With the changing times, customer needs and preferences are no longer the same. This has also been witnessed in the hospitality industry. The latest trends suggest that today’s consumer is looking for satisfying more than just the basic needs while making choices. This phenomenon is very well represented by the sudden rise in the new hotel companies that promise to bring some real innovation to the industry by combining style with budget, mixing the chic with affordable rates. The trends in food and beverages segment suggest that to satisfy the basic need of hunger for food and drink, is no longer the main motivation of consumers. The growing segment of the restaurant industry has become more competitive, and restaurants are reinventing their menus to fit to the changing customer preferences. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once individuals satisfy their lower level needs they move to the next level of the pyramid. Today, increasing number of consumers is seeking to satisfy internal needs for self actualization. Need to satisfy social needs have led to the increase in the number of consumers eating out. This is further supplemented with a high order need to experience different type of meals. This is growing trend or fashion is ultimately influencing the consumer taste in the selection of restaurants. There are a number of factors which influence and shape consumer’s tastes. Researchers believe that it is not just innate preferences which shape consumer’s taste. A number of internal as well as external factors have an impact on the consumer buying decisions which in turn shape the consumer taste for a particular product choice. Restaurant industry has been thriving on the fact that consumers eat out for a change from home prepared food. Further, we discuss the changing consumer taste in the modern society and the factors which are responsible for shaping the consumer taste. An individual’s taste in the process of selecting a restaurant is often related to his social, economic and cultural features. Consumers’ taste for eating out and selecting restaurants are driven by more than the desire for a healthful diet. Consumers weigh the healthfulness of these choices as well as their convenience and entertainment value.
The factors which are increasingly shaping consumer tastes with respect to the restaurant industry in particular are discussed below:
a. Social influences
The variety of lifestyle composition has become greater; however, individual’s interests and tastes are often guided by the social conditions. Gans (1999) study highlighted that consumer’s taste are directed in a similar direction to his reference groups. One of the major influencers of taste is the family. Studies suggest that a consumer is more likely to develop a taste for a product which he has been using right from his childhood. Selection of a restaurant is more likely to be dependant on his past experiences as a child. Further, researchers suggest that consumer preference or taste is also guided by his peer groups or friends and play an important role in shaping a collective taste for a particular product.
Consumer tastes are also greatly influenced by the demographics of the segment. It is observed that younger generation is more easily influenced by the latest fashion or fad and is more susceptible to target advertising. Today, restaurant industry is promoting in a way that younger people are attracted towards the restaurant. It is believed that younger generation tends to be more open to trying new foods. In contrast, older people tend to stick with traditional foods and preparation methods. In other words, they have formed habits in which current preferences depend on past consumption patterns (Pollak, 1970). As a result of this, restaurants across the world are able to change consumers’ preferences and are shaping their tastes by highlighting their positive aspects to the target demographic segment. As Pollak (1976) points out, consumer demand functions shift over time as consumers become aware of goods outside their range of past consumption, and change their habits, which were based on past consumption patterns.
c. Economic factors
These factors influence the consumer taste for a particular product only to a certain extent and researchers argue that the economic factors such as price, income and product availability influence only the actual consumption of food, i.e. what and how much is chosen. Rosin et al. (1986, p.86) argues further that this choice under budget and availability constraints does not always reflect any consumer’s real preference. However, it has been witnessed that with the increasing income levels, there is an increase for better quality products which in turn reflect consumer’s taste. In the restaurant segment, it is witnessed that consumer’s with higher income levels generally are more willing to experiment with different menus and demand for an environment which provides them with entertainment along with food and beverages.
d. Celebrity Chefs/Branding
Researchers suggest that today, consumers demand healthy and organic food choice options from the menu. A number of restaurants are making efforts to develop menus that provide these options. Consumer taste is further influenced by the increasing popularity of celebrity chefs and their proprietary restaurant facilities. Mennel (1985) suggested that chefs who have control of the menu are able to shape culinary provision within the commercial sector.
The consumer’s taste trends and fashion which are basically embedded in the fine dining sector eventually emerge in the family restaurants, fast food and ultimately in home cooking (Holt,1998). Studies suggest that this pattern is most visible within the ethnic cuisine sector. These food patterns which start as a result of fine dining eventually become a part of the mainstream taste. The reason for such a pattern is that consumers select menu items created by popular chefs because of the chef’s image for creating exotic menus or the newness of the recipe, however, these dishes become rapidly acceptable due to the further development of the dishes by other competitors.
