MBPT Spotlight: Family, Friends and Food Drive Hispanic Casual Dining Decisions

Earlier this year, Nation’s Restaurant News cited data from NPD Group showing that casual dining brands again saw a decline in traffic in 2013. Several factors are leading to this decline, starting with this year’s harsh winter weather.

So, what’s a casual dining brand to do? I’d say turn its attention to Hispanics, a consumer group that can supercharge traffic and sales.

Hispanics currently account for 17.5% of the total U.S. population, a share that will grow to 31% by 2060. While that may be a long way off, among young adults we’re seeing a more immediate impact. Over the next ten years, the Census Bureau projects that Hispanics will add 2.8 million 18- to 34-year-olds, while the non-Hispanic millennial population will decrease by more than 600,000 over the same period. Essentially, Hispanics will offset what would otherwise be a decline in this important young adult population.

Now, we know Hispanics love to eat out, they are more likely to visit with family and friends, and they tend to order more items per visit. These tendencies help drive larger check sizes. If chains can invite this consumer in, get them through the door and deliver a great experience, they are very likely to earn a loyal customer who will return and recommend. Hispanic consumers could become their biggest social media champions.

Univision and Burke recently collaborated on new research to understand Hispanic casual dining behaviors and what makes them try and return to a brand. This was a follow-up to our QSR research conducted in 2012. For this latest study, we again interviewed approximately 1,250 Hispanics as well as 1,250 non-Hispanics—including an oversample on millennials in each population—in order to draw comparisons, and focused on 12 casual dining chains in the bar and grill, steak, Italian, family and seafood categories. 

Here are five ways our research showed brands can gain the patronage and trust of the Hispanic consumer.

Focus on the Social Experience

Family- and friends-related experiences help get Hispanics in the door. On average, Hispanics visit casual dining restaurants with nearly one more person per party (4.2 vs. 3.3 non-Hispanics). More often than not, those parties include children (63% vs. 33% non-Hispanics). Being a fun place to take your family and having healthy meal options for children are commonly chosen among the top three reasons to try a new casual dining restaurant, while for non-Hispanics the drivers are more centered on promotions, price and convenience. In fact, 29% of non-Hispanics say that location/convenience is a reason they visited their favorite casual dining restaurants; only 8% of Hispanic said the same.

Ramp Up Digital Efforts

Hispanics are more digitally engaged with casual dining brands, overindexing vs. non-Hispanics on everything from downloading a restaurant app (23% vs. 10%), searching for a restaurant on a smartphone (49% vs. 33%) and using an app to check in (22% vs. 11%). In case you’re thinking that’s because Hispanics are 10 years younger than the population, think again. Even when you compare Hispanic millennials to non-Hispanic millennials, the story remains true. Younger Hispanics are 54% more likely to become Facebook fans of any restaurant and 50% more likely use a check-in app like Foursquare.

Highlight More Occasions and More Offerings

Hispanic traffic daypart distribution looks different from that of non-Hispanics. Dinner and lunch remain the top two dayparts for both groups, but Hispanics devote a bigger share of their visits to the breakfast (22% vs. 11%), happy hour (10% vs. 6%) and late-night dayparts (9% vs. 4%). Casual dining brands should let them know that they are ready for their business during these additional times. Also, “indulgent treats” and beverages are big for Hispanic consumers: 90% of Hispanics ordered both food and beverages vs. 76% of non-Hispanics. The beverage trend extends to alcoholic beverages: 38% of Hispanics order alcohol at casual dining chains vs. 35% of non-Hispanics.

Communicate Freshness and Health

Hispanics are 16% more likely than non-Hispanics to say that the quality and variety of food is a reason they visit their preferred restaurants. Not surprisingly, they are most concerned with giving their kids the best. When asked what would get them to try a new casual dining restaurant, 34% of Hispanics said, “having healthy meal options for children” vs. just 12% of non-Hispanics.

Invite Them In

Our research shows that unaided awareness levels of casual dining brands are generally lower among Hispanics. This could be because there are not a lot of brands playing in the Hispanic marketing space. In fact, when asked about potential barriers to visiting a chain, 51% of Hispanics couldn’t identify a specific barrier. For non-Hispanics, price and location were more likely to be barriers; for Hispanics it was lack of familiarity with many of these chains. However, once aware, Hispanics across the board have more favorable opinions and higher loyalty scores than non-Hispanics.

The bottom line is to start building your brand with this consumer today. It will pay dividends for your business, regardless of weather issues.

Filiaci’s team helps brands and agencies develop and execute their Hispanic strategies. He can be reached atpfiliaci@univision.net. More information on this study can be found atwww.Univision.net/restaurants.