What you need to know

Providing an optimal dining-out experience means different things to different consumers. To be successful in creating a good experience, restaurants must understand what their target customer groups are looking for and match their offerings accordingly.

Consumers are busier and desire a convenient and efficient dining experience. This has caused consumers to seek faster and faster service, often opting for limited-service restaurants and are using out of store ordering options like to-go, drive-thru and delivery. Restaurants must keep up with new technologies to stay even with their competition, including offering online and mobile ordering and payment options, online brand interaction, mobile loyalty programs and using push marketing methods.

With Americans’ on-the-go lifestyle, many restaurant dining rooms are empty. Operators must grapple with how to lure consumers into restaurants for higher check averages. It is all about finding the right balance of technology and service, as well as finding ways to allow both to exist in the same space. The dining experience shouldn’t be rushed; however, maximum convenience and a unique experience will help drive traffic. Offering technology as an opt-in choice gives consumers power to control their experience, while not alienating those that wish for a more traditional experience.


This is a new 2014 report title centering on technology trends in the foodservice space. However, this report does build on the analysis in Mintel’s Dining Out Experience—US, April 2013, which explored both technology and ambience. This report covers both full-service and limited-service restaurants and focuses on how restaurants are utilizing technology to create operational efficiencies and marketing, as well as how consumers have adopted new technologies in terms of attitudes and behaviors.

Data sources

Consumer survey data

For the purposes of this report, Mintel commissioned exclusive consumer research through GMI to explore consumer consumption of/attitudes and behaviors toward technologies in restaurants. Mintel was responsible for the survey design, data analysis, and reporting. Fieldwork was conducted in January 2014 among a sample of 2,000 adults aged 18+ with access to the internet.

Mintel selects survey respondents by gender, age, household income, and region so that they are proportionally representative of the US adult population using the internet. Mintel also slightly over-samples, relative to the population, respondents that are Hispanic or black to ensure an adequate representation of these groups in our survey results and to allow for more precise parameter estimates from our reported findings. Please note that our surveys are conducted online and in English only. Hispanics who are not online and/or do not speak English are not included in our survey results.

While race and Hispanic origin are separate demographic characteristics, Mintel often compares them to each other. Please note that the responses for race (White, Black, Asian, Native American, or other race) will overlap those that also are Hispanic, because Hispanics can be of any race.

Abbreviations and terms


The following abbreviations are used in this report:

BEA Bureau of Economic Analysis
BFY Better-for-you
BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
BMI Body Mass Index
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CPI Consumer Price Index
DPI Disposable Personal Income
LMAP Localized Media Automation Platform
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The following terms are used in this report:

Casual dining Full-service restaurant chains with average checks between $8-20 per entrée. Restaurants frequently carry beer and wine licenses. With an appetizer, beverage, and dessert, checks frequently come to $20 per person, though lunch specials less than $10 for an entire meal are also common. Examples of chains included in this segment are Chili’s, Applebee’s, and Red Lobster.
Chain Multiunit foodservice concepts operating under a single brand name, such as McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. A restaurant chain consists of two or more restaurants owned by one person or company. Typically all restaurants in a chain have similar décor and serve the same food.
Consumer unit Defined per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as either: 1) All members of a particular household who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangements; 2) A financially independent person living alone or sharing a household with others, or living as a roomer in a private home or lodging house, or residing in permanent living quarters in a hotel or motel; or 3) Two or more people living together who pool their incomes to make joint expenditure decisions. Financial independence is determined by the three major expense categories: housing, food, and other living expenses. To be considered financially independent, a respondent must be able to provide at least two of the three major expense categories.
Family/midscale restaurants Full-service restaurants with checks frequently less than $15 per person. Often these restaurants have specialized meal options for children and do not sell alcohol. Examples include International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Cracker Barrel, and Denny’s.
Fast casual A hybrid segment of fast food and casual dining, combining the convenience of limited service with the ambience and quality of full service. Defining features include check averages of $6-9; décor that is more sophisticated than a quick-service restaurant (QSR); and food prepared to order, with customization of ingredients by patron being the norm.
Fast food Used interchangeably with QSR.
Fine/upscale/ gourmet dining Restaurants that exceed $20 per check, typically serve alcoholic beverages, and seat patrons at their own tables.
Foodservice All places that prepare food outside the home are included as part of the foodservice industry, including food operations in supermarkets, schools, hospitals, factories, and prisons. Restaurants make up the largest part of the foodservice industry.
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Generations are discussed within this report, and they are defined as:

World War II The generation born in 1932 or before. In 2014, members of this generation are aged 82 or older.
Swing Generation The generation born between 1933 and 1945. In 2014, members of the Swing Generation are between the ages of 69 and 81.
Baby Boomers The generation born between 1946 and 1964. In 2014, Baby Boomers are between the ages of 50 and 68.
Generation X The generation born between 1965 and 1976. In 2014, Generation Xers are between the ages of 38 and 49.
Millennials* The generation born between 1977 and 1994. In 2014, Millennials are between the ages of 20 and 37.
iGeneration** The generation born from 1995 to present. In 2014, iGeneration are aged 19 or younger.

*also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers

** previously known as Post-Millennials, Matrix Generation

In order to provide an inflation-adjusted price value for markets, Mintel uses the CPI to deflate current prices. The CPI is defined as follows:

CPI The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.

The CPI and its components are typically used to adjust other economic series for price changes and to translate these series into inflation-free dollars. Examples of series adjusted by the CPI include retail sales, hourly and weekly earnings, and components of the national income and product accounts. In addition, and in Mintel reports, the CPI is used as a deflator of the value of the consumer’s dollar to find its purchasing power. The purchasing power of the consumer’s dollar measures the change in the value to the consumer of goods and services that a dollar will buy at different dates.

The CPI is generally the best measure for adjusting payments to consumers when the intent is to allow consumers to purchase, at today’s prices, a market basket of goods and services equivalent to one that they could purchase in an earlier period. It is also the best measure to use to translate retail sales into real or inflation-free dollars.

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics definition.
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