According to our extensive collection of full service restaurant data, lunch is experiencing a decline. What we have found is that lunch traffic is down 7% Year-Over-Year (5% in the New York metro area) but not all restaurant types are taking a hit.
Restaurants most impacted are those directly competing in price with the multitude of alternative fast casual options. Competition in this mid-price range segment has exploded with the boom of burger joints, salad spots, build-a-bowls, and other delivery or fast casual options. The New York Metro area specifically has seen a traffic decrease of 6% year-over-year for full service restaurants in the lower price segment (<$25 per person). At the same time, high-end restaurants (>$100 per person) have side-stepped the decline and are actually up 2%. While the casual sit-down lunch may be dying, the high-end experiential lunch may be the safest place to be.
What can mid-segment restaurants do to combat this trend?
We've seen smart operators increase service and product offerings to provide an elevated experience at lunch to differentiate themselves from fast casual options. Some of Avero's clients have placed a higher focus on prix fixe offerings - bundling appetizers, entrées, and desserts together to provide greater value without a big price tag.
Rosa Mexicano specifically focuses on getting guests in and out in 40 minutes to ensure the full experience fits in with the typical business lunch timeline. In addition to their $20 app and entrée lunch feature, they offer a special "to go" dessert for $5 more that guests can enjoy on the go or back in the office.
Ocean Prime in NYC has focused on generating repeat customers by having managers interact with every table during lunch to increase the level of service.
We've also seen fast casual spinoffs from full service restaurant groups such as Shake Shack and Daily Provisions from Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, Fuku from David Chang of Momofuku, 'Wichcraft from Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality, Made Nice from the team of Eleven Madison Park, and Burke in the Box from David Burke.
While there are plenty of variations of how to stay competitive, it's clear that restaurants will need to remain innovative to capture the decreasing lunch traffic and survive in the saturated lunch options landscape.