An Overview of the Foodservice Consumer
This chapter provides the second part of the introduction to foodservice and focuses on the “demand side,” that is the consumer, in order to offer a better understanding, thereby putting the foodservice industry into context.
The number of people eating out of the home has increased worldwide although the rate of increase varies with the Asia-Pacific region increasing at the fastest rate. Although there are little reliable international comparative data, it would seem that in many countries, the amount of money spent on eating out is similar to that spent on eating at home.
The possible reasons for people eating out are identified, and approaches to meet this demand center either on putting the focus on the consumer and building the product (and service) around those reasons or putting the emphasis on the product then identifying consumers for those products and services. In most cases, though, consumers, when dining out, are not only looking for food, drink, and service that meet and satisfy their expectations but they are also looking for other factors, which here and elsewhere are often referred to as experiences. A number of factors synergistically, create that experience. More recently, these ideas have been developed and brought together describing the situation as the experience economy.
This chapter in looking at the consumer when eating out considers factors such as the growth and size of the eating out market, along with current patterns of eating out; the frequency of eating out and what establishments are chosen; the most important factors driving decisions; and the time taken to eat out.
However, a note of caution is offered, principally the fact that meals eaten out of the home may be less healthy than those cooked at home, and foodservice operators will need to consider all of the issues involved as they move forward.
This chapter provided an overview, an introduction to foodservice and the foodservice industry. This chapter of the introduction considers the demand side, that is the customer and consumer aspects of foodservice, in order to provide a better understanding and put the foodservice industry into context.
Background, History, and Development
Eating out is not new. It is something that has taken place for centuries although until the latter part of the nineteenth century, it would probably have been confined to a small proportion of the population. Throughout the world, the main type of eating establishment has always been the street kitchen (vendor), where a busy person could buy a precooked dish for a modest sum (Pitte 1999). In Roman times, cooking equipment for the poor was primitive, fuel was in short supply, and the ever-present danger of fire in houses ensured that little cooking was undertaken at home. Instead, individuals used the numerous cookshops where they could purchase dishes that included slices of roast pork, salt fish, goat’s milk cheese, or more often, a handful of olives, raw beans or figs (Tannahill 1988).
This situation prevailed for many centuries, but it was not necessarily the lack of time that was the issue but often the lack of facilities. In the middle ages, in Europe, for example, few houses, particularly in cities, had adequate kitchens or cooking facilities, hence much of the food consumed at home was purchased from public cookshops where customers could either buy hot ready-prepared dishes or they could send their own joints to be cooked (Hammond 1993).
The first mention of cookshops in the UK was in London in 1183 (Curtis-Bennett 1949), and many were grouped together, often according to what they sold, hence in London, for example, streets were given the appropriate name (Pudding Lane, Pye (Pie) Corner). During the middle ages, most countries had cookshops and by comparison, those of China’s were well advanced. As well as the more traditional eating houses, China also had fast food operations, hotels, taverns, teahouses, noodle shops, and wine shops (Tannahill 1988).
Various estimates have been made as to the size of this early eating out population and one consideration is that up to the middle of the nineteenth century and the spread of the railways, something like 90% of the population would never have travelled further than 5 or 10 miles from their home (Tannahill 1988). Hence, with the exception of people such as merchants and pilgrims, most of those who were able and could afford to eat out would have done so within the geographical limits of their own town. What has changed and what is new is that in the last hundred years, eating out in its various guises, and for a variety of different reasons, has become increasingly popular and is now very much part of everyday life.
A growing population which is also aging
More women in the workforce, hence not at home and able to shop, prepare, and cook meals
Higher disposable incomes
A more hectic lifestyle, often with long working hours, competing with demands for a limited amount of time
Increasing availability of foodservice outlets, at work and elsewhere, offering a variety of cuisines at prices people are able to afford and willing to pay
In many countries, eating out has become a way of life, often considered as being “circular.” As more people eat out, eating out places and meals become more readily available and cheaper, and therefore, more people eat out, and they do so for a myriad of reasons.
Reasons for Eating Out
The reasons for an increase in the number of people eating out are not merely a matter of the ability to pay or the degree of convenience, important though they are, but also the matter of social relationships in the home, perceptions of treats and luxuries, and sets of values and judgements about food and eating in public which are differently distributed across the population (Warde and Martens 1998).
