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Study Reveals Critical Insights into Dining Behaviors

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Eating out makes up 18 percent of business travelers’ total expenses. Is your brand strategy optimized to get them in the door?
By Erin McPherson November 27, 2018 Sponsored by Dinova

Earlier this year, Dinova partnered with the Global Business Travel Association to conduct a first-of-its-kind study into the dining habits and preferences of business travelers. The study surveyed 509 employees from across the United States. Participants included roughly equal representation across generations as defined by the Pew Research Center: 34 percent millennials (age 22-37), 37 percent Gen X (age 38-53), and 29 percent Baby Boomers (age 54+). Most (67 percent) were middle- or upper-management, all had traveled for work within the past year, and all either carry a corporate credit card or had been offered a corporate card but declined it.

“Our research holds some really interesting insights for restaurant professionals—including trends that they can capitalize on to capture more of the profitable business dining market,” says Dinova’s vice president of marketing Shannon Delaney. “We see this as an opportunity to educate people about the business traveler and the business dining industry in a way that hasn’t been done before—and some of the results were very surprising.”

In particular, the study found definitive behavioral differences among generations. While business travelers of all ages tend to spend more than leisure diners and order more items, such as appetizers and desserts, millennials on business trips are much more likely than their counterparts in other generations to dine quickly and get back to work.

“We didn’t expect them to be so heads down about their workday or to seek so much alone time in the evening,” Delaney says. According to the survey results, 42 percent of millennials will opt for solo, grab-and-go dining options during the day and are six times more likely than Baby Boomers to order delivery or take-out for dinner.

Conversely, Baby Boomer business travelers are the most likely to “wine and dine” clients: 79 percent identified upscale casual restaurants as their go-to, compared with only 47 percent of millennials. For their part, Gen X-ers are the most likely to dine in groups: 31 percent say they like to socialize with coworkers over lunch and 30 percent make the same choice for dinner.

But despite differing industry segment preferences and daypart considerations made during travel, the groups surveyed in the study showed similar behaviors when asked about preparations made prior to traveling. Sixty-three percent of all business travelers reported that they research restaurants before landing in a new city—and they’re doing it on their phones, using dining-related apps such as Yelp (53 percent), TripAdvisor (50 percent), Grubhub (36 percent, and OpenTable (34 percent).

“Understanding business travelers’ research activities and heavy use of mobile—and being certain all of your digital presences are best positioned for this research—is critical to [restaurants] being found during the pre-trip planning process,” Delaney says.

Habits range from searching nearby establishments and reading reviews to making reservations and looking at menus. According to Delaney, there are so many actions happening on mobile that a restaurant must diversify its strategy to reach potential business diners: while social media presence is important to millennials and Gen X-ers, having a robust series of Yelp reviews is essential for attracting Baby Boomers. “Restaurants should also make sure everything is mobile-optimized,” Delaney says. “Your menu should be available online and easy to access from their smartphones.”

Since 2014, companies have taken an increasingly flexible approach to business expense policies, particularly with regard to dining. This year, 41 percent of companies reported measuring employee traveler satisfaction as part of their travel program success; and according to results from GBTA’s 2017 study titled “How to Mitigate the True Traveler Pain Points Along the Travel Journey,” 59 percent of prospective employees rated company travel policies as either “important” or “extremely important” when making decisions about a new job.

“There is a direct correlation between employees’ satisfaction with corporate travel policy and how happy they are in their jobs, if they travel for work,” Delaney says. “Companies want their employees to be happy. Let’s face it—it’s expensive to replace good employees. Loosening policies and restrictions means less oversight on spend per meal, and this means higher ticket averages for business meals.”

For restaurants facing increased industry challenges, these higher ticket averages among business diners can prove very lucrative. In a separate survey conducted by Dinova last year, 66 percent of restaurant owners identified business travelers as “extremely valuable” to their businesses—and yet only 25 percent actively market to this group.

“Being educated about how these diners think, what they prefer, and where they’re dining is a great benefit to restaurants because these guests are from out-of-town and not necessarily within their immediate sphere of influence,” Delaney says. “The challenge for restaurants will be targeting the [business traveler] guests and successfully getting them into their establishments.”