Juan Ruiz
Juan Ruiz is the Director of Insights at Mintel. He analyzes the US Hispanic and Latin American markets and develops insightful reports on Hispanic consumers, helping clients to understand the growing Hispanic market in the context of their categories.

These are challenging times to be a restaurant operator. The growth of market for dining out as a whole is consistently bringing in new operators, creating a market that is increasingly fragmented and competitive. Restaurant sales are growing, but individual restaurants are struggling. It is not enough for individual operators to be confident about the quality of the food they offer, they also need to get to know the characteristics of the different groups of people living within their area of influence in order to determine the best way to connect and bring them in to the restaurant. Depending on the area, Hispanics may represent a significant share of these groups.

At more than 60 million, Hispanics account of 18.5% of the population. While the estimated $70.9 billion they spent on dining out in 2017 is just 12.5% of the total US expenditures on the category, Hispanics represent a significant opportunity as they are in the process of closing the gap. Driven by the youth of the market, their access to better opportunities as they gravitate toward biculturalism, and higher disposable incomes due to a strong job market, Hispanic expenditures on limited service restaurants grew 20% since 2012 and 39% on full service restaurants, significantly above the growth rates of 17% and 25% among the total US market.

Mintel US Research on Hispanic consumers dining out shows that 65% of Hispanics enjoy trying new restaurants, while 58% consider there are restaurants they go over and over again. Since these behaviors are not mutually exclusive, restaurant operators have two options if they want to succeed in the long term; break and create new patterns to grow clientele, disrupting where people used to dine out, or maintain and reinforce patterns if an established restaurant aims to keep diners coming back. In both cases, providing a positive experience that meets expectations is key. Since the idea of experience means different things for different people, Mintel identified four segments of Hispanics based on their attitudes and behaviors toward dining out:

  • Dining Out Enthusiasts (34%): Hispanics in this segment value an experience in which their children and their friends are having a good time. The focus of their satisfaction is not limited to the food, but to the time spent with friends and children, including large groups. Making everyone feel welcomed is valued, as dining out for Hispanics in this group is an important part of their social life.Hispanic Millennials who skew female, are parents, unacculturated and bicultural over index for being in this group.
  • Experience Seekers (23%): Hispanics in this group value an experience away from children and large groups. While for Dining Out Enthusiasts the experience is about the time spent with others, for Experience Seekers is about themselves. Experience Seekers look for a break from the ordinary, not limited to food. Experience Seekers skew older (45+), more acculturated, without children in the household. As they rely on online recommendations and come with defined expectations, the factor of surprise can be important to make an impression and stand out.
  • Convenience Seekers (22%): Hispanics in this group want convenience and are pragmatic at the moment of deciding where to eat. They tend to gravitate toward the places they know and trust, as the experience for them is secondary. They know what they want and define convenience based on, food quality and price. Convenience Seekers tend to be either very young or old. They skew more acculturated and have an average household income.
  • Special Occasion Seekers (20%): Hispanics in this group tend to have budget limitations and therefore go out to eat mainly on special occasions. They try to make the most out of their experience when they go out. Special Occasion Seekers tend to choose from a reduced list of places and make them “their places.” Hispanics in this segment tend to skew young. They may be temporarily in this segment and may move to others with improving finances or with a change of life stage.

Since the market for dining out is fragmented and competitive, building a restaurant and opening it is not enough. Focusing on taste, quality, and freshness is not enough – it is important to assume that every competitor is doing the same. Understanding what experience means for each of the different groups of Hispanics and aligning the restaurant offering to the one that offers the greatest opportunity can set restaurant operators on the right path to stand out and start building a following.