A wide shot of people dining at a restaurant

Restaurants are undeniably ingrained in the American consumer’s life. In fact, our new report, Reliance on Restaurants: An American Eating Occasions Perspective, uncovered that 24% of all US adult eating occasions were restaurant-sourced in 2022. So how do consumers go about answering the age-old question: “Where should we go?” And more importantly, how can foodservice providers (and their competitors) help win their selection? 

Reliance on Restaurants examines nearly 6,000 restaurant eating occasions from The Hartman Group’s proprietary Compass Eating Occasions Database to uncover consumer motivations behind restaurant sourcing. These motivations can shift drastically according to the occasion, context and individual; however, there are three foundational Need State Pillars that are particularly important across all foodservice categories: quality, health and convenience.  

It’s no surprise that we are creatures of habit when it comes to eating out: in fact, routine is the top restaurant selection criteria among all restaurant-sourced eating occasions. Consumers like when restaurants make their lives easier, whether it’s the physical location, how the restaurant fits within their routine, or the ability to order ahead or via delivery. But being taken care of is also highly important to consumers with a convenience mindset, so providing friendly and seamless service for both dine-in and takeout is essential.  

Healthy eating and restaurant-sourced foods have long been at odds with one another, but that is starting to change. Supporting physical health with real ingredients and positive nutritional elements is still important, particularly when sourcing food from quick casual, café or cafeteria channels. But health can also be about supporting mental and emotional wellbeing, like dinner and drinks with old friends.  

Partnering with local farmers and vendors to offer fresh, seasonal ingredients across the menu can be a strong marker of quality in consumers’ minds. Quality isn’t just synonymous with local or high-end restaurants — it is a top priority across all channels (including fast food), speaking to consumers’ high expectations for all eating occasions. Aligning with consumer needs around scratch cooking and sustainable sourcing can communicate that a greater amount of care went into preparing the dish, whether it’s served in a to-go box or atop a handmade ceramic plate in a local café.  

Quality, health and convenience are essential needs when it comes to restaurant occasions. But foodservice providers that can strategically cater to additional Need State Pillars with close ties to their area of expertise or brand alignment have an opportunity to capture additional eating occasions. These include flavor exploration, social connection, and food experience. We closely examine all six Restaurant Need State Pillars in Reliance on Restaurants, plus take a deep dive into dine-in vs. to-go, generational differences in restaurant sourcing approaches and more.

To learn more about the report and its applications across foodservice, manufacturing and retail (this report isn’t just for the restaurant industry!), contact Shelley Balanko: shelley@hartman-group.com.