Out: Restaurant combo meals and value menus. In: Social media

Marrylin Rabadan asks for a packet of sauce during a visit to an El Pollo Loco restaurant in Santa Ana.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

During the recession, offering deals on meals was key to getting restaurant patrons through the door. These days, that may no longer be the case.

Combo packages and value menus don’t have the same allure for customers that they had in the downturn, according to research company NPD Group. Deal-driven traffic has declined over the last two years, while the number of consumers paying full price has increased 1% each year.

Three years ago, the situation was reversed.

Now, increased focus on healthful eating and premium options has retrained emphasis from dollar menu offerings to more upscale foods. And fewer people consider combo meals to be true discount options, especially after years of being conditioned to their presence on menus, NPD said.


Coupons, discounts and senior citizen deals, however, are on the upswing.

“As has been historically the case, when deals are in the marketplace for an extended period of time, consumers tend to expect them or see them as everyday price and not as a deal,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said in a statement.

Restaurants looking for another way to bring in customers, especially young ones, should consider online menus, according to research group Technomic.

Nearly 60% of its survey respondents born between 1977 and 1992 said they look up restaurant offerings online; 32% said they check menus using their phones. Just 17% of Gen X respondents and 8% of baby boomers do the same, according to Technomic.

Compared with the older generations, more millennials follow their favorite eateries on social media and check in at restaurants using apps, the research group said. Young patrons are also more interested in ethnic foods and alcoholic drinks.

They’re a demographic to which the restaurant industry should pay special heed. While 38% of Gen X respondents and 37% of boomers said they buy food away from home at least twice a week, 41% of millennials said they do so.


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