Premium POV

A Premium Idea for the Daily Dinner Dilemma

It’s the infamous question: “What’s for Dinner?” As the father of four, I absorb the brunt of family controversy at dinner time. While everyone else in the car verbalizes their preferences about what sounds good, this dad is thinking to himself, “How much do I want to spend tonight?” Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a self-proclaimed premium kind of guy. I don’t mind paying for quality, and although I’m hyper-aware of brands and positioning because of my job, I am a consumer, too. When it comes to dining out, the tradeoffs I am forced to consider bring me to two general choices: eat poorly and save money, or eat better and spend more.

After nearly 20 years of marriage, I’ve come to know that the what’s-for-dinner question is one my wife hates to face each day. I admit that when she’s out of town and I’m in charge (ugh!), I hate the question, too. I learned today at the IRI 2015 Summit that dollars spent dining out in 2014 surpassed dollars spent on at-home meals for the first time in history—a trend that is predicted to continue. This shift in consumer priorities provides an opportunity for innovative brands in the restaurant space to capitalize on something that has been overlooked in both family restaurants and QSR for quite some time: innovative packaging.

Yes, I said that right, packaging—both the leftover carryout options, and more importantly, the to-go order options. Restaurants should consider innovation as more than mere menu enhancement, but as something that solves a consumer problem. Grocers like Central Market provide various “Dinner for Two” solutions that are heat-and-serve, expensive, not that good, and by my observation, obsolete of family-size portions. But restauranteurs, especially more premium ones who need to command margin because of their quality, could be more creative in solving this most dreaded daily dilemma. In addition to offering the entire menu as take-out, how about a limited menu of 4-person or 6-person meal solutions that “contain” the price point, offer some packaging convenience, and give more value than the order-straight-off-the-menu route? Even bundling a substantial carry-out order with add-ons like sharable desserts or free drinks (which come at such a small cost to restaurants, anyway) could up the ante in perceived value for the premium carry-out consumer. Remember, the premium consumer is loyal, needs to see value in his or her purchase, and pays a premium on a repeat purchase if set expectations are met. With the increased frequency of dining out, dropping 60 to 100 bucks for dinner every night isn’t sustainable. Someone should capitalize on this uptick.

By general observation, we all know that premium brands are worth more and can charge more, even in the sit-down-restaurant and the QSR space. Our agency’s work across various categories confirms that there’s a common characteristic of premium brands: they innovate. Even middle-of-the-road brands that innovate tend to move themselves up on the premium spectrum over time (like what Audi has done; WOW!), and premium brands that don’t innovate seem to lose their premium luster over time (think Saab). Our Premium Brand Index data confirms these common sense observations, as seen in the increase of “premiumness” for brands in QSR like Panera Bread (think of their addition of digital ordering capabilities) and surprisingly, Chili’s (think of their table-top kiosks for entertainment and processing payments). Restaurants that innovate around elegantly solving consumer needs will be able to grow their volume and share in ways that don’t compromise their brand equity, especially if they can tell my wife what’s for dinner.

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