Our most recent survey demonstrates that menus are the most important factor in dining decisions, beating out price, reviews, location and photographs.

We recently ran a Consumer Survey to quantify what influences restaurant decisions. As our recommendations to our clients arise from systematic observation of restaurant customer behavior online, we performed a Consumer Survey to enable us to share this information with the general public.

We asked a panel of 1000 people if, “when choosing a restaurant, what is most important in making their dining decision?”

Consumers chose menus nearly half the time (49%), followed by price (24%), reviews (14%),  location (10%) and photos (3%). We limited to most important as the complexity of customer dining decisions can easily overwhelm an economist, much less a restaurant owner. Remember that always word of mouth recommendations from a friend, family member or coworker is by far the strongest reason someone tries out a new restaurant, so we left it out of this survey.

Survey Responses

Menus dominated in almost all groups and subgroups, but it was still affected by a few factors. With others the percentage who chose menus was consistent. Gender played no importance. Some weaker relationships were the Northeast was more menu-conscious, but also rural communities, especially in the South, also valued menus more. The strongest relationship was that as customers age they put more into the contents of a menu. The 18-24 age group chose menus 38% of the time compared to the 65+ age group which selected menus 54% of the time.

Price finished second and specific segments paid attention to price. These responses are crucial for designing promotions. Women topped men in regarding price as important. But it mattered by age group; young men and women (18-24), but only older men (65+) put it first. Meanwhile older women selected price less than average. Also price is a bigger priority of Midwesterns and rural customers. The pattern seems to suggest that income isn’t directly the determining issue by expenses as middle income individual in his or her 30s and 40s (probably with kids, old college loans and mortgages) also fixate on prices. Owing large sums of money may change behavior.

Restaurant owners who have nightmares about Yelp will sleep easier. There is one age group were it truly becomes significant and that is the 25-34 year old age group which generally has a high degree of technological sophistication. That corresponds with young professionals as there is also a spike from $75k to $100k in income.

Convenience of a restaurant being nearby seems to take on a special importance of 55-64 age group, one of the more time constrained age groups. It slowly becomes more and more important as age increase. Then again it relatively unimportant compared to menus and price (75% total). Photos were only rarely identified as the most important factor and that may mean photos may have a secondary or subconscious effect on people.

Know Your Target Demographic

The results of the survey give us a glimpse of what is happening. As a large percentage of people do research on restaurants online, knowing what makes potential customers make dining decision will influence all of your marketing decision and can cause you to tweak your brand and operations. We encourage you to identify several demographic groups and try to see if you are  doing as much possible to market to them effectively and efficiently.