« March 2007 Table of Contents
Consumer Survey: Making a menu
Survey: What do consumers want for seafood when they eat out?
By James Wright
March 01, 2007
Ordering a meal at a restaurant can be a daunting task. A
diner's decision can be especially challenging when seafood is
an option, with so many finfish and shellfish species to
consider, as well as a wide variety of preparation methods.
When it comes to seafood, it's not always as simple as "medium
or well done?"
Making a menu enticing and relevant - devising a variety of
dishes that customers in a particular area will want to order -
is the mission of many foodservice research and development
teams. It is essential to know the answers to some key
questions about your customers before committing to seafood:
Who eats seafood, and where? When people eat out, what seafood
do they order the most? What seafood species do they consider
Knowing what seafood options consumers want to order - or at
least ponder ordering - is the purpose of "SeaFood Business
Restaurant Study: Consumer behavior and attitudes toward
seafood," a new consumer survey co-sponsored by SeaFood
Business and Fishery Products International, a Canadian seafood
processor and marketer, and conducted by NPD Group, a research
and consulting firm in Rosemont, Ill.
Studying demographics can provide meaningful insight into a
region's consumers. You'll need to know what seafood meals your
guests are looking for even before they look at your menu.
What's more, people of a certain gender, age, race or income
level likely have distinct seafood-ordering habits. If you know
who your customers are, you'll be better equipped to serve
This survey of nearly 4,000 U.S. restaurant consumers
provides information about what seafood species consumers are
ordering at casual dining restaurants (CDR), family-style
restaurants (FSR) and quick-service restaurants (QSR), and what
seafood species consumers consider ordering at these restaurant
The survey's findings show that sales opportunities exist in
both the fish and shellfish categories. For instance, you may
be surprised to learn that about 80 percent of survey
respondents claim to have at least one favorite seafood
The fact that shrimp is by far the most popular seafood
species in all three of these restaurant categories probably
comes as no surprise at all.
According to research by seafood economist H.M. Johnson
& Associates of Jacksonville, Ore., shrimp was the
most-consumed seafood species in the United States in 2005, at
4.1 pounds per capita. It was the fifth consecutive year that
shrimp topped the consumption charts. As the survey suggests, a
versatile ingredient like shrimp plays well in a variety of
Whether you are a chain-restaurant buyer serving a new
market or an independent chef considering more seafood for your
menu, " SeaFood Business Restaurant Study: Consumer behavior
and attitudes toward seafood," connects you to the seafood
trends at foodservice.
Keeping it casual
About 60 percent of survey respondents say they ordered
seafood at a casual-dining restaurant in the past six months.
CDRs typically offer several seafood appetizers and entrées
over a wide price range, allowing them to offer both affordable
meals as well as bold dishes featuring complex flavors.
"Most consumers have at least one favorite fish or shellfish
species, with 89 percent of the [respondents] claiming they
would consider ordering fish or shellfish at a casual-dining
restaurant," up 1 percent from the previous year, the study
concludes. Knowing that seafood makes the final cut in many
diners' decisions allows restaurant chains to explore menuing
many seafood species.
"We have depended on standard seafood choices like salmon
and mahimahi. But we run the gamut from catfish to sole to
trout," says Robert Okura, VP of culinary development and
corporate executive chef for The Cheesecake Factory, based in
Calabasas Hills, Calif. The company also operates Grand Lux
Café, an upscale casual-dining concept with eight locations in
major cities across the country.
Seafood is all over The Cheesecake Factory's menu and is
playing a big role in the 120-unit chain's health
"Although [customers] may not specifically think of diet
food at The Cheesecake Factory, we have had a tremendously
positive response to our weight-management salads introduced
[in December] nationwide," Okura says.
Of the six new salads, two of them feature seafood; one
includes poached salmon, served cold with herb sauce and
another has seared albacore tuna. All salads are designed to be
590 calories or less.
"We have seafood in all categories: sandwiches, tacos, Latin
dishes, brunch," Okura says. "For me, there's no category we
can't expand with seafood. I see it continuing to be a big part
of our menu."
