably impact sometimes-fickle perceptions. 

For more details, you can download the entire Restaurant Consumer Insights: Consumer Price Perceptions, Technology and Delivery report. You can always find a comprehensive collection of RMS consumer insights online.  Whether you need to refine or kickstart your strategy or even your menu, RMS can help. Schedule a demo with our team of experts.

Related resources