Inside Track by Mark Wingett

Do I have your attention? Just asking because in this whirlwind, technology-driven world in which we try to survive, most of us have the attention span of a three year old. I might therefore have lost you already to Peppa Pig!

Three years ago, a study by Lloyds TSB showed that the average attention span had fallen to five minutes, down from 12 minutes a decade previously. Taking that forward, I have about three minutes and counting to finish this article and get my point across. With the way I type that will be tricky, but here goes.

We are a nation, if not a world, of flickers. Do any of us watch a TV show all the way through anymore? Of course not; we flick, we surf, we have no time for anything that doesn’t grab our attention within the blink of an eye.

This problem has been preying on the best minds in the eating-out market for years, but rather than attention span, the main focus is on dwell time. It’s one thing getting a customer into your business, but how long can you keep them there is another issue altogether.

Rather than swim against the tide, many operators are embracing the fickle nature of today’s modern consumer. The words “to go” have become increasingly frequent as established and new concepts have looked to increase sales in the face of decreasing dwell time.

Tragus, operator of casual dining chains Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Strada, has become the latest company to dip its toe in the “to go” market with a recently opened faster-format Cafe Rouge at London’s Euston station. Tragus chief executive Graham Turner sees the format, which is still at the trial stage, as the next “logical step” for the company and brand.

Tragus is not alone. Ping Pong opened Now by Ping Pong - a smaller takeaway style outlet opposite Liverpool station in London last year whilst Comptoir Libanais, the Lebanese canteen concept, is currently trialling a “Compt-to-Go” sandwich and salad kiosk at its Wigmore Street site. Indeed, some industry observers feel there is more mileage in Ping Pong’s Now format than in its core estate.

Technology is also playing an important roll in this trend. The ability to view menu’s on mobile, i-Pads and through Twitter updates , allowing pre-ordering on the run has cut down service times even further.

The virtues of social media have been heralded long and loud, but it really is proving to be a game-changer, with many of the more fledgling sites and concepts building up a loyal consumer base with those with the least time to waste, such as city and town centre workers. The innovative marketing and promotional ideas and the effort put into these key points of strategy by operators such as Mooli’s and Chilango means they are front of mind for this cash-rich, time-poor group.

Deals signed this month by Domino’s and the West Cornwall Pasty Company with Moto, the motorway service operator, to open sites at its roadside locations across the UK, will also allow customers to pre-choose, via mobile headsets, the products of their choice while at the wheel. Their order will be piping hot and ready to go as they pull into their destination.

The demand for quality food, right here, right now, without delay, has never been more intense. Consumer behaviour, that fickle mistress, is increasingly shifting towards fast-casual, takeaway propositions.

The challenge for pub and restaurant operators is to catch this “can’t stop/won’t wait “ crowd, especially during the lunch time market - this is, without doubt, the next battlefield in the fast-casual market.