Fine Dining Falls Short With Females

How Store Brand Perishables Measure Up

Family Size Meat Marketing

Time, Work and $ For Non-Foods

Loyalty Card Expose

FMI Feedback

Women's place in society has changed. Women's place in the workplace has changed as well. But as customers of upscale bars and restaurants, they still signal lower covers and smaller tips and all too often get third-rate seats and second-rate service. This long-standing fact of life doesn't sit well with today's independent women who are losing their tolerance of second-class treatment from first class hotels and restaurants. Their turn-off is creating new opportunities for casual and ethnic restaurants and for fine dining at home.

The complaints we've been hearing led us to ask two cross sections of women two questions:
1. What happens when you send food back?
2. Compared with men, how are you being treated in fine dining establishments?

Their answers suggest that fine restaurants have lost luster with ladies who are:

  • Tired of being treated as second class patrons, especially by wait-staff
  • Tired of being rushed by wait-staff and managers who are seeking to increase their turns
  • Tired of fussy pretensions and super-premium prices for less than super food

The first women we talked with were members of Les Dames d'Escoffier - gourmets and fine dining aficionados who are affiliated with the food industry as chefs, restaurant operators, brokers, writers, historians or even researchers. Some of the "Dames" felt that restaurateurs pay less attention to food returned to the kitchen by women because so many women patrons savored food rather than really ate it. Many felt that fine food had become phony or overly fussy and pretentious. And most felt that portions were "disgustingly oversized," a perception the shoppers on our panel did not support:

  • The inner-bullshit detection of women is what's leadingthem away from the frou-frou impress-your-friends experience.
  • I want CLEAN food. Organic food. Cooked in a way that satisfies my soul.
  • I'm tired of over-fussed and under-whelming food. I look forward more to the little family run Japanese or Vietnamese restaurant, or the hole in the wall Italian that tastes like my mother in law's.
  • Today's booming steak houses are prime examples of upscale restaurants targeting male big spenders. They have little use for female patrons except as trophies.
  • Many of the women I know socially send back food on a whim, and do not drink wine. The men are usually afraid to send back food, and eat it anyway. Most restaurants serve too much food, and pile on the glop these days too.
  • Many women send back food rather than criticize it. And in my experience, restaurants don't treat women customers' implicit criticisms as seriously as men's.
  • Women have many reasons for not making a fuss about disappointing food. One, of course, is that such complaints are viewed as a negative (too fussy) in women.
  • The shoppers on our panel fully agreed with the "Dames" in opposing a fat tax and feeling that men get better service.
Response to statements: Agree Disagree No Opinion
Men get better service because they are seen as spending more or having more power. 64% 13% 23%
Women savor; men eat. 56% 9% 35%
Leisurely dining is no longer encouraged unless you are drinking a lot. 54% 22% 24%
The days of the customer-is-always-right are gone. 53% 14% 33%
Women are more sensitive to being rushed and often do feel rushed in today's restaurants. 53% 18% 29%
The thrill is gone from fine restaurants basically. Why pay so much money for over-fussed and under-whelming food? 52% 27% 21%
Women are more likely than men to complain about food and send it back if it's not right. 50% 17% 33%
Most menus are designed for men. 45% 14% 31%
Restaurants take women's complaints less seriously than men's. 44% 21% 35%
I no longer get the luxurious feeling of being pampered at restaurants, even the expensive ones. 44% 37% 20%
Women get more excited about food than men do. 42% 18% 40%
The woman is still the forgotten diner. 40% 25% 35%
Most tablecloth restaurants serve too much food these days. 34% 19% 19%
Fine dining is due for a next phase-more home style, more simple, more real. 30% 39% 31%
Restaurants send twice as much food to the table with half the quality they should. 26% 35% 29%
The idea of a Fat-tax or a High Calorie Tax for restaurant foods that are extremely (unhealthfully) high calorie makes sense and deserves consideration. 4% 74% 22%

Opposition to the quantities of food served was the main point of shopper departure from the "Dames'" perception, a departure which helps explain why so many are struggling with long term effects of large portions and supersizing.

