• Spending on away-from-home food is growing.
  • Parents have been a critical driver of that spending.
  • Competition is about to increase for those families.
  • Here, we look at what Quick Service Restaurant brands are doing — or now need to do — to influence parents’ decisions about dining out.

If you thought parents were an important target market for your restaurant brand before the pandemic, they’re likely even more important now.

Since August 2020, restaurants have benefitted from an increase of about $12 in average weekly spending on away-from-home food. Much of the growth has been driven by parents, whose average weekly spending increased more than four times that of non-parents (+$23 vs. +$5). These trends further cement the role of parents as a major driver of spending on away-from-home food. In fact, average weekly expenditures by parents now total more than twice those of non-parents ($101.10 vs. $47.40).1

What’s more, the reasons behind these trends seem to indicate that Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) are especially well-positioned to capitalize on them. Industry observers have suggested that the disproportionate spending increase among parents can be traced to more children attending classes from home during the pandemic, which has resulted in an even greater time crunch for many parents who now must balance work, feeding children, and monitoring schooling.2

Here’s where it gets interesting though: during the pandemic, QSRs saw a noticeable increase in average spend — likely tied to the exact parents we’re discussing. But that may not last. Data from our partner Technomic — a leading foodservice research firm — is showing that the higher average check enjoyed by QSRs during the pandemic will soon be under attack, as sit-down restaurants begin to reopen fully and fight back for those family occasions. That’s why NOW is the time to start planning your family-focused strategies. Here are two suggestions:

1. You Need Multichannel Tactics to Fully Influence Parents

There’s no magic bullet for influencing parents’ dining out decisions. It takes a variety of tactics that span across multiple channels, including print, digital, television, radio, and others.

Media Influence

The idea is to use a variety of tactics that engage parents with a seamless experience as they move from one channel to the next. For example, while browsing online, a parent might see a display ad from your restaurant. Then, as they bring in the mail, a postcard or direct mail insert might entice them with a coupon, or other incentives. While taking a short break to watch their favorite program, your Connected TV ad can remind them to order dinner for the family tonight. As they pick up their mobile phone to order dinner, one last offer comes up to entice them to give your restaurant a try. Finally, as they settle down for the evening, they might receive an email with a follow-up offer to entice them back, encouraging frequency.

While it takes several touchpoints to fully influence parents’ decisions about dining out, a print-plus-digital combination can go a long way toward winning over busy parents. What’s more, tactics within these channels tend to be even more effective with parents than they are with non-parents. For example:

  • 34% of parents say that seeing an ad online spurs them to visit a new store or website (compared to 24% of non-parents).
  • 71% of parents say direct mail makes them aware of neighborhood restaurants, stores, and services (compared to only 63% of non-parents).
  • 69% of parents say direct mail influences them to visit a restaurant or order delivery/carryout (compared to only 49% of non-parents).4

2. Data-Driven Marketing Is the Key to Influencing Parents

In addition to knowing how you’ll reach your audience, it’s important to make sure you’re delivering the right messaging at the right time and place. That’s where data comes in.

Keep in mind that the optimal offering may differ slightly across channels. For example, in the digital channel, family meal deals have become especially common. Use of these offers has been driven largely — but not exclusively — by chicken brands. In the print channel, QSRs are deploying a wider variety of offers to attract parents, including family packs, meal deals, and kids’ meals.

As for targeting your offers, you’ll want to target neighborhoods that are in proximity to your restaurants and contain many families with children. For more nuanced targeting, consider leveraging demographic information and brand look-alike data. Our team at Valassis can help you adjust typical targeting strategies to meet specific program needs while selecting the optimal geographies to activate more families with children.

Want more restaurant industry insights like these? Read my recently published article, “What Will an Influx of Discretionary Money Mean for Restaurant Sales?”

1 Technomic Economic Impact Navigator.
2 Guszkowski, Joe. “Parents are Driving an Increase in Restaurant Spending,” Restaurant Business. January 13, 2021. Found at:
3 Prosper Insights & Analytics MBI 2021.
4 Valassis Consumer Study 2020.