CHICAGO – Finding a good value at casual dining restaurant concepts remains an important criterion for consumers who are dining out, according to a study conducted by the market research firm Technomic.

“Consumers have become very adept at getting the maximum value from each dining experience,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “Operators should avoid getting caught in the middle. Your value statement needs to be loud and clear so the customer knows what you are offering and why they should come to you.”

Mr. Tristano said surveyed consumers found that traditional casual concepts are too similar across brands, and that upscale casual chains do not offer a dining experience that justifies their higher prices.

In addition, the report, titled the “Future of casual dining consumer trend report” found:

• More than seven out of ten consumers who have been using coupons more often as a way to cut down on casual dining expenditures say they will continue to do so even as their finances continue to improve.
• Consumers say upscale casual-dining restaurants significantly outpace other casual-dining sub-segments for offering healthy options, likely because of the association consumers make between quality and healthfulness.
• Casual-dining operators are using small plates, snacks, bar menus and combo deals in order to attract value-conscious diners. Smaller portions are another way to satisfy consumer demand for healthier menu items, providing fewer calories along with lower prices.