Psychographics in Action: Examples from the Restaurant Industry

Jan 06, 2023

Psychographics broke into public consciousness during the Facebook and British company Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018.  Many people raised concerns about how psychographic data was collected by the two companies (unbeknownst to the users of the social media platform) and use for political advertising.  Not a great first public impression and a poor introduction to psychographics in general.  So, what is psychographics?

Psychographics is the analysis of consumers’ psychological characteristics.  Psychographics focuses on the cognitive factors that influence the decisions and behaviors of people.  These cognitive factors can include activities, attitudes, biases, hobbies, interests, lifestyle, opinions, personality, and values.

If you’re a restauranteur, you likely looked at the demographics of your target market when opening and branding your restaurant.  At this point, you may be wondering what’s the difference between demographics and psychographics?  Demographics focuses on the external characteristics of people.  Through demographic research, you’ll identify the age, education level, gender, income, location, and profession of your target customer.  While these characteristics are useful segmentation tools, they don’t necessarily provide insights into the why behind your customers’ choices.  That’s where psychographics comes in.  Psychographic research provides a “look under the hood” – if you will – and helps you figure out what makes people tick.

In this blog, we will discuss why restaurants should use psychographics in their marketing and branding.  We will also highlight specific companies in the restaurant industry that are successfully utilizing different psychographic factors in their marketing efforts.  At the end of the blog, we will answer a few frequently asked questions about psychographics.

Why Restaurants Need Psychographics for Marketing

Harkening back to the Cambridge Analytica psychographic scandal…why should you go near psychographics?  First, you want to make all the data you collect is done so legally.  Second, psychographic research is best used for enhancing the experience and engagement of buyers, not manipulating them.  And finally, psychographics can make your marketing and messaging stand out from all the other companies out there.

The restaurant industry is an extraordinarily competitive one.  With so many great dining options out there, people are relying less and less on food quality as the deciding factor in their search for where to eat.  Instead, your potential audience is seeking a unique eating experience, a company that shares their opinions and values, or a relationship with a brand that will elevate their social status.  Over time, customers are caring more about how a business makes them feel and what a company’s brand communicates and represents.

And psychographics can provide you with the nitty gritty details of your customers’ evolving wants, needs, and other psychological characteristics.  Once you understand the motivations and preferences of your target customers, you can create marketing campaigns and restaurant experiences that truly resonate with them and keep them coming back for more.  And spreading the word about your restaurant among their social circles.  The holy grail of marketing.

Psychographic data also gives insights into how customers in your target audience compare and decide among competitors in your market.  Thus, you can free yourself from the price-slashing game and differentiate your business through your brand and the emotional connection you forge with your guests.  This way you unique value proposition (UVP) can become not only more distinct, but broader in scope as it encompasses your food, hospitality, and – now – your brand’s psychographic profile.

Lastly, psychographics can help you establish an emotional connection with your customers – which can have a massive impact on your sales and bottom line.  In research conducted by Harvard Business Review, they found that “fully connected” and satisfied customers provided 52% greater customer value to companies than highly satisfied, but not fully connected customers.  The fully connected customers would buy based on emotional motivators and connectors they shared with companies.


Psychographic Factors

Now that we’ve discussed the value of psychographics, let’s get more specific and look at the different factors that are analyzed in this research.  As mentioned above, a variety of psychological characteristics make up the psychographic profile of people.  For the purposes of this blog, we are simply going to hone down these characteristics to a list of five: personality, interests, lifestyle, values and attitudes.  Let’s look at personality, first.

Personality Data & Examples

Personality refers to the traits people exhibit over time.  There are a number of different personality measures used in psychology today.  However, in the business and marketing world, the model that’s used most frequently is the “Big Five” model.  The “Big Five”, or “5 factor” model, includes the following personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.  As such, they are sometimes called the OCEAN model.

different personalities

Openness refers to one’s openness to trying new things or engaging in new experiences.  People who score high in openness exhibit great levels of imagination, curiosity and “outside-the-box” thinking.  Those who score lower tend to prefer routine, tradition, and predictability.  So, if your brand wants to connect with customers high in openness, you’ll want to make your guest experience surprising and exciting.  Your advertising and messaging should use language that invokes curiosity and wonderment.