Marketplace today is increasingly becoming competitive. As a result of this the dining segment has witnessed an overwhelming rise in the concept of branded restaurants. These restaurants offer a more holistic experience to their consumers by proving food, beverages and entertainment under one roof. As a result of this, it is no longer just the food and beverage which forms the part of the meal experience. These restaurants are shaping the consumer taste and setting up fashion and trends for the mainstream taste. Wood (1996) argues that this change in the trend is due to way restaurants and dining out is promoted today (Sloan, 2003). According to his argument, marketing has emphasised dining out as a holistic experience and this is influencing consumer’s restaurant choice and ultimately their taste.
e. restaurant environment/ambience
The importance of ambience or the environment in shaping the consumer taste cannot be ignored in the restaurant segment. Mintz (1997) mentions, the environment found in McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut, although localized and perceived differently in many countries, seem to represent a pattern of modernization among consumers. Today, hospitality segment is offering more than the basic needs and are in a way shaping consumer’s tastes and patterns. For example: Starbucks replicates a style and atmosphere, in addition to its beverage/food service, in which customers are free to spend time reading, talking with friends, and participating in clubs.
f. Health Factors
Today, consumers are attempting to make more informed decisions. This trend is growingly witnessed in the food and beverages segment as well. With the increasing risks of heart diseases and obesity consumers are trying to improve their diets in ways that will improve their health. As a result of this trend, there is an increase in the demand for low fat food with sufficient nutrients. Another important aspect that has emerged in the consumer taste in the food and beverages segment, is the increase in demand for nutritional labels on the food that can help consumers make informed and healthy purchases. This trend is further changing the shape of consumer taste in the restaurant industry. Teisl et al (2001) suggest that studies conducted in the USA have found that food labelling can significantly affect consumer buying behavior which is a reflection of their taste and preferences. The increase in the demand for healthy and nutritious food is forcing the restaurant owners to create menus which provide healthy eating options to their consumers. Further, the increasing emphasis on food safety is also one of the major factors reshaping consumer preferences and tastes. This is evident from the fact that after the ‘mad cow’ panic, vegetarianism in many countries in Europe radically increased. Changes in consumer patterns and tastes are also evident from the crisis in 1999, wherein dioxin in chicken feed led to sudden changes in consumption (Mitchell, 2004).
g. Rapid spread of international cuisines
Another reason for the changing consumer ‘taste’ is the cross-cultural diffusion of certain culinary products and practices. ‘The world can be divided into culinary zones, which are as marked as those provided by political boundaries, altitudes, rain, religion, crops, skin colouring and many other geographical factors which are mapped in modern atlases’ (Dennis-Jones, 1971). However, with the advent of globalisation and development of boundary less nations, the world is witnessing an amalgamation of new tastes, and flavours. Further, with the increase in the international travel, a large number of consumers are exposed to a greater range of cuisine from different parts of the world. As a result of the exposure to different cultures, there is an increased demand for international cuisines in the home countries as well.
h. Time/Convenience attributes
There is an increasing demand for time saving and convenience attributes of food. This is further reshaping the consumer taste in the restaurant industry. The growing trend of women working in offices and not just managing households has further led to the increase in demand for convenience As a result of this trend, consumers today prefer for convenience and a quality dining experience. This further influences a consumer’s choice of restaurant type and his taste.om-the-development-of-trends-in-hospitality.aspx?id=INI1HeDQWvLhK
To conclude, the true desires and preferences of the consumer are no longer just influenced by the primary attributes guiding consumer behaviour such as taste, cleanliness, convenience and cost. Findings indicate that with the increase in the competition and the upcoming trends of health foods and celebrity chefs, there is a shift in the preference from satisfaction based on cheap food and speedy service to more emphasis on exotic ingredients and taste. Although, the companies in the restaurant segment are responding quickly enough to satisfy these aspirations, there is still a wide opportunity for these companies to offer more specialist and wide range of services. We observe that increasing number of consumers is seeking to satisfy internal needs for self actualization. Need to satisfy social needs have led to the increase in the number of consumers eating out. This is further supplemented with a high order need to experience different type of meals. Further, consumer taste is greatly influenced by the increasing popularity of celebrity chefs and their proprietary restaurant facilities. This growing trend or fashion is ultimately influencing the consumer taste in the selection of restaurants. Also, the increase in the international travel has led to the rapid spread of international cuisines across boundaries. A large number of consumers are exposed to a greater range of cuisines from different parts of the world. This has further influenced consumer tastes and choices. Finally, the findings suggest that the concept of branded restaurants, offering a more holistic experience to their consumers by proving food, beverages and entertainment under one roof is ultimately shaping the consumer taste and setting up fashion and trends for the mainstream taste.