  • The more expensive the restaurant, the more apt servers are to address the men in the party and hand the check to them.
  • Fine restaurants are beginning to cost too much.
  • Recently we use fast foods rather than go to a restaurant. They're way too expensive for the amount and taste of food that you get. The service nowadays is gone. The respect for customers is no longer in use. As an ex-waitress, I cannot believe how rude they are to customers, rush them in and out and have seen them follow a customer to remark on their tip! Unheard of years ago. What happened to respect? Fast foods nowadays are a better value, no waitress to worry (or tip) and can get plenty of food for the price.
  • I recently dined with my two sisters at a restaurant, which was voted "best in state" in "Connecticut" magazine. My sister had a steak for $26.95. No potato included, a la carte. The steak was gristly and over-cooked, and when the waitress asked how it was, she told her, but no comment was made. The other tables received nice, hot bread, but we did not. Halfway through the meal we asked whether our meal came with bread. The waitress nonchalantly said, "Oh, didn't you get bread?" A boy delivered a loaf, with no comment. Our meals were mediocre at best, and over-priced. We paid over $100 for the three meals, not including tip or drinks, and left very dissatisfied. I feel that restaurants no longer feel that the customer is right and couldn't care less about our satisfaction.
  • I just had a birthday dinner with two women friends at a fancy restaurant where dinner is fixed price at almost $100 plus wine and plus tip. We ordered two bottles of pretty expensive wine. The restaurant was crowded but we angry about how much less attention we got than the men or the couples. The waiter never poured any of our expensive wine. We did it all ourselves. And we certainly won't go back.


Buying store-labeled meat, milk, and chicken is as familiar and comfortable to most shoppers as buying branded hot dogs, branded yogurt, branded cereals, and branded laundry products. In the context of growing up in America, branded meats and poultry are new kids on the block.
Added value and highly differentiated perishables are seen differently - for most shoppers, buying store brands of yogurt, hot dogs, take out foods and refrigerated pizzas involves making a quality trade-off to get the lower price. With the exception of Kraft cheese and Wonder bread, national brands don't have the long and strong consumer relationships in perishables that they have in groceries and other consumer products.
The ratings and comments suggest that products in any category can be differentiated by stores or by brands. Shoppers are beginning to talk about exceptional store brand products that they or their families actually prefer to national brand versions. Mothers are also telling us that they aren't paying much attention to kid's brand preferences for products that are eaten at home - they are using brand names like Cheerio's as cereal flavor designators and saving money on the store brand versions - a happening which is reflected in the growing sales of store brands in these categories.

  • "We love Schnuck's bacon but it's the only store brand food we buy."
  • "I've had more comments on my Giant brownies than any other kind at double the price. I'll never change."
  • "My kids love ValueWise (Jewel) mac and cheese."
  • "Store brand Weis real mayonnaise is the best."

Ratings of store brand perishables comparability with national brands where 5=Store brands are as good or better

Product Mean for all Ages 31-49 Ages 50+ Middle Income Higher Income
1. Fresh meat 4.5 4.6 4.3 4.5 4.5
2. Fresh poultry 4.3 4.5 4.1 4.3 4.4
3. Cakes 4.1 4.0 4.0 3.9 4.3
4. Deli-type salads 4.1 4.5 3.5 4.2 4.0
5. Deli-sliced meats 4.0 4.1 3.6 3.9 4.0
6. Shredded cheeses 4.0 4.1 3.8 3.9 4.0
7. Variety bulk cheeses 4.0 3.9 4.0 3.8 3.8
8. Sliced cheeses 3.9 3.9 3.6 3.9 3.4
9. Breads 3.8 3.7 3.6 3.5 4.3
10. Cookies 3.8 3.9 3.5 3.7 3.9
11. Take-out foods 3.8 3.9 3.3 3.9 3.3
12. Packaged lunchmeats 3.5 3.7 3.1 3.2 3.6
13. Refrigerated pizza 3.5 3.8 2.9 3.5 3.5
14. Sausage 3.4 3.4 3.2 3.0 3.7
15. Yogurt 3.4 3.7 3.0 3.5 3.2
16. Hot Dogs 3.1 3.2 3.0 2.9 2.9

In the table above, Columns 2 and 3 show the mean store brand ratings by consumers aged 31-49 and 50+. Note that the older consumers rated store brands lower (or less equivalent) than the younger respondents in almost all categories.

Columns 4 and 5 show the mean ratings for middle and higher income consumers. There was less rating difference by income than by age. Higher income respondents gave store brands higher ratings in several categories but significantly lower ratings on take-out foods. Since higher income respondents are better able to afford and more likely to use take out foods, this difference suggests a problem for supermarkets.
More processed foods in long-advertised categories such as hot dogs; yogurt, pizza and packaged lunchmeats were rated lower or further from national brand quality.
In the U.S., national brands have more appeal and stronger consumer relationships than store brands. But their power is much weaker in some categories than in others. Today shoppers are more likely to feel like free agents about their brand choices. The future appears to be open to whoever consistently delivers the best product at the best price and is able to develop brand and product relationships with shoppers.


Singles, seniors, and small household shoppers have been complaining about meat packages that were larger than they wanted or needed for as long as we've been listening. Many retailers have responded to their needs with single and two steak packages and a few with single serving size packages of chicken parts and ground beef. But most retailers continue to penalize the small size self-service buyer on price. The savings are on "family-packs," "freezer packs," or "value packs" - a merchandising tradition which frustrates and irritates small household shoppers who accept large size savings with equanimity in other departments.

