Casual-dining restaurants enjoyed a 2% increase in customer traffic at lunch during the 12 months ended in June 2015, according to The NPD Group. This was the mid-scale table-service segment’s first increase for the daypart in five years. How did casual dining improve in the face of fast casual’s steady growth? NPD says the “weapon of choice between these contenders is America’s all-time favorite restaurant food, burgers.”
Total foodservice burger servings were 8.9 billion for the period ending in June 2015, compared with 9 billion for fiscal 2014, according to NPD data. But burger servings at casual-dining restaurants were up 3% for the June-ended period and were the segment’s only daypart showing growth. Burger servings at quick-service restaurants were flat for that period.
NPD says the average burger price at the casual-dining tier is $9.02, compared with $5.62 at fast-casual restaurants. However, it notes that casual-dining concepts usually include fries in the price (such as Red Robin’s Bottomless Fries) but fries are an a la carte extra at fast casuals, where they can boost average check by as much as $2.89, according to NPD.
Although its love for burgers tends tends to regularly rise and fall, casual dining currently is in a committed relationship. Applebee’s this week added an All-Day Brunch Burger and The Blazin’ Texan burger to its “All-In Burgers” lineup. It also will feature all its burgers for $6.99 with limitless fries in a Monday Burger Night promotion The Max & Erma’s chain’s latest is a Cola BBQ Bacon Burger with Cheddar, caramelized cherry-cola onions, bacon, onion rings and cherry-cola barbecue sauce. Red Lobster has a Wood Grilled Burger ($9.99 with fries) on its lunch menu but the Italiano Burger that Olive Garden introduced at lunch in 2013 has since left the building.