Mom-and-Pop Joints Are Trouncing America’s Big Restaurant Chains

There’s a limit to unlimited breadsticks after all.

Americans are rejecting the consistency of national restaurant chains after decades of dominance in favor of the authenticity of locally owned eateries, with their daily specials and Mom’s watercolors decorating the walls.

It’s a turning point in the history of American restaurants, according to a Chicago-based restaurant research firm Technomic.

This really seems to be the dawning of the era of the independent. The independents and small chains are now outperforming. The big chains are now lagging.

Free-marketing websites have boosted the fortunes of independents in the age of McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Olive Garden — the list goes on. In a shift, annual revenue for independents will grow about 5 percent through 2020, while the growth for chains will be about 3 percent, according to an industry researcher in Chicago. Sales at the top 500 U.S. chains rose 3.6 percent last year. The gains were larger, 3.9 percent, for the whole industry, Technomic data show.

Bottom of Form

Large chains seem rooted in the American experience. But times, and tastes, are changing. Customers these days believe locals have better food, service, deals and even decor, a report said.

Honors System

At Chicago’s Brown Bag Seafood Co., where sales jumped 63 percent in 2016, lunch customers can grab a cookie out of the “honors system” mailbox for just $1. There are homey touches, like a watercolor painting of the Clark Street Beach in nearby Evanston, Illinois, that founder Donna Lee’s mother painted.

Maggiano’s has new menu items and meals that cater to customers’ allergies and diets — think vegetarian, vegan and the occasional gluten-free ravioli. The chain updated its menu to include executive chef photos and short bios, and in February it introduced an emblem of millennial hip: brunch.

The experience of dining out has become much more important than it was before,” said the chief concept officer.

Bullish on Mom

Restaurant suppliers also have noted the trend. Diners prefer the experience, service and value offered by independent restaurants. Growth with independents was very solid in the first quarter of 2017.

While national chains advertise like crazy, mom and pops depend mostly on word of mouth and Yelp reviews.

It’s “authentic” and Instagram-able experiences that diners are searching for these days.

Source:  Bloomberg.com, 5-16-2017

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