Deloitte has raised concerns that some restaurant operators are becoming reliant on discount vouchers, after research in the company's Taste of the Nation report revealed that nearly 60% of consumers have used a special offer voucher when eating out.
The report found that 18 to 34-year-olds were the most engaged, wih 67% using vouchers when eating out, although only 25% said they went out more often as a result of vouchers. And, while one in five respondents (18%) would stop visiting an outlet if vouchers were no longer provided, it also gives a strong indication the vast majority of people would continue to eat out if vouchers were removed.
The survey of 3,000 consumers from across the country reveals the highest take-up of vouchers is within the casual-dining and quick-service markets, where vouchers are used by 61% and 62% of consumers, respectively - 48% will use a voucher in a bar or pub and 50% in a fine-dining establishment.
Jon Lake, a corporate finance director in the licensed retail group at Deloitte, comments: "Vouchers have proved an effective tactic by some operators for encouraging consumers to eat in their outlets, and have risen in popularity since the recession. However, the popularity of some of these schemes has raised concerns some operators are now reliant on them.
"In the run up to Christmas, voucher offers were removed by some operators. Other outlets offered a different deal, such as three-for-two, instead of the more generous two-for-one and buy-one-get-one-free offers, or a gift with every main course."
The 18 to 34-year-old group is proving the savviest in terms of subscriptions to websites and forums, tending to shop around more, encouraged by their greater use of the internet, smartphones and social networking. A total of 42% indicate vouchers give them the opportunity to visit destinations they otherwise wouldn't visit, while 27% (compared to 18% on average for all consumers) say they would stop going to a venue that no longer offered vouchers.
Lake added: "Vouchers are undoubtedly an excellent tool to generate new custom, especially among the 18-34 age group, the biggest market for eating out. However, the challenge comes when converting that consumer into a loyal customer willing to pay the full price in their establishment. Operators need to strike a balance between curbing the use of vouchers in their outlets while retaining their loyal customer base.
"Some will find it difficult to determine the most effective method for phasing out vouchers and increasing their customers' average spend while retaining their loyalty. However, our research indicates it could be achievable. Just one in five consumers in our survey say they spend more on additional food dishes when a voucher is available to them than they do without one, and just 18% say they spend more on drinks."
By Neil Gerrard
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