Diners desert independent restaurants for casual chains


According to recent research independent restaurants are rapidly losing ground to chains – news that will not shock many restaurateurs. Over the last six years visits to standalone dining spots have dropped by 1.4 billion, while trips to branches of some of the UK’s growing groups soared by 900 million.

The new figures, from NPD Group, compare restaurant visits from March 2009 to March 2015.

Although the research also showed a general lull in dining out over a tough six year period, there was a particularly steep drop off for independent businesses. Apparently casual chains’ ability to offer consistent customer service and value has helped them pull ahead. (Perhaps we’re not visiting the same chains as everyone else?!)

Whatever your opinion of certain restaurant brands the facts are that groups have overtaken independents as the recession has worn on and surveyed diners felt ‘strong overall satisfaction’ in 77% of visits to casual dining chains, for the year ending March 2015.

At Harden’s we have been running an annual survey of diners for 25 years and it is our experience that a group’s growth is rarely an indicator of quality. Quite often the reverse is true. As a brand expands its resources are stretched and the food can suffer.

However in a time of recession it is logical that customers would eschew fine dining in favour of a more casual experience. Branded pubs came in at second place after casual chain with visitors ‘strongly satisfied’ in 73% of visits, while quick service restaurant chains scored 67%.

Overall satisfaction was measured by quality and taste of food and drink, the quality of service, ambience, and whether the customers themselves felt valued.

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