sealPurdue News

February 18, 2003

What seniors want in restaurant dining, and what they don't

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - For the alert restaurateur, seniors - with their income, free time and expanding baby boomer fueled numbers - represent a golden market opportunity. What these potential customers like is important, but what they don't like is even more important, says a Purdue University professor.

The No. 1 issue for seniors choosing a restaurant is cleanliness, according to research conducted by Richard Ghiselli, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management

"This is not surprising in light of the fact that health is more often reported to be a concern of the elderly," Ghiselli said. "The association of cleanliness, food safety and the prevention of food borne illness may be part of the reason for the importance of cleanliness, although this was not specifically studied in our research."

Ghiselli and co-authors Barbara Almanza and William Jaffe studied this group of consumers in a paper titled "Foodservice Design: Assessing the Importance of Physical Features to Older Consumers."

Seniors also do not like how close together restaurant tables are,  Ghiselli found. Addressing this issue would alleviate two other issues that bother senior patrons: concern with noise levels and the feeling that aisles are too narrow.

While many cafeterias cater to seniors, the researchers found that seniors generally prefer full-service restaurants.

"As the baby boomers (those born 1946-64) age, they represent significant market opportunities for restaurants," Ghiselli said. "Take empty-nesters 45-65 years old. Their income allows them to dine out frequently. If restaurants can be designed and operated with this group in mind, the resulting loyal clientele may provide a significant pool of customers."

The National Restaurant Association reports that in 2000, households headed by adults age 35 to 44 spent an average of $2,607 - but only $790 per capita ‹ on food away from home. Households headed by those age 45 to 54 spent the most in total and the second-most per capita on food away from home in 2000 ‹ $2,638 and $977 respectively.

Households headed by persons between the ages of 55 to 64 spent the most per capita - $4,999 - on food away from home in 2000. Households headed by persons 65 years or older allocated an average of $1,205 - or $709 per capita - on food away from home in 2000, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In the professors' research older restaurant patrons were divided into three groups: middle adulthood (50-64 years old), late adulthood (65-79) and those above 80 and older. About 25 percent of the group worked full time, and 55 percent was retired. The group's median income was $60,000-75,000.

The researchers investigated seniors' concerns about restaurant design, ambiance, accessibility from outside, menu readability, seating preferences and service.

"While satisfaction was not low for many of the areas investigated, there are some - cleanliness and table placement - that merit immediate attention," Ghiselli said.

Writer: Mike Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Source: Richard Ghiselli, (765) 496-2374,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Foodservice Design: Assessing the Importance of Physical Features to Older Consumers

Barbara A. Almanza, Richard Ghiselli, William Jaffe

The aging of the baby boomers into senior citizens will create some unique market opportunities for restaurants. In addition to its growth in size, the senior market is considered attractive in that seniors seldom eat alone (leading to larger check averages), and they are thought to be extremely loyal clientele. The physical amenities that are attractive to seniors have not been well studied however.  This, coupled with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1992, suggests that restaurants may need to more closely evaluate their operation for layout, design, menu, furniture and equipment to see if the restaurant accommodates or even attracts seniors, particularly those with special needs. The purpose of this study was to survey three customer groups that would provide information regarding seniors¹ physical needs and expectations. 

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