CHICAGO – Last year, the entire US restaurant industry remained in a recessionary slump, but the family midscale segment has been hardest hit — and things aren’t expected to improve for this segment during the next few years, according to a recent Mintel foodservice study.

Eighty percent of family restaurant diners who dine out less say they are holding back due to budgetary reasons. As a result of this and other challenges, over the next four years family restaurant sales are expected to decline by 7 percent.

“Playing the pricing game has not proved successful for family restaurants,” said Eric Giandelone, Mintel foodservice director.

Mintel believes the best opportunity for this segment to return to a growth path is to promote reasonable prices with value-added benefits like health and convenience, he added.

Historically, “healthy” menu items don’t sell well because a healthy item often communicates “no taste”, which has been a challenge for restaurant operators. However, a change may be in the works. Thirty-four percent of diners say healthy food is an important factor in choosing a family restaurant.

Another approach that can benefit this segment is adding value through convenience. Although 75 percent of consumers enjoy the sit-down, full-service experience, families most likely will complain that service at such restaurants usually is too slow. So, families will more likely visit family restaurants over the weekend when they have more time.

“By utilizing an 'express lunch' concept, family midscale restaurants can attract the business crowd during the week and perhaps implement a 'family express dinner' where families can still enjoy their sit-down experience, but at a pace that coincides with their busy week night schedules,” Giandelone said.

Seventy percent of family restaurant diners say getting value for their money is most important. Likeable menu items, fresh food and convenient location are also important. When asked what family restaurant diners would like to see more of on the menu, 41 percent answered they want a variety of preparation methods, such as grilling.