Seafood, a lean protein, is an obvious meal solution for
health-conscious consumers. Leading the way in that arena is
America's favorite seafood, shrimp, which is the most-ordered
seafood at CDRs - 36 percent of survey respondents say they
ordered shrimp in the past six months and 67 percent considered
ordering shrimp. Other top species ordered are crab at 19
percent, salmon at 18 percent, scallops at 15 percent and
calamari, or squid, at 13 percent.
Other top species considered at CDRs are lobster, crab and
salmon (46 percent).
"When comparing order consideration versus actual ordering,
there is clearly more demand for shrimp, lobster, salmon and
tuna than availability on CDR menus. Other species that
continue to have high demand (and potential CDR sales
opportunities) include crab and scallops. Lobster has the
highest ratio of consideration to availability of all species,"
the study concludes.
"Lobster should be utilized as an ingredient or as an
appetizer, which can keep the price point to the consumer
All in the family
Seafood ordering at family-style restaurants is much less
than at CDRs; 33 percent of survey respondents who visited
family-style restaurants in the previous six months ordered
seafood. Still, places like Ground Round, a family-style chain
based in Whitman, Mass., say that seafood fills an important
role on its menu.
"Most consumers don't think of seafood when they think of
Ground Round, but we feel it is important to provide that
option to our guests," says Debbie Sullivan, menu development
and procurement manager for Ground Round, which operates 60
restaurants in the East and Midwest.
To lure customers away from the standard burgers and fries,
Ground Round relies on regional seafood staples like baked cod
and haddock as well as more adventurous fare like its Orange
Glazed Salmon entrée. One of its popular appetizers is its
Margarita Shrimp'dilla, an open-faced quesadilla with
margarita-flavored shrimp, jalapeno jack and cheddar cheeses
and pico de gallo.
"We have four limited-time offers a year," Sullivan adds.
"This provides us the opportunity to seek new recipes and
ideas. We had a great promotion last year featuring red snapper
A fried fish dinner is the most likely to be ordered at an
FSR, say 13 percent of survey respondents. The menu at
Friendly's, a Northeast chain of more than 500 restaurants
based in Wilbraham, Mass., has several seafood items on its
menu, including the Clamboat® and shrimp fried-seafood baskets,
New England Fish 'n Chips and Grilled
Fried seafood is also popular at Bob Evans, a 590-unit chain
based in Columbus, Ohio, which features the Fisherman's Dinner,
a fried whitefish fillet served with French fries, coleslaw and
"Catfish and cod seem to have reached saturation, while
lobster, salmon, crab and scallops have high consideration and
less availability," the survey concludes.
Survey respondents who visited family-style restaurants
considered ordering shrimp (57 percent) salmon (37 percent) and
crab (33 percent) above all other species.
A quicker fix
While most consumers choose seafood for slow-paced, sit-down
meals paired with wine, finfish and shellfish can also fill the
needs of quick-service operators' on-the-go customers; 26
percent of survey respondents said they ordered seafood at a
QSR in the past six months. Burgers are still king for many
fast-food restaurants, but seafood is fast becoming a popular
QSR chains are finding success with these staple species
like shrimp, salmon and crab, as well as niche products outside
of the mainstream. Consider the following QSR seafood decisions
of the past year:
The 1,200-unit Long John Silver's chain, based in
Louisville, Ky., introduced its Buttered Langostino Lobster
Bites, which are available in a convenient Snack Box for just
$2.99. Langostinos, a shellfish imported from Chile and Central
America, are gaining notoriety as an affordable seafood
solution to more expensive American lobster. Rubio's Fresh
Mexican Grill, a fast-casual chain of 150-plus restaurants
based in Carlsbad, Calif., features its popular Langostino
Lobster Burrito as well as several other seafood items.
Jack in the Box of San Diego, one of the nation's largest
burger chains, last year promoted two seafood menu items, the
Fish 'n' Chips and Fish Filet Sandwich, to coincide with Lent.
Dairy Queen of Minneapolis, Minn., brought back its popular
popcorn shrimp basket for the third consecutive year to
capitalize on the annual religious tradition.
And the Subway sandwich chain of Milford, Conn.,
reintroduced its Seafood Sensation sandwich to many markets in
North America. The sandwich, which features Alaska pollock and
crab-based surimi, has been a core menu item for the chain for
most of the past 20 years, says Eric Wolfe, international
product quality manager.
