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Research Shows Light Visitors Key to Restaurant Growth

A foodservice researcher argues to restaurateurs that if half of its not-so-frequent visitors who are turning away from restaurants made one more visit per year it would be an incremental increase in sales to the industry of $1.1 billion. The report from the NPD Group that surveys foodservice receipts helps explain why American consumers have cut back on restaurant visits and which type of users —  heavy, medium, light, and super light —decreased their visits the most. 

Some 75 percent of consumers who have decreased their restaurants visits say they watch how they spend their money on most or all purchases, and a high percentage of these respondents think that restaurant prices are too high, according to NPD's report Losing Our Appetites for Restaurants.  Of consumers who have cut back on restaurant visits, most are heavy restaurant users, who typically visit restaurants three or more times per week. Heavy restaurant users are the perceived low-hanging fruit for many restaurant operators and the target for promotional efforts.  This user group's cutback was a major factor in foodservice traffic growth coming to a halt, says NPD.

Although they may not visit often, the New York-based researcher finds that super-light and light users, who typically visit American restaurants once a week, and super-light users, who visit less than once a week, are extremely valuable customers. Combined, these two groups account for 47 percent of all restaurant customers in a year, and they spend more per visit than heavy users.  If half of light users made just one more restaurant visit each year, NPD calculated that there would be an incremental sales increase of $1.1 billion. These users told NPD that regular discounts and, more importantly, discounts of their choosing would entice them to visit more.

"Many restaurant operators have spent much of their resources and time in rewarding heavy buyers," says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD and author of the report. "It's important to continue recognizing heavy buyers, but to grow their business operators need to increase visit frequency from all user groups, including light and super light users." 

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