Carol Wong-Li
Carol Wong-Li is Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure for Mintel. Carol researches and writes reports on the Canadian lifestyle and leisure industries.

Canada VS brings you insight and analysis on Canadian consumers’ preferences, habits and behaviours compared to those in other countries. Today we take a look at the dining out category in Canada  and America.

Preference for more casual fare

66% of Canadians eat out at fast food restaurants

A look at Canadians and Americans who dine out reveals that both are more likely to eat at fast food restaurants over any other restaurant type: nearly 7 in 10 Canadians eat out at burger, chicken, pizza or sub sandwich fast food compared to 3 in 5 Americans who eat out at burger or chicken fast food. Fast casuals also draw similar levels of patronage for both countries. We find that both Canadians and Americans prefer being able to get in and out quickly, which ranks amongst the top factors considered when choosing a restaurant.

Grocery encroaches on dining-in

Interestingly, grocery stores are succeeding in tapping into the convenience factor for both Canadians and Americans, as a quarter of diners in both countries report eating at grocery retailers. The combination of a sit-down atmosphere with a growing menu of hot and cold food items offered at comparable prices to fast food is seen across both sides of the border. For example, in January 2015, Whole Foods added in-store dining options and bars to each of its six-store expansion within the city of Chicago. Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods’ Midwest region, was quoted as saying that the reason for doing so was to give customers more reasons to visit.

In Canada, major grocery operators have been actively courting customers to eat in, as evidenced by Loblaws flagship Maple Leaf Gardens location that boasts a “Canteen” which serves “prêt-a-manger” style fresh ready-made sandwiches and salads alongside a sushi bar, among other items made fresh in-store. For both countries, these work to attract the time-strapped consumer who is seeking value: most notably parents with young children. In Canada, 35% of parents with under-5s at home eat at these types of venues vs a quarter of Canadians overall. In the US, we see a similar breakdown.

Coffee shops emerge as an eat-in venue for Canadians

44% of Canadians eat at coffee shops, compared to 28% of Americans

A notable difference in venue preferences is seen with coffee shops. Canadians are much more likely to eat at a coffee shop than Americans. The differences seen here may be due, in part, to the success of Tim Hortons’ marketing efforts behind its breakfast and lunch offerings. Hot sandwiches, soups and wraps are giving Canadian consumers more reason to visit than simply coffee and baked goods. However, the company’s serving of such items also blurs the lines between a more traditional coffee shop and a limited service restaurant (LSR), tilting the advantage to Canadian coffee shops. Though the company’s entrance into the US has proven a challenging one, the aggressive expansion plan in growing both its footprint and presence in the country may work to push American coffee shops in the same direction.

Carol Wong-Li is a Senior Lifestyle and Leisure Analyst at Mintel, researching and writing reports on the Canadian lifestyle and leisure industries. She has worked in market research and consulting for over 8 years both on the research and supplier side.