As both an observer and user of foodservice I would say that the more things change, the more they’ve stayed the same. Digitalization — mobile ordering, delivery, apps, order kiosks, the internet — is a change that is growing rapidly in foodservice markets across the world. With a few scrolls, taps, or swipes, we can get what we want, when, and where we want it with great speed. Technology is providing a greater degree of convenience. Convenience, however, has always been the primary reason why we use foodservice and restaurants. The need for convenience hasn’t changed, but the definition of it has.
Being the father of 4 children, now all young adults or soon-to-be, I can tell you that my definition of convenience has changed throughout the years. When my kids were young there wasn’t an extra minute in the day. Running here, there, and everywhere, foodservice became a godsend and we didn’t always care about the quality of the food as long as it was fast. Now that the kids are older, two out on their own, one away at school, and one still at home, we’re almost empty nesters, and convenience is still important to us but we’re more discerning about the food and the overall experience.
Life stage is in fact a major factor in how consumers, in general, use restaurants. Ages 25 through 54 are the peak restaurant usage life stages when convenience becomes a necessary part of managing the day-to-day routines. A challenge for the foodservice industry today is that 40 percent of the population is currently shifting into a life stage when convenience isn’t needed as much and there is traditionally lower restaurant usage. This means that the competition for restaurant visits is fierce.
The good news is that there is and will always be a great need for foodservice. Last year alone there were over 61 billion foodservice visits. No one is giving up on the convenience that foodservice delivers and that is never going to change. By keeping an eye on the consumer, understanding what they need and want and how their realities today define how they use restaurants and other foodservice offerings, operators will win visits. By the way, that good feeling we get when we win is something else that never changes.