"It's still pretty significant in a number of our markets,"
says Wolfe, who adds that Subway menus differ slightly from
region to region. For example, Subway test-marketed a
salmon-based sandwich in the Pacific Northwest, a lobster-salad
sandwich in Canada and a breaded whitefish patty in
"The individual territories can do 'locals' as long as we
ensure that the product comes from a facility that has been
audited [for safety and quality]," says Wolfe.
Age equals wisdom?
Age is a major factor in consumers' seafood-ordering and
consideration habits. Older consumers are generally more
focused on health and nutrition, and seafood fills their demand
for healthier fare.
Survey respondents were categorized into four age brackets:
18 to 24 years old, 25 to 34 years old, 35 to 54 years old and
age 55 and up.
For the 18-24 group, 52 percent ate seafood at CDRs, 22
percent at FSRs and 15 percent at QSRs. Shrimp, crab salmon,
calamari and catfish were the most popular species.
Respondents in the 25-34 group chose more seafood: 58
percent ate seafood at CDRs, 28 percent at FSRs and 20 percent
at QSRs. Shrimp, crab, calamari and salmon were the
Of those in the 35-54 group, 59 percent ate seafood at CDRs,
32 percent at FSRs and 28 percent at QSRs. Shrimp, crab, salmon
and catfish were selected most often.
Finally, of the total respondents in the 55-plus group, 63
percent ate seafood at CDRs, 42 percent at FSRs and 28 percent
at QSRs. Shrimp, salmon, crab and catfish were the most
Gender is another dynamic to consider. Of the men who
participated in the survey, 59 percent ate seafood at CDRs, 35
percent at FSRs and 27 percent at QSRs. Shrimp, salmon and crab
were the most popular species at casual-dining restaurants,
while male family-style restaurant visitors opted for shrimp,
catfish and salmon the most.
A similar trend emerged for women, as 60 percent of survey
respondents ate seafood at CDRs, 32 percent at FSRs and 24
percent at QSRs. Shrimp, crab and salmon were the most popular
species at casual-dining restaurants, while shrimp, salmon,
crab and catfish were the top choices of women at family-style
Finally, ethnic groups' desires for seafood vary. The top
seafood species considered by Caucasians at CDRs were shrimp
(67 percent), crab (47 percent) and lobster and salmon (46
percent). African Americans' top considerations were shrimp (71
percent), salmon (54 percent) and lobster (49 percent).
Hispanic American respondents chose shrimp (70 percent),
lobster (51 percent) and salmon (48 percent), while Asian
Americans opted for shrimp (60 percent), salmon (56 percent)
and calamari (53 percent).
U.S. seafood consumption, though down slightly in 2005, is
still strong, at 16.2 pounds per capita, according to research
by H.M. Johnson & Associates. More than half (57 percent)of
all survey respondents said they are actively looking for more
healthful and nutritious options at restaurants.
Because seafood is a lean
protein rich in omega-3 fatty
acids, which have been linked to numerous health benefits,
including decreased risk of coronary heart disease, more
foodservice operators are turning to seafood to meet their
customers' demand for healthier fare.
Subway's Wolfe says seafood's healthy attributes fit in well
with the company's focus on low-fat foods and lean
"After the avian flu scare we said, 'We've got to find
something to replace chicken in the event that it's not
available in the future.' We definitely look to seafood, which
is known to be a healthy product. Within our operation, we have
our speed oven and microwave. We do no frying."
More than ever, consumers are calling out for healthier
options like seafood. Restaurants will be responsible for
meeting the health demands of an aging population and for
influencing the seafood-eating habits of future
For the survey "SeaFood Business Restaurant Study: Consumer
behavior and attitudes toward seafood," NPD Group of Rosemont,
Ill., surveyed 3,989 adult consumers, with a 50 percent gender
split, in November 2006. Respondents were asked about their
seafood consumption and ordering habits when dining out over
the previous six months. The sample size included 3,190
casual-dining customers, 2,889 family-style customers and 3,749
Assistant Editor James Wright can be e-mailed at
email@example.com. Editor-in-Chief Fiona Robinson and
Associate Editor Steven Hedlund contributed to this report.