An interesting dynamic is hitting the Casual Dining Chain Restaurant industry. While 2014 is projected to be a record sales year by the National Restaurant Association, FSR Magazine reports that the number of households earning $70,000 or more annually is declining, calling it “a development that is particularly hurtful to the restaurant industry, as this demographic accounts for 57 percent of industry spending.”

That income data point is of particular concern for the full-service casual dining restaurant, where the meals are obviously at a higher price point (checks average $12 to $50) and competition remains significant – particularly with the rise of fast-casual restaurant formats.

Casual dining brands should be looking to gain not only a deep understanding of their own fans and what makes them tick, but how that stacks up to their closest competition.  Finding new and interesting insights about these consumers will help to inform brand-building decisions, marketing campaigns, affinity partnerships, and can even help with innovation planning for menus and the overall restaurant experience.

CivicScience decided to take a look into our InsightStore consumer research data platform, where we reviewed over 100,000 responses from our database of 27 million anonymous respondent profiles.  We wanted to quickly get a snapshot of how the fans of 4 of the Top Casual Dining brands – Applebee’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, and TGI Fridays – compare to each other and to the general population, so we used the platform to automatically cross-tab those fans against hundreds of other questions.

Several areas jumped out as having notable differences – and you can also get the complete detailed Insight Report here:

Whose Diners are the Biggest “Market Mavens”?

  • That would be Chili’s fans, who were found to be more likely than the other brands’ fans to consider themselves fashion leaders (16% vs. 10-13% for the others), to be followers of music trends (44% vs. 40-41%) and likely to tell others about new products (53% vs. 51-52%).
  • However, Ruby Tuesday fans were much more likely than the others to say they try new products sooner than most (39% vs. 26-31%).

Casual Dining market-maven-scale

Surely, They All Love Sports, Right?

Yes indeed, they do.  Fans of all 4 dining chains ranked higher than the general population on sports fandom, but let’s dig a little deeper into the finer differences:

  • TGI Fridays fans edged out Ruby Tuesday fans in the overall sports scale (113 to 112). More TGI Fridays fans say they are “very interested in sports” (39% vs 36% for all the other brands’ fans) and slightly more play fantasy sports leagues (20% vs. 18-19% for the others). TGI Fridays fans overall also like the NHL more (21% vs. 18-19%).
  • Ruby Tuesday fans are slightly more likely than the other brands’ fans to like NCAA basketball, NCAA football, and the NFL.  They tied with Applebee’s fans in percent who are MLB fans.
  • Chili’s only slightly edged out a tied between Ruby Tuesday and TGI Fridays in NBA fandom (21% to 20%), but scored the lowest of the 4 chains in the overall sports scale.

What Do They Like to Watch on TV? (Aside from Sports)

  • Interestingly, all of them rate much higher than the general population in saying that they are influenced by ads on TV – ranging from 61-62% for all 4 brands vs. the general population at 50%.
  • Among the different types of TV programming, News shows rated highest (in the 31-34% range) in terms of number of fans who say they like certain types of shows.
  • Ruby Tuesday fans are the biggest fans of Sports (28%), Sitcoms (18%), and Reality TV (17%) and rated highest on the TV Viewing scale.
  • TGI Fridays fans have a higher preference for Travel/Home/Cooking shows (16%) than the other brands’ fans.
  • Applebee’s fans led in the Drama category (22%).
  • Chili’s fans were more likely to say they like Music shows (22%), but overall ranked lowest of all the brand fans in TV viewing.

CivicScience - DeepProfile Scales for Casual Dining Fans

Other Interesting Insights We Found…

  • TGI Fridays fans are slightly more likely to say they are on Twitter than Chili’s fans.
  • Applebee’s fans are slightly more likely to say they are not brand loyal.
  • Ruby Tuesday fans are more likely to donate to religious charities, and Applebee’s fans to environmental charities.
  • Chili’s fans have a much higher likelihood to do volunteer work.

Key take-aways that we see from this data is that all the brands should continue to look at TV advertising as a strong channel for media spend; TGI Fridays should do well to focus on sports affinity and Twitter campaigns; Ruby Tuesday fans have an appetite for trying new things; Chili’s might consider exploring music-related campaigns; and that Applebee’s should be aware of lower brand loyalty among their fans.

Click here to immediately view the full PDF of the Casual Dining Chain Insight Report (April 2014)

Readers may also be interested in our Fast-Casual and QSR Insight Report (March 2014)   that looked at Social Media and Tech Usage among fast-casual Mexican chains, Sports Fandom among burger-focused chains, and Health & Wellness among leading QSRs.