My #1 complaint is being forced to buy unwanted "family packs" of steaks, etc. to get the sale price. Only 2 in my family. Should be able to get two steaks or whatever at sale price. This drives me nuts!!

This shopper is hardly alone in her feelings - and meat packagers and retailers should strive to understand them by taking special note of the shopper's use of the word "forced."
Feeling forced to do or buy something you don't want to do or to buy is irritating and frustrating to the shopper and works as a barrier to good store-customer or brand-customer relationships.
Feeling "forced to buy" the larger size is much stronger and more common at the meat case than in the paper or cereal aisles. Today's shoppers aren't as dependent on meat as were yesterday's shoppers, but meat and poultry are significant parts of their purchases and their enjoyment. Buying the meat or poultry item that is on special is a symbol of smart shopping that it passed down from generation to generation.
Changes in today's market place make this more important to food retailers than ever:
1. Smaller households are today's norm.
2. The wise use of leftovers is yesterday's approach to homemaking and meal fixing.
3. Supermarkets do a large share of their business from shoppers who are shopping for tonight's dinner or tomorrows.
4. Supermarkets are losing out to other channels.
Forcing supermarket shoppers to buy more meat than they want makes other choices and other channels more attractive.


Last month we reported on the relative importance of time, work and money for food products. There the highest numbers came from younger shoppers who are committed to saving time and work at lunch. Here, the youngest respondents again show their passion for products that save time and work-which helps to explain the success of cleaning products like Swifter.

Attitudes about drug products are the opposite of attitudes about cleaning products. While older consumers are most concerned about saving money on drugs, they are also more concerned than younger shoppers about saving time and work in the drug category. The reason for this flip comes to life in the following comment: "Keeping up with the Ginkgo and the eleven other vitamins, herbals and supplements I'm taking is time consuming. It takes time to sort them, take them and reorder them. Add that to keeping my mother up to date on her prescriptions and filling her morning and evening pill boxes every week and you are talking about a real chunk of time which I'd love to get a handle on."

(Numbers show mean importance ratings on a 5-point scale where 5=Extremely important.)

Ages 19-30 Ages 31-49 Ages 50+
Cleaning products
Time 4.8 4.2 4.1
Work 4.8 4.2 4.1
Money 3.6 4.2 3.8
Time 3.0 4.1 3.3
Work 3.5 3.9 3.2
Money 3.5 4.1 4.2
Home products/Wax
Time 4.0 3.4 3.5
Work 4.3 3.5 3.3
Money 3.3 3.7 3.7
Home furnishings
Time 2.8 3.4 3.3
Work 2.8 3.2 3.0
Money 4.5 4.0 4.2
Laundry products
Time 4.0 3.6 3.5
Work 4.0 3.8 3.5
Money 3.5 4.0 3.8
Lawn/Garden care
Time 4.0 3.3 3.5
Work 3.8 3.4 3.7
Money 4.3 4.0 3.9
Time 3.3 4.0 4.1
Work 3.3 3.8 4.0
Money 4.0 4.8 4.7

Free agent consumers hate to be saddled with a wallet full of loyalty cards that bulk up wallets, which are already bulging from an oversized assortment of charge cards, health care cards, ID's and special photographs. At the same time, they don't want to risk paying a premium because the store they stop at has a cardholder special. Now, some shoppers are buzzing about their discovery that Shop Rite loyalty cards work just as well at Pathmark stores and vice versa and etc. Just one more hurdle for retailers loyalty game - and one more assertion of freedom for consumers who hate to be pinned down.


Reflecting and projecting the American food marketplace as a whole, the big food marketing show in Chicago was faster and more fattening than ever. We suggest a new approach to estimating consumption: Calories per square foot of display space times the minutes or seconds it takes to prepare and eat high-convenience calories. Using calories/foot as a base for trend spotting, we can say with confidence that it will keep getting easier for shoppers to prepare and consume more calories in less time, with one hand, and with less effort. This year's show could have been called Convenience Accelerated. Almost every food brand we could name was displaying its latest (or soonest to roll out) answer to today's time-short and calorie-be-damned shoppers.

The products on display were a good fit with reports that less than a third of consumers under age 40 are scratch cooks by any definition. One of the most characteristic was Campbell's Supper Bakes which promise "Five Minute Prep" and "True Homemade Taste" from a pretty ordinary looking box that contains one can (for baking sauce) plus three separate packets for toppings, seasoning, and pasta or rice that cook in the baking sauce with no pasta or rice boiling required. Consumers add the can and packet contents to their own meat in their own 9"x13" pan. The Supper Bake samples that this overstuffed show-viewer tasted seemed bland and limp - but maybe that's the result of tasting one too many fried meats, fishes, and veggies or maybe it's the taste that today's shoppers are calling "homemade".


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