The value of discount vouchers in the eating and drinking out sector was put into question today after a new study found that only 17% of customers take advantage of the offers.

The QuickBite research from market analysts Horizons revealed that the majority of customers (55%) do not base their decision to eat out on the availability of a money-off deal.

Some 25% of diners who use discount deals say they would have eaten elsewhere had the deal not been available, while 20% would have stayed at home.

The QuickBite survey questioned more than 1,000 adults.

Peter Backman, Horizon’s development executive, said: “Vouchers are untargeted in that while they persuade a percentage of consumers to dine somewhere they are also being used by more loyal customers who would dine in that restaurant anyway and don’t need to be persuaded with money-off vouchers

“Deals in the eating out sector have become much more sophisticated over the past 18 months, but operators still need to work harder at attracting new customers, rather than purely rewarding existing ones.”

Unsurprisingly, two-for-one offers are the most common eating out vouchers used by diners, with money-off coupons and “meal deals” ranking second. Women (19%) are more likely to use discount vouchers than men (12%) with those under-35 the most common age group to use them.

PizzaExpress is the most popular place to redeem restaurant vouchers, although deals at McDonald’s (13%), Tesco (10%), Domino’s Pizza (9%) and Pizza Hut (7%) are also popular.

Some 44% of diners hear about vouchers from friends and acquaintances, with digital communication the second most important, the majority of which come direct from the restaurant.

Only a small number download their vouchers from websites such as Moneysavingexpert.com or Vouchercodes.co.uk, while others get them from smartphone applications such as Vouchercloud.com or Foursquare.com.

Horizons’ survey also shows that the value of the eating out market has risen 2.6% year-on-year from £31.4bn to £32.2bn while the total number of meals eaten out has risen by 3.2% from 2.84bn to 2.93bn to June 2010.

Consumers are spending more per head when they eat out — up 14.3% to £11.53 — but are eating out less often (1.4 times a week compared to 1.6 last year).

Dining is also becoming more casual with a 9% year-on-year decrease in the number of people eating at a table service restaurant, with 5% more choosing takeaways and 7% more opting for fast food.