Understanding the Influence of Income on Restaurant Visits: Lower- and Upper-Middle Consumers

Note: This is the second of a three-part series sharing insights from Technomic’s Influence of Income Consumer Trend Report. Our first post examined Affluent consumers.

How does income and affluence impact restaurant choices? The answers involve more than money and how much consumers are willing to spend. In our research for our new Influence of Income Consumer Trend Report we found many other subtle differences in attitudes and priorities at different points on the income spectrum.

In our research we targeted consumers by affluence, not simply income level. By also factoring in cost of living and household size we were able to get a better snapshot of consumer attitudes and behaviors within four distinct groups–Working, Lower Middle, Upper Middle and Affluent.

By utilizing patronage data on a restaurant-segment and chain-specific level, we compared and contrasted patronage by each consumer group, in order to help operators and suppliers understand how consumers’ overall foodservice behaviors and brand preferences differ by income and affluence.

Characteristics of Lower- and Upper-Middle Consumers

Last week we shared several insights concerning affluent consumers. Now, examining the two middle income groups, some of our findings were:

  • Low prices are the highest priority for both Lower- and Upper-Middle consumers when choosing limited-service restaurants for a dine-in occasion. Other attributes — convenient location, order accuracy, short wait time and fast service — are less important to these consumers. 
  • Traditional health claims (such as trans-fat-free or low calorie) resonate strongly with Upper-Middle consumers, in contrast to the “health halo” descriptors that hold greater appeal to Affluent consumers.
  • Among both groups of middle-income consumers, the Upper-Middle group is significantly more likely to utilize computers and smartphones to research restaurants than Lower-Middle consumers.

Implications for Restaurant Operators

Middle-income consumers are reassessing their discretionary income in the midst of today’s economic climate. Savvy restaurant operators will capitalize on this income group’s desire to dine out more, as well as their viewpoint that restaurant occasions are perfect for socialization. In fact, 71 percent of Upper-Middle consumers told Technomic that they use restaurants for socialization with family and friends. For these occasions, it’s all about atmosphere: restaurants and/or bar areas with an energetic and fun “gathering place” feel can be a draw for this base.

Note: Next week we’ll wrap up this series by sharing insights for the Working consumer group. 


Aimee Harvey

Aimee Harvey is an Editor at Technomic, Inc. Since 2003, she has delivered insights to Technomic products, including newsletters and trend-tracking reports, and has been a contributing editor for industry trade magazines. She currently provides menu analysis and trend forecasts for the firm’s Consumer Trend Reports series.

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  1. […] For middle-income consumers, low prices are the most important factor — more so than convenient location, fast service, and order accuracy — when it comes to deciding which limited-service, dine-in restaurants to patronize, wrote Technomic, Inc. Editor Aimee Harvey in a blog post Thursday. […]

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