CHICAGO – Both financially comfortable and financially strained consumers share in cost-conscious behaviors when it comes to restaurant visits, according to NPD. However, the reasons consumers are visiting restaurants less varies, according to a new report from the NPD Group, a market research company.

“It is presumed financially-stressed consumers have kept the industry from realizing growth; but, that’s not the case,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst and author of the report The Growing Divide: Restaurant Behaviors of the Financially-Comfortable and Financially-Strained. “For this reason it’s important that foodservice marketers understand the behavior of both groups in order to align both short- and long-term marketing strategies appropriately against the correct target.”

According to the report, 56 percent of the 5,251 consumers, 18 and older, surveyed define themselves as financially-strained and 44 percent as financially-comfortable. The highest percent of financially-strained consumers fell into the 18-34 age groups, while the financially-comfortable are fairly evenly dispersed. However, when viewed against the financially-strained, twice as many of those 65 and up fall into the financially-comfortable group. Seventy-five percent of the financially-comfortable and 92 percent of the financially-strained consider themselves controlled spenders. A sizable percentage of the financially- strained have relatively high household incomes, according to NPD.

Consumers who described themselves as financially strained said price and affordability were the top reasons why they visited restaurants less, while the financially-comfortable group is visiting less because of diet and/or health reasons, according to the NPD report. Many consumers who are visiting restaurants less said the current prices for restaurant meals are acceptable. Fast-food customers said they would like to see more lower-price options, however it is casual dining that has the greatest price disparity/issue, according to NPD.

However, financially strained and financially comfortable consumers appreciated deals. But what constituted the right deal was dependent on the respondent’s financial situation, NPD said.

Coupons were appealing to both financially-comfortable and financially-strained consumers, but the more financially-stable consumers saw frequent visitor cards and rewards programs as enticements, whereas financially-strained consumers were seeking coupons and discounts. Young adults, many of whom fall under the financially-strained group, were especially interested in dollar menu items from fast food restaurants, NPD said.