What you need to know

Full service restaurants’ largest threat is trade-down behavior. While they are differentiated from their limited service counterparts due to service, many consumers opt to serve themselves in order to save money. This shift is primarily due to lower levels of disposable income, as well as a shift in consumption remaining after the recession.

Some guests are trading down to other concepts within the full service category, while others are trading down to fast casual concepts or cooking at home instead. This is a reflection of the shift in consumer needs and behaviors, with many consumers seeking upscale items with a less formal dining experience at moderate prices. Further, more and more consumers are looking for snacking and on-the-go options.

Each full service segment has responded to these threats in a different manner. Family midscale concepts have raised the bar when it comes to upscale and better-for-you offerings, while maintaining it’s a value price point and service. Casual dining restaurants have increased store hours, expanded their menus, and created lunch promotions that align with fast casuals. They have also created to-go areas, as well as fast casual spin-off concepts. Fine dining restaurants are moving away from prix fixe menus and focusing on happy hour with small plates and cocktails to provide a reduced-priced dining experience. Many full service restaurants have undergone rebranding and restaurant renovation.


This is a new 2014 report title centering on full service restaurant trends in the foodservice space. However, this report does build on the analysis in Mintel’s Family Midscale Restaurants – US, October 2013 and Casual Dining Restaurants – US, August 2013 which explored each niche within the full service segment. The report covers family midscale, casual dining, and fine dining concepts and focuses on marketplace trends as well as how consumption attitudes and behaviors are shifting.

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 February 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:

BFY Better-for-you
BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
CPI Consumer Price Index
LTO Limited Time Offer
NRA National Restaurant Association
Q Quarter
QSR Quick service restaurant


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 BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) 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 QSR (quick service restaurant); 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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