Cabin Fever

Am I the only one who’s getting sick of winter? Every time I see the TV commercial featuring Travelocity’s “Roaming Gnome” sitting in front of a television screen filled with palm trees and sandy beaches while a storm fills the window behind him, I almost chant along with him…

“Dah-duddle-duddle-duh-duh-duh
Dee-diddle-diddle-dit-dit-dee
I-need-to-get-out-of-here!

I couldn’t agree more. Cabin fever is clearly getting to me, but I think it’s getting to everyone else too. Yesterday, almost everyone I talked to made roughly the same comment: “I’m over it.”

Although weather reporters have pulled out all the hyperbolic stops when it comes to naming the winter storms, even they are getting a little tired of telling us how bad it is.

But winter isn’t the only thing people are getting tired of. I think the ongoing flow of negative economic news is giving us economic “cabin fever” as well.

We see it every day as we look at our sales numbers–people are eating out less. Melissa Wilson recently shared the findings of Technomic’s “New Consumer Evolution: 2010 Update.” One of the (not surprising) insights is that, “80% of consumers are visiting restaurants less frequently.” Underlying this is not only that the economy is suffering, but the consumer price index on food at home is more favorable than food away from home-a double whammy to our industry.

What do we do while we’re waiting for it to get better? The “Roaming Gnome” isn’t going to help us get out of here, but maybe some of Technomic’s insights can.

♦ One insight is that people aren’t necessarily reverting to “takeout” over a restaurant experience. In the words of one consumer, “If I want food from a restaurant, I want the whole experience.” The experience is disproportionately important today-given that it may be more of a little splurge-and restaurants that can provide that will win.

♦ People are still celebrating the things they celebrate and still longing for the social interaction they have grown accustomed to. I was at Mitchell’s Ocean Club last night, and the place was packed. It appeared to be a lot of large groups, and they may have only had a single table turn, but on a snowy February weeknight, I was happy to see it.

♦ I love O’Charley’s new “Reinvented” campaign in which they suggest consumers “reinvent date night” or “reinvent dinner out with the kids” with their reinvented two for $14.99 entrees. It leverages this pent-up demand in multiple ways.

But what would it take to make consumers visit even despite the economy? The obviously winning answer: 62% said, “If I had more money.” But 27% responded, “Dishes I cannot prepare easily at home.” And 25% responded, “More specials–new things to try.”

We can all capitalize on Technomic’s “Post Recession Dynamics”:

♦ Conscious consumption

♦ Stigma tied to extravagances

♦ Treasure hunting and deal seeking

♦ Emerging fatigue with frugality…what I’d call Economic Cabin Fever

I really do believe people want to get out of the funk. So the more we can position our industry as a way to help them do it, the more winning our plans will be.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.