Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: September-October 2012

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Table for 10?

Pizza is the perfect food to capitalize on the trend towards communal dining

Pizza is the perfect food to capitalize on the trend towards communal dining

If I had to pick one menu item that has the ability to shape-shift to any culinary trend it would have to be pizza. Change the toppings, modify the crust and you can have anything from decadent to healthy. Pizza’s appeal for those embracing today’s culinary trends isn’t simply isolated to its ingredients. It’s also linked to its basic format. You see, pizza is the one food that has been shared since it first appeared on North American menus. Communal dining is one of the hottest restaurant trends right now, and pizza is a natural extension of this trend. But the nobler goal might be to understand what’s driving the trend, for then we can use this information to market pizza more effectively. After years of wanting a quiet table for two in the corner of the restaurant, people are suddenly craving a crowd.

Communal dining in its current format means a long table where a dozen or so guests can sit together and rub elbows while eating. The guests may know each other or simply be strangers who are put together by the luck of the draw. It’s a dining style that’s common in Europe. Communal dining can be found in bistros and beer halls, tavernas, trattorias and tapas bars. Trendy North American restaurants have embraced this format. Many of them are installing large, long tables that seat 10 or more guests either as one large party or random deuces and trios cobbled together by chance. Grubwithus is a website promoted as a way to “eat with awesome people.” They developed an app that lets users buy communal dinner seats for 10 diners. In an extension of social networking sites, birds of a feather can flock together allowing people to connect with each other around interests like wine, startups and travelling. The service has more than 30,000 registered users. In Canada, there’s a similar site called The Social Feed based in Vancouver and Toronto. Another site called Eat With Me focuses on “connecting people through food,” allowing users to create or join events. In many ways, communal dining is an IRL (in real life) extension of online interaction. While technology and trend may facilitate this type of dining, what’s the psychological motivation? Why on earth would someone want to sit at a large, long table with strangers?

Much as the arts and crafts movement of the 20th century was essentially a backlash against the industrial revolution, a yearning to connect may be the byproduct of the growth of the Internet. People are looking to food as a means of generating more real-life interactions; this perhaps is a way of combating isolation caused by technology or it could be simply craving someone to break bread with. More and more Canadians are becoming empty nesters as the baby boomers watch their echo boomer children leave home. Ten years ago a quiet table for two was a treat and now they’re eager to pay to sit at a table filled with several other people to recreate the joy of a raucous meal. Communal dining certainly isn’t the most popular type of experience but it is a significant portion of the market. Research by JWT titled “What’s Cooking: Trends in Food” asked respondents to indicate yes or no to the question “I like the idea of communal tables at restaurants and the ability to interact with other diners.” Forty per cent of respondents answered yes. Of those who agreed, there are clearly age-related differences with 55 per cent of those who like the idea of communal dining falling into the millennial cohort (age 21-34) and 22 per cent of those aged 48-64 saying they like the idea of communal dining.  Forty-two per cent of those aged 35-47 are receptive to sharing a table with others. Males are significantly more likely to be receptive to communal dining than females (39 versus 30 per cent).

Pizza is firmly rooted in the notion of communal dining, whether it’s at a long table in your restaurant or over a card table in a dorm room. The nugget of wisdom here is in the trend and its underpinnings. Promote your pizzas as a shared meal. Highlight the fact that all those sharing in the pizza will have the same dining experience at the same time as opposed to “parallel dining” where diners each order something different. If your target market skews younger, do consider introducing a long table to seat 10 or 12 people. Leverage social media to help diners find each other. Maybe there’s a meat lover’s night or a thin crust fan club? It will make effective use of your restaurant space, tap into a hot dining trend and create social connections over your food. As Charlotte Bronte said, “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.

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