According to recent forecasts, the restaurant industry will generate $997 billion in sales in 2023, despite inflation. However, rising ingredient costs, competition, and customer expectations could offset post-pandemic progress.

Market research allows restaurants to bridge the gap between what they offer and what customers want, allowing them to optimize menu offerings and services and stay ahead of the competition. When businesses understand their target audience, identify emerging trends, and make informed decisions, they can improve their bottom line in any economic climate. Read on to learn more about the role of market research in the restaurant industry, the benefits of market research, use cases, and tips for effective execution.

The Role Of Market Research In The Restaurant Industry

Americans have a healthy appetite for dining out. Recent research found that, on average, 40% of consumers’ monthly food budgets go to restaurants. While this is excellent news for the industry, it doesn’t guarantee sales. The restaurant sector remains as competitive as ever, and with rising costs, eateries must stand out and streamline. 

Online market research is a valuable tool for the restaurant industry, allowing operators to gather customer insights, get a bird’s eye view of competitors, and understand industry trends. 

There are several ways to conduct online market research, including customer surveys and focus groups, online reviews and ratings, social media analysis, and industry data and reports. 

  • Customer surveys and focus groups effectively gather detailed feedback on menu offerings, service, and ambiance. 
  • Online reviews and ratings provide a wealth of information on customer preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. 
  • Social media analysis can reveal consumer sentiment, engagement rates, and emerging trends. 
  • Industry data and reports can provide insights into the market size, consumer behavior, and industry trends. 

By leveraging these online research methods, restaurant operators can make data-driven decisions to improve customer satisfaction, increase sales, and stay competitive in the market.

Tips For Restaurant Market Research

Conducting market research is essential for the success of any restaurant business. Follow these steps to make the most of your market research efforts.

Set Objectives 

It’s essential to establish clear research goals and objectives. Determine what specific insights you want to gain and how you plan to use them to improve your business. 

Take A Hybrid Approach

Next, consider using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Qualitative methods like focus groups and interviews can provide valuable insights into customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and preferences. 

Quantitative methods like surveys and data analysis can help you identify trends and patterns across a larger sample size.

Get Social

Engaging with customers online and offline is crucial to gather various perspectives. Utilize online reviews, social media, and email surveys to collect customer feedback, and consider hosting in-person events or focus groups to gather more detailed insights. 

Supplement Your Data

Additionally, supplement your research efforts with industry data and reports. Industry reports can provide valuable insights into market trends, consumer behavior, and industry benchmarks, which can help you make informed decisions about your business strategy. 

By following these tips, you can conduct effective market research to gain valuable insights and improve your restaurant business.

Market Research In Action 

Feedback On Menu Offerings, Service, And Ambiance

A small family-owned restaurant called “Mama’s Kitchen” has operated for over ten years. The restaurant was struggling to keep up with the competition in the area and was receiving negative reviews online. The owners knew that something needed to change to improve their business.

They decided to conduct market research to understand their customers better. They sent out surveys to their email list and posted them on social media to gather responses. They also worked in in-person focus groups with regular customers to get their feedback.

The research showed that customers wanted more vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as a greater variety of dishes on the menu. Additionally, many customers were frustrated with their food’s wait times and the restaurant’s noise level.

Using this feedback, the restaurant owners revamped their menus and added new dishes that catered to their customers’ dietary needs. They also invested in a new kitchen system to speed up food preparation and implemented noise-reducing measures to create a more comfortable dining atmosphere.

The changes made a significant impact, with customers leaving positive reviews online and returning to the restaurant more frequently. Mama’s Kitchen saw increased sales, and the owners could hire additional staff to keep up with demand.

Thanks to its market research efforts, Mama’s Kitchen was able to provide a better customer experience and improve its business.

Pricing Feedback

Once upon a time, a small restaurant named “The Hungry Bear” struggled to attract customers despite offering delicious food and excellent service. The owner, Jane, suspected that the high prices of their menu items could be a contributing factor.

To confirm her suspicions, Jane conducted market research by surveying her customers and analyzing data from similar restaurants in the area. The results showed that The Hungry Bear’s prices were higher than competitors in the same category.

With this information in mind, Jane decided to lower the prices of some of their most popular menu items. She also introduced daily specials and happy hour discounts to attract customers during slower hours.

The changes paid off immediately, as The Hungry Bear began to see an increase in foot traffic and sales. Customers who had previously avoided the restaurant due to high prices started to return, and the restaurant attracted new customers drawn in by the lowered prices and discounts.

Thanks to market research, The Hungry Bear was able to optimize their pricing strategy and improve their overall financial performance.


Through market research, restaurants can close the gap between their offerings and customers’ preferences, enabling them to improve their menu offerings and services and stay ahead of their competitors. By gaining insight into their target audience, staying abreast of emerging trends, and making data-driven decisions, restaurants can enhance their financial performance regardless of economic conditions.
Fuel Cycle gives restaurant operators a competitive edge with intelligent insights. By integrating actionable insights into every decision, from pricing to menu selection, food service providers can thrive in 2023 and beyond. Learn more here.