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It’s 12 O’Clock Somewhere: Casual Dining Restaurant Lunch Visits on the Rise

Working for a food industry trade association comes with a lot of perks. I get to stay informed on agricultural market prices, restaurant chain expansions, new food product news and emerging trends from all over the food sector. Basically, my entire workday is filled with food, one way or the other. There is one major drawback, however. Talking, writing and researching about food all day can make a writer hungry, so when my lunch hour finally rolls around, I’m ready to put all of my knowledge to work.

It appears I’m not the only one who observes the sanctity of the lunch break, as the NPD Group reports that casual dining restaurants benefited from increased lunch visits for first time in about five years. Now, there is a battle brewing for restaurant lunch visits between casual dining restaurants and quick service restaurants. The weapon of choice for these establishments? America’s favorite: the burger.

From the report itself:

“The burger, which has racked up 8.9 billion servings ordered at restaurants and foodservice outlets as of year ending June 2015, can meet a wide variety of restaurant customers’ needs from simple and classic to high-end gourmet with a little dressing down or up. Its perennial popularity, affordability, flexibility, and ability to provide a beef menu item while offsetting higher beef costs are among the reasons why this utility food has become the heavy artillery in the battle for lunch visits.”

NPD goes on to explain that casual dining restaurants have found a way to level the playing field with quick service restaurants on pricing. The research shows that the average price of a burger at a casual dining establishment reaches $9.02, while a similar burger at a fast casual restaurant would cost $5.62. However, the gap closes as the price to add fries to a meal averages $2.89 at a fast casual restaurant but is typically included at casual dining restaurants.

The research also notes that burger servings at casual dining restaurants were up 3% in the June 2015 period compared to a year ago, and this represented the segment’s only menu category to grow in servings. Burger servings ordered at quick service restaurants were flat according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include the burger I’m about to order for lunch.