Economy Hurting Restaurants, But Some Damage is Self-Inflicted

August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two restaurant news items came across my computer screen today. One was largely opinion, from Slate.com about the sorry state of restaurant websites, eviscerating the often pompous and arcane features of well-known restaurant websites. Suffice it to say that I largely agree and could add my own ‘discoveries’ to the list of the ineffective and annoying sites mentioned. For those interested, you can read it here.  The second article, from the L.A. Times, not so entertaining, was entitled ‘9,450 Restaurants Closed Last Year’, sobering news for those in the restaurant business and equally sobering to those of us in the wine industry who need on-premise distribution to establish brands and secure consumer trial.  According to The NPD Group,  a market research company,  the number of quick service units declined by 1% or 3,495 units but the full-service sector fell by twice that – a loss of 5,965 units in the period from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011.   Of the total, 8,650 of these restaurants were independents, the largest decline since NPD began this tracking in 2001 . The one bright note in this report is consumer spending in restaurants, which improved by 2 percent for the year ending May 2011.

Certainly the economy is the major influence on restaurant business, but the industry clearly has not been addressing the needs and expectations of its customers. Consumers are increasing relying on the Web for restaurant information, reservations and discounts. The National Restaurant Association reports that 59% of adults visit restaurant websites, 58% view restaurant menus and 54% acquire  information on the Web before visiting a restaurant. Yet the average restaurant website seems to be out of touch with today’s consumer’s need for immediate, actionable information. Perhaps a greater focus on effectively communicating with its increasingly tech-savvy customer base will improve the restaurant industry’s fortunes.

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