Between 1970 and 2000 the Hispanic population in the United States almost tripled. And it’s expected to double again to become almost a quarter of the American population by 2050.
Smart restaurant operators are directly targeting this demographic, says Ingrid Otero-Smart, president and CEO of Casanova Pendrill, a Hispanic advertising agency based in Costa Mesa, California.
But reaching this expanding group involves more than adding a few token Spanish dishes to menus. Otero-Smart, who is working with Denny’s to reach more Hispanic customers, talks to Restaurant Management about how to attract more of these customers to your restaurant.
What is the Hispanic customer looking for from a restaurant experience that's different other consumers?
Quality of food and value for their family are the two main things that Hispanic customers look for. They visit casual restaurants on average four times a month.
The big difference is that Hispanic customers tend to go out to eat as a family, so there’s a bigger group. On average it’s four people but it’s not unusual to have grandparents there too, and they see casual restaurants as an opportunity to connect with family and friends.
How are acculturated and non-acculturated Hispanics different in what they want from a restaurant?
They are very similar in terms of looking for quality and value.
We have seen non-acculturated Hispanics wanting to go more to a Latino restaurant while acculturated Hispanics may have lost some of their continuing traditions and may be patronizing more American-style restaurants.
Acculturated Hispanics are also cooking less at home and less from scratch so tending to eat a little more outside the home.
How far should U.S. restaurants go in terms of being bilingual—menus, signage, employees, etc.?
I think most restaurants could be doing more. In heavy Hispanic markets, Spanish-speaking employees are represented. But very few restaurants have bilingual signage and menus. Denny’s has bilingual menus and decals for their doors saying they have Spanish menus.
It’s a good idea to have [Spanish language menus] and give them out. Make people aware of them so they know.
A decal on the door is good, or if the waiter has a name tag that says they speak Spanish, it makes a Hispanic customer feel welcomed and feel at ease.
Having Spanish speaking employees is also a good idea and not hard to implement. If you’re in a heavy Hispanic area, it’s required for success because it is vital to be part of the community. Even if you’re not in a heavy Hispanic area it makes sense to have at least one bilingual employee.
What are some of the top foods and flavors for the Hispanic market?
We know that our palate likes savory and spicy. Chilies, chipotle, jalapeno and spices are liked. Hispanics also like sweet and tart together, and that’s mostly been driven by the Caribbean palate.
Things like citrus marinades with coconut, cilantro, and lime, are appealing. But I think the American palate is also getting more sophisticated and likes these foods, too.
In Hispanic supermarkets the meat section is twice the size of a regular supermarket because there are so many cuts of meat that Hispanics eat. [Restaurant operators should] go and check out the local Hispanic supermarket and see what’s popular in the meat department.
One very popular dish is rice and beans—all Hispanics eat it; it’s just slightly different from one country to another.
How can American restaurants best market to this demographic?
Invite [Hispanics] in and make them feel welcomed. Bilingual signage is an immediate sign that you are welcoming Latinos.
You must be part of the community. Be part of the school and the church and don’t underestimate the power of advertising.
Hispanics should be able to look at your advertising and see themselves.
It's more than just casting or even language choice in advertising. The messaging has to be culturally relevant.
What are some common mistakes U.S. restaurants make regarding their Hispanic customers?
If you’re advertising Hispanic food make sure it’s authentic, if your restaurant’s name is Spanish. But if your restaurant name is traditionally American, just offer great-tasting American food. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Your brand needs to stand for one thing. It can’t be one thing in one market and one thing in another because we don’t live in a bubble. We are exposed to messages. If a brand is black in English, it can’t be white in Spanish.
By Amanda Baltazar
Click here to read more about how Casanova Pendrill is working with Denny’s