Being of a higher social class
In full-time employment
Having no children in the household
In Europe, it was not until the mid-1960s that authors really attempted to analyze, understand, and explain the phenomenon of eating out, identify what diners might be looking for, and what influenced their decisions both to eat out and affect their “enjoyment.” The work generally credited with starting the process, The Marketing of the Meal Experience (Campbell-Smith 1967) which, in addition to approaching and evaluating eating out in marketing terms, also established the term, the meal experience, a term to broadly describe the factors associated with eating a meal.
Functional eating at home or in “digs” lodgings)
Pleasurable eating at home
Eating at work, school, or university
Eating in other situations
Since then, a number of authors have developed their own characterizations of eating out.
Cullen (1994) provides a much simpler distinction and gives two categorizations: social eating and convenience eating. The former a means to an end, which must also fulfil a social function if they are to be successful; the latter consisting of meals and snacks which enable more time and effort to be devoted to other activities. In practice, social eating is further divided into two categories: the formal social event which is part of a planned routine and entails activities such as dressing-up. These meals only adjust slowly to changing circumstances, such as income, and are probably associated with an older age group. Informal social functions are not connected to any specific activity and dressing-up is not involved.
Those concerned with customer traits and preferences
Those which are directly important in terms of managing the foodservice outlet (although it is not clear why these should be of any consequence to the consumer)
Those which seem intuitively to be attributes or benefits of eating outside the home
Necessity – for example, travel, work, or study
Contingency – for example, association with other activities such as shopping and leisure
Time-saving – for example, association with female employment
Pleasure – for example, social, family and friends meeting, celebrations, gastronomy
What these all have in common is that they present a very mechanistic categorization of eating out. The assumption perhaps is that each occasion fits neatly into a box, and once this initial sort has been completed, there is little else that can be done other than to measure the effectiveness of this categorization. But is that the case?
Social scientists take a somewhat different stance and often classify the circumstances of eating out into enabling and constraining factors. These include aspects such as the economic ability to be able to afford to eat out (economic access), appropriate social skills (social access), and the levels of provision (Wood 1990).
Convenience, for example, being unable to return home as in the case of shoppers or people at work or involved in some leisure activity
Variety, for example, trying new experiences or as a break from home cooking
Labor, for example, getting someone else to prepare, serve food, and wash up or simply the physical impossibilities to house special events at home
Status, for example, business lunches or people eating out because others of their socioeconomic group do so
Culture/tradition, for example, special events or simply because it is a way of getting to know people
Impulse, for example, simply spur-of-the-moment buying
No choice, for example, those in welfare, hospitals, or other forms of semi or captive markets
Pleasure – social occasions, both formal and informal, special occasions, or celebrations
Purely as an experience – to experience and enjoy different cuisines, as part of another event, as a change, mood.
Clearly, the rationale and reasons for eating out will vary enormously, although in one study of fast food restaurants, the most frequently reported reasons for eating out were that fast food is quick (92%); restaurants are easy to get to (80%); and food tastes good (69%). The least frequently reported reasons were: eating fast food is a way of socializing with family and friends (33%), restaurants have nutritious foods to offer (21%), and restaurants are fun and entertaining (12%) (Rydell et al. 2008).
Approaches to Addressing Consumer Demand
Identifying and satisfying consumers’ and potential consumers’ demands can be approached in a number of ways but in essence all focus on whether the product and service should be put first, then consumers identified or encouraged to consume that product and service; or whether consumers are put first, their needs, wants, and aspirations identified, then the product and service adapted to satisfy those aspects.
The production concept: This suggests that consumers will favor and prefer products (and services) which are expensive and, as a result, seek these out. It could be argued that “Michelin Star” restaurants might fall into this category.
The product concept: This suggests that consumers will favor those products and services which are perfect in terms of quality, innovation, and provide the best value for money. The product and service are the most important issues and every attempt should be made to improve these. It suggests that when applied to foodservice outlet must use the finest ingredients and so on, produce the best possible food and meals along with an exceptional standard of service. In that way, consumers will recognize the quality of the offering and seek to buy it. This might manifest itself in a number of ways in “up-market” restaurants, but perhaps in many cases, it is an approach which satisfies the foodservice operators’ own interpretation of what is required and to meet his or hers ego, rather than providing products and services that the consumer actually wants.
The selling concept: This assumes that the consumer does not really know what he or she wants, and that the only way of achieving sales is to promote the product in some way. It might be argued that some approaches to healthy eating follow this idea and place a greater emphasis on, and seek to sell, the idea of “healthy” products rather than to explain their benefits and provide dishes which meet the desired criteria and which the consumer actually enjoys and therefore wants.