Conscientiousness refers to one’s ability to engage in goal-oriented behaviors and regulate their impulses.  People who score high in conscientiousness tend to be self-disciplined, organized and deliberate.  Those who score lower tend to be impulsive, disorganized and prone to procrastination.  Attracting conscientiousness customers to your restaurant takes time.  They are the ones who read all your reviews and your website before they make a reservation.  They love to research many products and solutions before they become clients.  You have to be a bit more patient to win them as loyal customers – which will be worth it because they tend to incredibly loyal to companies.

Extraversion refers to the extent to which one seeks social and environmental interaction.  Those who score high in extraversion are outgoing, sociable, and are “fueled up” by interactions with other people.  Those who score lower are more introverted, self-reflective and value their time alone.  If your target customer is extraverted, you’d want to design your restaurant to encourage interaction through the space, social events, games, etc.  If your target customer is introverted, you’d want a space more subdued – private booths and rooms, lower lighting, perhaps a reading room.

Agreeableness refers to how one interacts with other people.  Those who score high in agreeableness are more trusting, cooperative, and empathetic.  Those who score lower tend to be more assertive, stubborn, and skeptical.  If agreeable people are your target customers, then you’ll want to focus on building trust with them and giving back to the community in some way.  This will attract them to your brand and inspire them to give back to you.  While marketing to less agreeable people is a risky proposition, the best route to gain them as customers is through authenticity.

Neuroticism refers to the degree to which one tends to experience negative emotions.  Those who score high in neuroticism are more anxious, prone to stress, and self-conscious.  Those who score lower tend to be more confident, calm, less prone to stress and worry.  When marketing to and interacting with more neurotic people, you’ll want to drop the hype and platitudes.  These customers should never be pressured into buying and allowed to make their decisions on their own time.

Now that we’ve explored the Big Five, let’s see them in action through a few examples.


Example #1

One of the more straightforward personality segments to target is the audience high in openness.  A restaurant that has crafted its experience to this audience is Addo in Seatle, WA.  There, they experiment with tech in every facet of their marketing, content and business – an active TikTok presence, targeted ads on social, Mario Cart nights, an incredible diverse menu that shifts focus every day, and on and on.  By making innovation and experimentation it’s brand cornerstone, Addo enjoys massive engagement from like-minded customers who return time and again to see what chef Eric Rivera is cooking up.


Example #2

Other examples of restaurants geared toward the open audience are those focused on molecular gastronomy.  Molecular gastronomy is the fusion of science and art in the kitchen that incorporates new techniques of cooking and presentation.  Some of the most popular restaurants featuring molecular gastronomy include Alinea in Chicago, IL; Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, CA; and Hugo’s in Portland, ME.  In these restaurants, customers are delighted by state-of-the-art meals which typically elicit “oohs and aahs.”  These restaurants essentially make the dining experience their form of marketing, as guests go out and delight their friends with stories about the miraculous concoctions they ate over the weekend.


Example #3

Did you know that researchers have studied customer’s impressions of the brand personalities of the largest chains in America?  Zion & Zion research team surveyed 4,363 people to learn about how they ranked the 26 largest quick service restaurants across 5 brand personality dimensions: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication and Ruggedness.  While these personality characteristics aren’t the same as the Big Five, there is some overlap between the two models.  For instance, Excitement would likely correlate to Openness and, perhaps Extraversion.  Competence is an analogue to Conscientiousness.  Sincerity would likely appeal to both an audience with high Neuroticism and low Agreeableness.  Anyway, Zion & Zion found that Chick-fil-A ranked highest in Sincerity, Excitement and Competence. While Burger King, Papa John’s, and McDonald’s ranked near the bottom across multiple dimensions.

Now that we’ve explored how personality fits into the psychographic mix, let’s turn to interests and lifestyle

Interests & Lifestyle Data & Examples

Interests and lifestyle are highly correlative.  Interests may refer to the hobbies, entertainment and media consumption habits, inclinations, and affinities of a target audience.  Lifestyle is best thought of the entire set of a people’s daily, weekly and monthly activities.  This could include where they live, who they spend their time with, and what they occupy their time doing.

