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Have Young Diners Outgrown Combo Meal Deals?

When the recession kneecapped the restaurant industry in 2008, chains resorted to heavy dealing to stay afloat. But researcher NPD Group says some deals’ appeal appears to be wearing out. Last year, 23% of restaurant visits involved a deal, a 3% decrease from 2011 and the first time dealing has declined since 2008 (when dealing was up 5%).

At the same time, non-deal restaurant meals rose 2% last year (see chart at right), which was the category’s first increase in the past four years. Non-deal meals accounted for 77% of the the total.

“Deals and special offers definitely influence restaurant visits and if it weren’t for deals during the recession, the industry would have fared much worse, but some of the deals being offered today aren’t resonating with consumers,” says NPD Restaurant Analyst Bonnie Riggs in a release announcing the findings. “Considering current consumer sentiment and their continuing frugality, the deals that have historically appealed to restaurant customers need to be re-engineered and the next generation of deals introduced.”

NPD says price discounting has more appeal than do combo meals.

Specifically, combo meal and value-menu item offers have declined in usage, NPD says, while coupons, buy-one-get-one offers and price discounting were up. Among younger customers, visits involving nearly all types of deal are down, with strong declines in the past few years, NPD reports.

The difference in per-person spending between deal and non-deal visits is striking: $5.97 is the average check for deal visits; it rises 18% to $7.04 for non-deal visits.

This follows NPD’s report earlier this month that overall restaurant customer traffic was flat in 2012 in the U.S., Canada and the UK. Growth came from higher average checks of 2.1%, 3.5% and 0.6% respectively. The UK ended the year with an overall average check of $7.20 per restaurant visit, compared with $6.80 for Canada and $6.35 in the United States.

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