The marketing concept: This concept turns the focus on to the consumer and attempts to identify exactly what the consumer would like, where, when, and how he/she would like it and at what price he might be prepared to pay. The product and service are then developed accordingly. It could be argued that fast food exemplifies this concept.
A development on from this is the Societal Marketing Concept which addresses some of the concerns of consumers with regard to shared values and environmental issues. Can the needs, wants, and aspirations of the consumer be satisfied but with due regard to areas such as the environment? For example, is the packaging minimalistic, recyclable; is the food sourcing sustainable; and is waste avoided?
As in so many instances, none of these approaches on their own might be entirely suitable and a combination could be used in order to bring the foodservice provider and consumer together.
The Meal Experience and the Experience Economy
The theme running through a lot of the reasons for eating out center on the fact that in many instances, people who eat out are not necessarily looking solely at the food and may well be influenced by many other aspects (Edwards 2013). In addition, they may, perhaps unbeknown to themselves, be looking for an experience.
The application of the experience economy to the foodservice industry
Traditional foodservice approach
Transforming eating out to an experience
Host or mine host
Cast, crew, actors
Customers or clients
Food is served
Meals are staged
Meals served as courses
Meals revealed over time
Clearly though, while many foodservice outlets might now be perceived as belonging to and benefiting from an understanding of the experience economy, a number, for example, prisons and hospitals, might not fit into this category but in the latter category, hospitals, where food is generally regarded as part of the treatment, there may be some merit to this approach. Similarly, consumers may not be looking for an experience but simply be hungry and looking for something to eat.
A more recent construct (Collier et al. 2018) that represents unique service experiences is the Idiosyncratic Service Experience (ISE). This is made up of perceived employee effort, surprise, and perceived employee empathy. These, it is said, promote feelings of delight which lead to a higher tolerance to future failures, decreased price consciousness, and stimulated self-enhancing word-of-mouth. Exception making or the willingness of an employee to break a service norm influences ISEs and evaluations of delight. It will be interesting to see if and how these might be applied to the foodservice industry.
Current Patterns of Eating Out
Worldwide, food consumed out of the home now represents an increasing proportion of total food consumption as previously shown in Fig. 1, and a myriad of statistics are available. Caution needs to be exercised with many of these figures, not only for reasons of definition and categorization identified in this chapter, but also partly because some data are contradictory and in a number of global household surveys, only 42% actually met the minimum criteria deemed reliability (Smith et al. 2014). In addition, many of the reports available show changes, for example, in consumption patterns without really explaining why, leaving the reader to surmise. Despite these limitations, most of the available data provide a broad indication of trends and developments.
Growth and Size of the Eating Out Market
The number of people eating out is increasing and the Asia-Pacific region has been the fastest growing region with spending on eating out averaging an annual growth of 9.8% in the years 2006–2016. In the period 2017–2026, the annual average growth is forecast to be of 7.5%.
In the Middle East and Africa, the annual average growth rate was 7.4% between the years 2006 and 2016. The annual average growth for the years 2017–2026 is forecast to be at 7.3%.
North America and Europe are generally regarded as being the most mature markets, hence growth between 2006 and 2016 has been lower at 6.1% and 4.2%, respectively. The annual average growth forecasts for 2017–2026, however, remain positive but are lower with North America forecast to grow by 5.5% over the period and Europe by 4.9% (Cushman and Wakefield 2017).
Rankings of the largest foodservice markets 2006–2026
Meals Eaten Out
Frequency of Eating Out
Establishments Frequented When Eating Out
Most Important Factors When Eating Out
Time Spent Eating and Drinking
Caution When Eating Out
The continued expansion of the eating out market is not without its negative aspects, some of which were considered in this chapter, and which the foodservice industry needs to take into consideration. It has been suggested, for example, that eating out might be less healthy than meals consumed at home, and while data are available for a few countries, primarily the USA and UK, very little comparative data are available globally.
The rapid growth of the fast food in China has become a public health concern. Data collected from multiple sources and analyzed identified over two million fast food facilities where the total revenue had increased from US$10,464 m in 1999 to US$94,218 m in 2013. This was attributed to increased income, greater urbanization, busier lifestyle, fast service, assurance of food safety, and new brands and foods. However, the rapid increase in consumption had negative health consequences including obesity-related risks (Wang et al. 2016).
