U.S. Restaurant Chains Look to Value Meals and New Menu Items to Drive Customer Traffic in 2018

Chicago, January 30, 2018 — With restaurant traffic stuck between a 1 percent increase and flat for several years now, U.S. restaurant chains are turning to value deals, new menu items, or optimizing menus to focus on high performing items in order to drive more customer traffic, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company.  Total U.S. restaurant traffic ended 2017 flat and had it not been for a 1 percent increase in quick service restaurant visits, an increase primarily driven by chains, traffic would have declined, reports NPD, which continually tracks the foodservice industry.

Evidence that consumers are in fact looking for deals is that visits based on a deal offer, which represent 25 percent of all restaurant traffic, grew for the third consecutive year in 2017, up 2 percent from 2016. Non-deal visits, which represent 75 percent of all traffic, were down 1 percent in 2016 and 2017 , finds NPD’s foodservice market research.  

Historically, quick service restaurants (QSRs) have grown their business by offering lower priced eats in the form of combo meals and value menus. Over the past few years, lower priced offerings have not been promoted as frequently, but many restaurant chains are thinking that it’s time again to focus on value deals. The world's largest restaurant chain launched a value menu in January, which offers items for $1, $2, and $3, and other chains will most likely follow suit in offering value deals this year.   

New menu items are another way to get the attention of consumers, says NPD, and major chains welcomed in 2018 with a variety of menu introductions. “New items will drive traffic because there is a large group of consumers who are curious and want to try something new,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “They’ll try it once and if it’s really good, they’ll be back for more.”

In addition to new menu items, chains are optimizing their menus by eliminating less popular items and focusing on the higher performing menu items. This is not only an operational efficiency for the chain, says Riggs, it also makes it easier for them to better market the popular items on their menu.         

“It’s clear that major restaurant chain operators are pulling out all of the stops to get consumers to visit this year,” she says. “They’re doing all of the things that historically have caught the attention of consumers and driven traffic and they’re hoping that it works again this year.”

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