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Food for Thought

New ideas and advice to help you improve the operation, turnover, and connectivity of your dining sites.

Talking Demographics: how customer behaviour and preference changes across the generations and genders

Olivia FitzGerald

February 23 2017,
Olivia FitzGerald

If you're over 55, special offers and deals are likely to get your attention. If you're between 18-34 it's most likely to be the drinks menu. Recent research explains how customer behaviour and preferences change depending on age and gender.

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 Your customers are a diverse bunch, but there are some interesting patterns when you start crunching the data: different groups of people have very different expectations when it comes to the booking and dining experience.

In an October 2016 study by Zonal, there were distinct differences between differing age groups. Older customers are much more likely to check a bar or restaurant’s website before visiting the premises, with 34% of over-55s looking for special offers and deals compared to just 26% of 18 to 34s. The pattern repeats with booking information - 44% compared to 32% - and location information, which was required by 32% of over-55s compared to 22% of 18 to 34s.

When a restaurant offers pre-ordering via a website or app, there are demographic differences between the customers who take advantage of such features and the ones who don’t. The overall numbers are still very small as a proportion of all spending - 4% of consumers currently check a website to pre-order - but that’s still 0.9 million consumers in the UK alone, and the numbers are growing quickly as the technology is used by more outlets. Between April and October 2016, the number of consumers using pre-ordering increased by 22%.

Pre-orders are more likely to be from men - there’s a 55%/45% gender split compared to the average customer split 51%/49% - and those customers spend more, averaging £103 per month on eating and drinking out compared to the norm of £90. They visit more brands - 11.5 compared to 9.1 - and are more likely to eat out every week. 53% do that compared to the norm of 46%. Interestingly though, the proportion of people who use such options doesn’t favour the young: while 33% of younger consumers use pre-ordering, the figure is higher among the over-55s, for whom 36% have embraced pre-ordering.

The people who embrace pre-ordering tend to be early adopters, too. On average, 43% of UK consumers say they like to keep up with the latest trends and fashions; for pre-ordering customers, that number is a whopping 71%. They’re more interested in the speed of service aswell: 73% have been driven to a mainstream brand due to speed of service than the 53% national average.

When it comes to pre-ordering, there’s often a specific reason for it. Making a booking for a large group is the most common reason - 38% cited that as their reason for placing their orders in advance - while 27% said that it speeded up service. 15% said they were taking advantage of pre-ordering discounts, 10% that they were booking for a special event and didn’t want any mistakes to spoil things, and 5% because they or somebody in their party had special dining requests.

The demographics of customers using mobile payment systems aren’t what you might expect, either. When it comes to distrusting technology, a higher proportion of young people is wary: 24% of 18 to 34s compared to just 18% of over-55s. That’s repeated in the numbers of people who just don’t understand the technology - 11% of 18 to 34s to 5% of over-55s - and who didn’t realise it could be done, where 40% of under-34s are unaware compared to just 14% of over-55s. However, there is one area where that pattern is flipped on its head, and that’s when it comes to personal interaction. Just 25% of under-34s prefer to interact with a person when it comes to paying, rising to 41% among 35 to 54s and 63% of over-55s. It’s not that the older consumers don’t understand or don’t trust technology. It’s just that they prefer dealing with people.

Some things are universal, however. Across every demographic, the reasons for using a restaurant’s website are ranked in the same order of importance: the menu first (88%), followed by opening times (63%), booking information (38%), offers and deals (31%) and the drinks menu (29%). If your website people aren’t making it really easy for people to get those bits of information, you might want to have a word: when it comes to the biggest frustration with restaurant websites, 44% of people across all demographics say that it’s the lack of a viewable food menu. Difficulty in using or accessing the website is second (20%), followed by lack of booking information (12%), not listing opening times (10%) and not having a viewable drinks menu (7%).

That’s not to say that there aren’t some demographic differences in that data. The drinks menu is much more important to younger consumers: 41% of 18 to 34s check the drinks menu before visiting compared to just 21% of over-55s.

The interesting thing about all of this data is that you can extrapolate from it to see what’s worth doing for whom - so for example while older customers have fewer reservations (no pun intended) about mobile payments, they’d rather not use them. Meanwhile many more younger consumers aren’t aware such options exist, or if they do they’re unsure of how it works or if it’s safe. It’s clear where the IT and marketing spend needs to go in that scenario.

Points to remember:

  • Older customers prefer to pay a person than use mobile payments
  • Pre-ordering is particularly popular among early adopters and large groups
  • Pre-ordering customers are more likely to be men, to eat out weekly and to spend more per month on food and drink
  • Website features and frustrations are common across all demographics: lack of a menu is the biggest sin
  • Some information is more important to specific groups: older consumers want location and younger ones a drinks menu

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