Certainly it has been suggested that taste preferences or other factors, independent of demographic characteristics, might explain the decision to eat at fast food or sit-down restaurants. In the USA, greater frequency of eating at fast food restaurants has been associated with less healthful eating habits, but no associations were found between frequency of sit-down restaurants (Close et al. 2016).
In the most recent study (Robinson et al. 2018), the energy content of meals served in “full-service” restaurants’ in the UK were shown to be higher than fast-food chains. In a study of more than 13,500 meals served in 21 full-service restaurants and 6 fast-food chains, the mean energy content of main meals was 977 kcal. It was shown that the average energy content of main meals served in full-service restaurants was 268 kcal higher than that of main meals served by fast food restaurants. Full-service restaurants also tended to serve more high calorie main meals and provide fewer main meals meeting public health recommendations for energy consumption.
Interestingly, though, irrespective of whether or not a person is trying to lose weight, cooking dinner frequently at home is associated with the consumption of a healthier diet which may also assist when eating out of the home. Strategies are needed to encourage more cooking among the general population and help infrequent cookers better navigate the food environment outside the home (Wolfson and Bleich 2015).
It has been suggested, therefore, that if foodservice operators are to address these issues and increase their businesses, they should focus on health and convenience, particularly at breakfast. Consumers often have less time for meal planning and preparation, but quality, taste, and freshness remain critical. Hence, menus which include and emphasis healthy benefits are even better positioned to succeed (Nielsen 2018).
Summary and Conclusions
This chapter, being the second part of the introduction to foodservice, considers the “demand side,” that is the consumer, in order to offer a better understanding, thereby putting the foodservice industry into context.
The demand for eating out has increased, and although there are little reliable, readily available, and comparative international data, it would seem that in in many countries, the amount of money spent on eating in the home is similar to that spent on eating out of the home.
People eat out for a number of reasons which are identified, and approaches to meet that demand center on either putting the focus on the consumer and building the product and service that satisfies those demands or putting the emphasis on the product then and identifying consumers for those products (and services). In most cases, though, consumers, when dining out are not only looking for food, drink, and service that meet and satisfy their expectations, but they are also looking for other factors, which here and elsewhere are often referred to as experiences. A number of factors, synergistically, create that experience. More recently, these ideas have been developed and brought together, describing the situation as the experience economy.
This chapter, in looking at the consumer when eating out, considers factors such as the growth and size of the eating out market, along with current patterns of eating out; the frequency of eating out and what establishments are chosen; the most important factors driving decisions when eating out; and the time taken to eat out.
However, a note of caution is offered, principally the fact that meals eaten out of the home may be less healthy than those cooked at home, and foodservice operators will need to consider all of the issues involved as they move forward.
What then is the future for the foodservice industry and eating out of the home, and where are they heading? What will people be eating in the next 5, 10 years, or even beyond? How will the foodservice industry adapt to meet changing trends and demands, or will the foodservice industry lead, grow the market, and provide an offering that consumers will react to? These are but some of the questions often posed by many trying to keep abreast, or more importantly, ahead in the market place.
The only thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different. (Drucker 1986)
Predictions are difficult, especially when they involve the future. (Usually attributed to Mark Twain)
But some effort to provide a forecast is needed for businesses to develop and survive.
Clearly, and as already alluded in this chapter and An Overview of the Foodservice Consumer, the foodservice industry does not operate in a vacuum and needs to be aware of what is happening, locally, nationally, and globally. Population trends – the growth, aging and movement of populations, sustainability, availability, and growing scarcity of resources including energy and water – are just some of the issues that need to be considered. In other words, it is important for the foodservice industry to remember and consider the “bigger picture” in order to fully appreciate where it might be heading and how, therefore, to react to it.
Many foodservice companies have part of their organization specifically devoted to keeping up-to-date with trends and have budgets allocated accordingly. Other market research-based companies also provide such a service but these tend to be expensive, especially for an individual.
There are a number of websites which provide “snippets” of information, summaries if not full reports which are useful for anyone to help keep abreast. A sample of such sites is given below:
Foodservice Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2016–2024. (TMR 2018)
The global contract catering market is anticipated to reach revenues of around US$264 billion by 2023. (Cision 2018)
The global food and beverage market. What’s on the menu? (Cushman and Wakefield 2017)
What’s in our food and on our mind. Ingredient and dining out trends around the world. (Nielson 2018)
One very useful source of information is Statista (2018b) who provide a free service with a lot of information, much of which covered is relevant to the foodservice industry and which has been used in these introductory chapters. Pieced together, these can provide information thereby enabling foodservice outlets to keep abreast of changes, so as to position themselves to react to, reflect, or influence changes in supply and demand.
