Writankar Mukherjee and Sarah Jacob , The Economic Times
Kolkata/Bangalore, March 23, 2012
So what if they are in their late sixties, the Ghoshs have a weekly ritual of tucking into burgers and fries mostly at the McDonald’s outlet in Kolkata’s Mani Square mall. The couple, whose children are settled abroad, often proceed to unwind with friends at a cafe later. "Its a nice feeling to hang out in places. You feel young at heart, can spend time without interruption and the food is yummy," Indranil Ghosh, a retired banking executive, says while his wife Meera, a retired schoolteacher, is busy with her fish burger.
Eating out joints, including youth centric quick service restaurants such as McDonald’s and Subway, now have a loyal clientele among senior citizens.
Many restaurants are offering special loyalty cards and comforts of blankets and shawls besides reaching out to old-age homes to woo what they say is a booming club of elders feeling young and having enough spare time and money.
This comes at a time when sales have been declining at quick-service and fine-dining restaurants in recent months because of lower discretionary spends by regular consumers. "There is a change in perception and a shift of guests from a very high-flying dining to young and lively restaurant formats or a youthful cafe," says Amit Burman, chairman of Lite Bite Foods, which owns chains such as Subway, Asia 7, Zambar and Punjab Grill.
"This is also noticed from the fact that a lot of our senior citizen guests actively operate Facebook and Twitter accounts and become member of our online forums," he says. The likes of McDonald’s, Mainland China, Little Italy, Subway and Punjab Grill estimate that 60+ age-group consumers account for up to 15% of their sales. "The trend of senior citizen-led families eating out is fast becoming prominent, more so in the tier II and III towns," says Rudra Kishore Sen, director at McDonald’s India (North & East).
WOOING THE ELDERLY
McDonald’s is now developing a menu specifically targeted at this age group and reaching out to old-age homes. It is also evaluating a loyalty programme to grow its relevance as a true-bred family restaurant. Mainland China, a fine-dining Chinese restaurant chain owned by Specialty Restaurants, has introduced some off-the-menu dishes steamed butter noodle (for easy chewing) and special steamed fish (where soya garlic sauce replaced the more spicy chilli soya sauce) for senior citizens and offers complementary dessert for the elderly.
Restaurants have also become attentive about smaller comforts for this age group. At Specialty Restaurant outlets, adult diapers are kept on standby. Just in case the air-conditioning is too much for this age group, shawls and blankets are offered up at many restaurants. Little Italy, an 18-outlet chain finedining restaurant chain, offers reading glasses and is also introducing grab bars or rods to help older people maintain their balance in washrooms. "Many senior citizens find the font size too small on the menu," Raj Mehta, MD of Little Italy Group of Restaurants, says.
Another chain, Barbeque Nation is training its staff in emergency medical assistance like helping a customer suffering from sudden heart attack, which it says would be most beneficial for this age group.
MORE MONEY, MORE TIME
These eat-out joints are tweaking their offerings because a growing chunk of senior citizen have more disposable income due to increase in pension income by the central and state governments as well as increased income-tax exemption limit, say analysts.
While the frequency of eating-out may not be as high, senior citizens are typically more profitable consumers. "This group is less likely to look at the right side of the menu (where the price would be)," says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer of management consultancy Third Eyesight. They usually have fewer domestic pressures such as loan repayment commitments, rent or education of children. "They tend to not only have more spare money but spare time too," Dutta says. Anjan Chatterjee, chairman and MD of Specialty Restaurants, which runs 82 restaurants across brands such as Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, says senior citizens are the most loyal customers.
"They may not be marketer’s first choice, but our experience shows that their bill sizes are at least 10% more than when the youngsters dine," he says. And they account for a significant number of population, though much less than the youth. Babita Jayaram, vice president-operations at BJN Group, which runs restaurants such as Firangi Paani, Aromas of China, Indijoe and Khansama, feels there is no need to segment the older consumer as food preferences do not typically change when they turn 60.
"Consumers only become more health conscious as they become older, which is why they are free to customise their food order for lesser oil or spices," he says, adding over 30% of BJN Group consumers are above 60 years. Raj Mehta of Little Italy says more and more old consumers are now curious to experience what the younger generation favours.