Spend per head growth of 2% in 2018 fell below estimated menu price inflation of 2-3%, the latest MCA data shows.

MCA’s latest Eating Out Panel report shows an average spend of £7.58 per head in Q4 2018. The year-on-year growth comes despite a 0.9% drop in total visits, due to a 1.4% reduction in visit frequency down to 15.2 visits per head per month. There was a small increase in total visitors, which the report ascribes to the rising population.

Growth in the market was largely seen at breakfast – the only day-part to increase both the average number of visits per head per month and the average spend per head per visit. The success of breakfast was driven by coffee shops and food to go, with the coffee shop/café channel reaching its highest breakfast share for four years.

Meanwhile, lunch frequency dropped by 3% compared to Q4 2017. Consumers spent slightly more on their lunch occasions, with a 2% increase year-on-year, but the rise was smaller than breakfast and dinner.

Dinner participation dropped to 82.6% in Q4 2018 - the lowest in the four years of Eating Out Panel tracking. The average spend at dinner increased by 3% year-on-year, however the period recorded the lowest average dinner spend of the last four quarters.

Snacking declined at every key metric with average snacking spend falling for the first time in three years and the lowest average snacking bill since Q4 2016.

Consumer insight director Gareth Nash said: “The latest figures from our 18,000-strong panel of consumers highlights the challenges faced across the eating out sector. Operators are fighting on all fronts, with declines in participation and visit frequency, while average spend per head is struggling to keep pace with menu inflation.

“Breakfast remains the bright spot but with more and more operators fighting for market share it is becoming increasingly competitive. More concerning is the record low participation at dinner, as the highest spend day-part continues to be hit by falling consumer spend and the rise of foodservice delivery.”

To find out more about the 91-page full report or MCA and HIM’s wider insights please contact insight.enquiries@mca-insight.com