- Business Wire. (2018). Global Foodservice Industry Almanac 2017 – Research and Markets. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180115005601/en/Global-Foodservice-Industry-Almanac-2017%2D%2D-Research. Accessed 17 Jan 2019.
- Campbell-Smith, G. (1967). Marketing the meal experience. A fundamental approach. Surrey: University of Surrey.Google Scholar
- Cision. (2018). The global contract catering market is anticipated to reach revenues of around $264 billion by 2023. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-global-contract-catering-market-is-anticipated-to-reach-revenues-of-around-264-billion-by-2023-300714987.html. Accessed 16 Nov 2018.
- Curtis-Bennett, N. (1949). The food of the people being the history of industrial feeding. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.Google Scholar
- Cushman and Wakefield. (2017, Summer). The global food & beverage market. What’s on the Menu?. http://www.cushmanwakefield.nl/en-gb/news/2017/06/shifting-consumer-habits-behind-growth-in-eating. Accessed 22 Nov 2018.
- Drucker, P. F. (1986). Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1973) Truman valley Books/E.P. (p. 36). New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
- Gillespie, C., & Cousins, J. (2001). European gastronomy into the 21st century (pp. 8–9). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
- Hammond, P. W. (1993). Food and feast in medieval England. Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
- Kotler, P. T., & Armstrong, G. (2018). Principles of Marketing (Global ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.Google Scholar
- Nielsen. (2018). What’s in our food and on our mind Ingredient and dining out trends around the world. August 2016. https://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/nielsenglobal/kr/docs/global-report/2016/global_ingredient_and_0ut_of_home_dining_trends_report.pdf. Accessed 5 Nov 2018.
- Perry, M. J. (2015). Charts of the day on the ‘great convergence’ of food spending at home vs. away from home. https://www.aei.org/publication/charts-of-the-day-on-the-great-convergence-of-food-spending-at-home-vs-away-from-home/ Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
- Pine, B. J., II, & Gilmore, J. H. (1998, July–August). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1998/07/welcome-to-the-experience-economy. Accessed 11 Jan 2019.
- Pine, B. J., II, & Gilmore, J. H. (1999). The experience economy: Work is theatre and every business a stage goods and services are no longer enough. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
- Pine, B. J., II, & Gilmore, J. H. (2011). The experience economy (Updated ed.). Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.Google Scholar
- Pitte, J.-R. (1999). The rise of restaurant. In J.-L. Flandrin & M. Montanari (Eds.), Food. A culinary history from antiquity to the present (pp. 471–480). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Robinson, E., Jones, A., Whitelock, V., Mead, B. R., & Hayne, A. (2018). (Over)eating out at major UK restaurant chains: observational study of energy content of main meals. British Medical Journal. Published inline 12 Dec 2018. https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/363/bmj.k4982.full.pdf. Accessed 14 Dec 2018.
- Smith, L. C., Dupriez, O., & Troubat, N. (2014). Consumption and expenditure surveys. IHSN working paper no. 008 February 2014. International Household Survey Network. http://www.ihsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/IHSN_WP008_EN.pdf. Accessed 27 Nov 2018.
- Statista. (2018a). Where people spend the most time eating & drinking? https://www.statista.com/chart/13226/where-people-spend-the-most-time-eating-drinking/. Accessed 19 Mar 2018.
- Statista. (2018b). Access over 1 million statistics and facts. Statista provides statistics and data within 600 industries and 50+ countries. https://www.statista.com/. Accessed 31 Jan 2019.
- Statista. (2018c). Big Mac index – Global prices for a Big Mac in July 2018, by country (in U.S. dollars). https://www.statista.com/statistics/274326/big-mac-index-global-prices-for-a-big-mac/. Accessed 11 Jan 2019.
- Tannahill, R. (1988). Food in history. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
- TMR. (2018). Foodservice market – Global industry analysis, size, share, growth, trends and forecast, 2016–2024. Transparency Market Research. https://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/foodservice-market.html. Accessed 1 Dec 2018.
- Wang, Y., Wang, L., Xue, H., & Qu, W. (2016). A review of the growth of the fast food industry in China and its potential impact on obesity. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(11), 1112. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5129322/. Accessed 27 Nov 2018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar