There's No Place Like Restaurants For The Holidays?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 17, 2014
The holiday season is in full swing, which means office parties, time with family, and food -- lots of it. Traditionally, consumers have spent much of their time in December in the kitchen, transforming fresh ingredients into delicious, homemade food.

But 46% of consumers today eat out when they want better food that is healthier and tastier, according to a recent study from The Hartman Group. In other words, almost half of consumers believe that restaurant food is healthier than food made at home. This is astonishing, considering that restaurant-goers have little knowledge or control over what goes into their meals.

So why are so many people opting for restaurants when they want good nutrition? In our recent survey about food perception, 51% of respondents said personal experience influences their opinions about healthy food. Learning about health and nutrition is typically an academic process, not an experiential one, so why are so many people choosing perception over facts?



Part of the reason may be that today food is more than just sustenance, it’s entertainment. From Netflix to YouTube, cooking shows and food competitions are everywhere. We follow celebrity chefs on social media, post glistening pics of our entrées on Instagram, write restaurant reviews on Yelp, and still can’t get enough. We know more about food and cooking (different from knowing how to cook) than ever before.

And yet a quick trip to the grocery store confirms that we still prioritize convenience over all else, looking for products with minimal cooking skill required.  We leave it to the restaurants chefs to slow-roast a whole chicken or make pasta sauce from scratch. Being more knowledgeable about cooking hasn’t resulted in a resurgence in from-scratch cooking.

Many consumer packaged goods were developed to recreate some aspect of the restaurant experience at home. Consider the pizza. Domino’s began delivering freshly baked pies direct to people’s doorsteps after pizza became a popular menu item in Italian restaurants. It wasn’t long until manufacturers developed the frozen pizza, which offered restaurant-quality pizza that was convenient and allowed people to participate in the cooking process.

So, how can manufacturers create new items that leverage the foodie trends and belief in superior restaurant quality while still providing convenience? The key may be to elevate consumer perception about food prepared at home and combat the idealized version of restaurant cooking.

Manufacturers should make every attempt to connect their products back to whole foods that people associate with quality, by simplifying their ingredients so nutrition labels read more like grocery lists than chemistry experiments. Most of the items listed on a restaurant menu are recognizable, and the ingredients in each dish are ones consumers are familiar with. By emphasizing the real food contained in a product, manufacturers are linking their products back to something that consumers know and understand.

Beyond just the recipes, manufacturers should look to the plates in restaurants for inspiration. Design is critical to a product’s success in the consumer electronics industry, but seems be given less attention in the CPG space. What if we could experience the same quality of presentation in a packaged entrée that we would at a restaurant? If a packaging revolution were to take hold among manufacturers, I believe the days of the paper microwave tray would be numbered.

The saying goes that “the kitchen is the heart of the home,” and I believe that’s true.  Families gather in the kitchen and this is where many traditions and memories are formed. It’s imperative that food manufacturers step up to compete with the perception that restaurant food is better in both taste and health, and support the home kitchen’s rightful place in the mind of consumers.

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