Bigger portions, better deals and a strong loyalty program—those are the secrets to getting customers to order from your restaurant in today’s challenging economy, according to an April 2024 study by Popmenu.

That’s not exactly an earthshattering revelation, but the Popmenu study backs up a recent report from TouchBistro, which said “fewer Americans are dining out, and price hikes are one of the biggest culprits.”

For its new report, Popmenu conducted an anonymous, nationwide study of 1,000 U.S. consumers, ages 18 and older, from April 16 to April 17, 2024. The study included 392 moms.

Related: Start building the pizzeria of your dreams at PMQ’s first-ever Pizza Power Forum, September 4-5, in Atlanta

Popmenu concluded that, on average, consumers today spend 30% of their individual or family food budgets on restaurants each month—down from 40% in May 2022. And even the good news for restaurants spells not-so-good news for restaurant servers, as 38% report spending the same or more on restaurant meals compared to last year but tipping less.

It’s not that Americans don’t still love restaurants. They certainly do. In fact, 64% said they would dine at or order from restaurants every day if they could. Instead, thanks to inflation, they’re spending less at their favorite eating spots.

Restaurants that are still coming out on top—and growing—are offering more budget-friendly menu options while actively engaging consumers across digital channels to generate in-person or online orders, said Brendan Sweeney, Popmenu’s CEO and co-founder.

“Although restaurant industry sales remain healthy, competition for guests has intensified over the last several months,” Sweeney said. “Consumers are doing their homework: 80% research restaurant menus online as they assess dishes, cost, convenience and other drivers of dining decisions.”

Here’s what Americans are looking for from restaurants:

  • More leftovers: About half (52%) of consumers say they prioritize restaurants that offer bigger portions, so they’ll have leftovers for another meal.  
  • Bigger, better deals: 66% choose restaurants that provide more affordable menu items or special offers.  
  • More rewards: 45% frequent restaurants that offer a loyalty program.
  • Fewer fees: 67% of consumers say they prefer to order directly from a restaurant’s website versus a third-party platform, primarily to avoid fees and take advantage of cheaper menus. 

Meanwhile, the TouchBistro report from earlier this year called attention to the risk of continued menu price hikes. “It turns out that restaurateurs only have a window for a 10% to 11% increase before diners will be deterred from visiting their venue,” the report stated. In particular, quick-service restaurants “should be even more cautious when raising prices, as Americans expect these restaurants to be more affordable and are therefore less forgiving of price increases.”

Eating and drinking places generated $93.7 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis in March 2024, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Following a decline in December and January, industry revenue grew in February and March, but it’s still trailing a $94.2 billion high in November.