Families far from childs' play
1 October, 2012
Family dining is a loosely used term to cover visits made with children and by adult-only family groups. Yet they could not be more different, not only in the eyes of the people involved, but also from the often contrary perspective of other diners, Peach BrandTrack research shows. David Martin reports.
All the same, “family” is seen as a growth market whichever way you look at it, and however you define it. A recent report for Butlins on the family of the future from the Trajectory Partnership looked forward 25 years, by which time Britain will have an extra 1.2 million children, six million more grandparents and a further 1.5 million great-grandparents.
The family will, as a consequence, be greatly extended. According to Trajectory’s report, it is likely to include two great-grandparents, four grandparents, two step-grandparents, two cohabiting partner-parents, one step-mother (previously married to the father), two children and one step-brother (from father’s previous marriage). It is what Trajectory calls the modern vertical family, and it fills a communal dining table all by itself.
For now, our own Peach BrandTrack research confirms the importance of “family” visit occasions today. Our latest survey of 5,000 adults’ dining out behaviour, carried out in May, shows that on average, across all the 53 brands we measure, just over one in five customers visited at least one of those brands in the past six months for a meal with family – that makes it one of the three most common occasions for dining out – and one in ten of those brands’ users visited for a meal with children.
Such usage differs greatly across sectors, however. A meal with family is the most-often mentioned visit occasion for the 18 pubs brands we measure, made by 29% of their customers. However, meals with children are most likely to be mentioned in the fast food sector, by an average of one in seven brand users. And despite a recent FT piece titled “Britain’s pubs swap pints for prams” (never assume a good headline reflects the full facts), our research shows on average only 11% of pub brand customers visit for a meal with children, although this does vary by brand.
Only in the coffee and sandwich sector are families and children of limited significance. But as the sector matures, who is to say that coffee chains would not in future aspire to attract more families at weekends.
It is at brand level where the differences come into sharp focus. For meals with the family, extensive pub menus have the potential to offer something for everyone, and so pub restaurants take nine out of the list of 10 brands with the highest proportion of users visiting for a meal with family. Those nine also principally trade in the mid-market, with above- par value ratings. Combining this data with brand usage, Harvester is identified as the single biggest brand in terms of numbers of meal-with- family users, with Pizza Hut the second biggest brand.
In contrast, more middle-class casual dining brands tend to get a higher proportion of their business from people going out with friends. The 10 brands whose customers are the most likely to visit with children reveal the influence of leisure, cinema and retail sites, along with the pub brands historically associated with the provision of family facilities. Pizza Hut is top for kids, with the highest proportion of customers visiting with children. This, aligned to its scale—40% of adults claim to have used the brand in the past six months—makes it the second biggest player in the dining out with children market, behind only McDonalds.
Even if we were not in the midst of a prolonged consumer downturn we might have expected diners with children to be value-conscious. Yet these groups of the most child-oriented brands have value and food choice ratings little different to the survey brand norm. Consumer behaviour suggests other factors are at play here, most likely cuisine appeal, and the key need to feel at ease among other diners.
Children not always welcome
Family dining operators can never overlook the “fit” of children and adult customers. We might like to think our attitudes have become enlightened and “continental”, but our research shows that Britons of a certain age remain decidedly sceptical about the attractions of children when dining out: from around the age of 45, the presence of children in a restaurant is more likely to discourage a visit than encourage one. The same is true for the under 25s, although as some of them are parents, the difference is naturally less marked.
Because the appeal of (or aversion to) child diners is so strongly age- related, this translates into significant differences in customer tolerance levels across the brands, from the most predisposed, such as Fayre & Square and Flaming Grill, to the most averse, Loch Fyne and Vintage Inns.
But brands with a relatively child-tolerant customer base can also have
significant proportions of child-averse customers. As our data shows, for Frankie & Benny’s and Pizza Hut in particular, this is a delicate balancing act to be managed through effective zoning and day-part management.
So you think Britons might be child-friendly? For only four of the 53 brands measured did we find more customers encouraged by the presence of children than those who are discouraged—and McDonalds is not among the four.
In that context, being more child-friendly is not the strongest lever that brands, as a whole, could pull in order to encourage more visits. On average almost a quarter of brand users say that being more child-friendly would increase the number of times they visit the brand. Better service, more offers, better quality would all have greater leverage. This is not to deny the interest in a more child-friendly stance among some brands’ users. Notably, it has much higher than average appeal to customers of Ember Inns, until recently an adult-focused format.
But step back from this narrow child-centric view of “family”, and even without the dramatic population forecasts from Trajectory, the extended family market is already huge. The just-released 2011 UK Census says there are almost 10 million children under the age of 15, and there are 9 million people over the age of 65.
And it’s already growing. The over- 65 population in England & Wales has grown by 10% in the past ten years alone, and the under-5 population has grown by 13%. As our research shows, not all brands are equally aligned to this growth.
Family market share: top brands
The 10 biggest brands in terms of numbers of total customers using for family meal
2 Pizza Hut
6 Frankie & Benny's
9 Pizza Express
Source: Peach Brand Track, Demographix/Toluna, May 2012. Number of brand users x percentage using for meals with family.
Children's market share: top brands
The 10 biggest brands in terms of numbers of total customers using for children's meals
2 Pizza Hut
4 Burger King
7 Pizza Express
9 Frankie & Benny's
Source: Peach Brand Track, Demographix/Toluna, May 2012. Number of brand users x percentage using for meals with children.
What would make the dining-with-kids experience better?
More child-friendly staff seems to be the secret to improving children-appeal. Among the core 25-44 parental age groups, when we screen the perceived importance of various elements in determining the appeal of a restaurant, two issues stand out above the rest: child-friendly staff and then children’s menus. These are both rated “very important” by close-on 40%.
Other more age-related elements, such as baby changing room and high-chairs, understandably have slightly narrower appeal, rated very important by around 1 in 4 of this age group.
This article was first published in the August/September issue of Peach Report