Restaurants Boosting Meal Deal Offers to Increase Traffic

With restaurant traffic in the United States stuck between an anemic one percent increase and flat for several years now, 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 Port Washington, New York-headquartered market research company.

Total US restaurant traffic ended 2017 flat and had it not been for a one percent uptick in quick service restaurant visits, an increase primarily driven by major chains, traffic would have declined, according to NPD, which continually tracks the foodservice industry.

Consumers are increasingly looking for deal offers, which represented 25 percent of all restaurant traffic and grew for the third consecutive year in 2017 – up two percent from 2016. Non-deal visits, which represent 75 percent of all traffic, were down one 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.

Indeed, McDonald’s, the world's largest restaurant chain, launched a value menu in January, which offers items for $1, $2, and $3. Other operators will likely follow suit in featuring value deals this year.

New menu items are another way to get the attention of consumers, 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,” said 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, according to Riggs, as 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 said. “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.”