While the restaurant industry has benefited from noticeable growth in the past few years, in the midst of a recovery from the recession, there may still be somewhat of a decline as compared to older figures. However, restaurants and their operators have plenty of strategies they can put into place to better appeal to markets.

Figures see stagnant growth
The NPD Group reported that while fiscal year 2013 saw more than 61 billion diners enter restaurants, that figure has stayed the same for a long period of time. More importantly, it's also below pre-recession traffic volume levels by more than 1.2 billion meals. The long-range forecast for the industry isn't much brighter, either: the next several years are only expecting small growth, possibly less than 1 percent annually.

There are a few reasons for this decline in volume, and many in the foodservice world are culpable for the problems. Midscale, family and casual dining restaurants have seen their sales fall collectively, and lunch and dinner shopping has especially dipped. Meanwhile, consumers between the ages of 25 and 50 have eaten out an average of 44 times less each year over the last three years.

"There are some fundamental shifts in how consumers, particularly low- and middle-income consumers, address their discretionary spending," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD's restaurant industry analyst. "Similar to the stalled growth other retail sectors are experiencing, restaurants are being negatively impacted by a large segment of the population who are watching their discretionary spending closely. Going to a restaurant is a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have."

Meeting market needs
The NPD Group suggests that success in the industry is likely to come from offering shoppers less expensive options, saving them money, or offering better value for the money in any given instance. Nation's Restaurant News found that one example of this is coming from a new approach to dessert. Many locations, from bars to kitchens to restaurants, are now using their resources in tandem. Whether it means pairing a dessert with a palette-matching beer or wine, or offering a larger portion that will entice more diners, such a strategy can boost purchases.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, leaders in food service equipment financing. Marlin is a nationwide provider of equipment financing solutions supporting equipment suppliers and manufacturers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.