No one in the eating out sector needs reminding that low consumer confidence and cautious spending have been a feature of the market for some time, and so any sign of improvement is welcome.
Industry analyst Horizons has recently launched Eating Out-Look, a quarterly survey of consumers and foodservice professionals. The initial findings indicate that consumers are beginning to increase their spending on eating out, and interestingly, the operators surveyed say that more consumers are ordering starters and desserts.
Marketing wisdom tells us that it’s far easier to persuade an existing customer to spend a little more than it is attract a completely new customer. As the economic recovery picks up, an extra course added to the front or back end of a meal makes a big difference to the bottom line.
One way to encourage that extra spend is to make sure that starters and desserts offer as much to interest customers as the mains, which is something operators occasionally let themselves down on.
Let’s start with the starters. Staying with Horizons data, their regular Menurama survey of eating out menus shows that the most commonly seen starters in the casual dining sector are:
- Chicken Wings
- Prawn Cocktail
- Patato Skins
- Garlic bread
- Sharing Platter
Some of these are no surprise. Home-made soup is a great way to reduce food waste by using surplus vegetables, meat trimmed from main course cuts and other leftovers. Prawn cocktail may be an eating out cliché, but classic dishes are classic for a reason, and it remains a firm customer favourite.
Dishes such as chicken wings and breaded mushrooms are a ‘flexible friend’ in menu terms, working just as well as starters as they do in sharing platters, while the popularity of nachos reflects ‘grazing’ trends as well as the growth of Mexican food influences.
When it comes to ‘afters’, Menurama shows that the most commonly listed desserts on casual dining menus are:
- Ice Cream
- Ice Cream Sundae
- Chocolate brownie
- Sticky toffee pudding
- Frozen yoghurt
- Chocolate fudge cake
- Apple Crumble
The popularity of ice cream, which can be served by itself or as an accompaniment to other desserts, is clear, while cheesecake, brownies and sticky toffee pudding all appeal to the indulgent nature of the eating out occasion. The cheeseboard offers something to customers without a sweet tooth and is also a popular sharing and snack option.
To boost sales of starters and desserts, try these ideas:
- Use menu descriptions that appeal to customer interest in food provenance, such as ‘soup made with seasonal British vegetables’, ‘apple crumble made with locally-grown fruit’ or ‘a selection of regional cheeses’;
- Use specials boards to update customers and offer variety, such as soup of the day or ice cream flavour of the week;
- Highlight at least one healthier option on both starter and dessert menus, such as salads and fresh fruit;
- Incentivise your staff to ask customers if they’re having starters or desserts, with simple rewards such as a bottle of wine for the most sold over a month;
- Offer two- and three-course deals at a set price, especially at quiet times of the week.
With a little focus, that all-important extra customer spend could be coming your way.