Interests and lifestyle segmentation is achieved through research using good, open-ended questions to the target customers in question – such as, “Aside from work and sleep, how do you spend your time?”  Uncovering these characteristics can be a major boon to your marketing and advertising.  For instance – if you know the blogs your target market reads, the podcasts they listen to, the social media groups they belong to – then you have direct access to the language they use, as well as the problems and desires they have.  You also have great places where you can show highly targeted ads. When you understand the lifestyle and activities of your customers, you can use highly relevant metaphors (e.g. running, swimming, climbing, biking, etc.) throughout your content and messaging.  If they have certain food or experiential preferences, you can swiftly incorporate them into your menu and dining experience.

With these ideas and mind, let’s turn to examples of interests and lifestyle branding in the restaurant industry.


Example #1

StatSocial, a company that has modeled the US population into 200 unique psychographic clusters through the use of IBM Watson, has put out some interesting research regarding the differences in interests between the Chick-fil-A market and Shake Shack market.  For example, Chick-fil-A’s audience was 12.13x more likely to watch ESPN College Football, nearly 12x more likely to watch the Bible Series, and 8.28x more likely to watch Duck Dynasty – compared to the average social media user.  On the other hand, Shake Shack’s audience was 38.24x more likely to watch Top Chef, nearly 24x more likely to watch Veep, and 27.12x more likely to watch Late Night – again compared to the average social user.  Based on this segmentation, one could come to the conclusion that Chick-fil-A customers’ interests lie with sports and religion, while Shake Shack customers’ interests lie with Foodie and cosmopolitan culture.


Example #2

A restaurant chain that has successfully appealed to a growing lifestyle audience is Veggie Grill, a US plant-based food chain.  Through their marketing and collection of psychographic data, they have targeted health conscious people who seek delicious, plant-based dining choices.  As such their menu offers a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes (burgers, salads, sandwiches, bowls, etc.) – in addition to a selection of healthy juices and smoothies.

Aside from its menu offerings, how did Veggie Grill target it’s health-conscious customers?  Among many things, it used targeted social media ads, email marketing and partnerships with influencers.  Veggie Grill also sponsored vegan food festivals and wellness retreat – a brilliant messaging of its company values without saying anything at all.  Through these psychographic marketing efforts,Veggie Grill has been able to open locations in California, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington.


Example #3

While we just saw a how a restaurant entered the lifestyle space, the reverse has started to happen: lifestyle brands have ventured into the restaurant industry.  As lifestyle companies know the importance of experience in building an audience, they’re approach into restaurants was a natural progression.  Some examples include:

  • Barstool Sports opening Barstool River North (a sports bar and restaurant in Chicago
  • Time Out opening Time Out Markets in Boston, Chicago, Dubai, Lisbon, Miami, Montreal, and New York
  • The Hundreds (a Los Angeles-based streetwear brand) hosting Family Style Fest – which featured collaborations between well-known clothing brands and restaurants

These types of collaborations are a marketing win-win for lifestyle brands and restaurants alike, especially when their audiences is closely aligned.  In some ways, the lifestyle-restaurant partnership is the natural evolution of restaurant merchandising.

At this point, we’ve seen how interests and lifestyle are potent psychographic tools in your marketing tool belt.  Now let’s look at the final two psychographic factors: values and attitudes.

Values and Attitudes Data & Examples

Values can be thought of as a person’s measures of right and wrong; good or bad.  They differ among individuals and are informed by beliefs, societal norms, upbringing, religion, and personality.  Attitudes are relatively stable responses (either positive or negative) to a person, place, idea… anything, really.  The complex of beliefs, opinions, attitudes and values holds a tremendous amount of psychological power.  So, the research data and insights you gather on them can be incredibly valuable.

However, many restaurants and companies have historically stayed away from these psychographic factors in their messaging – and for good reason.  Whenever a business shares its stance on a issue, it’s sure to alienate a certain segment of their audience that doesn’t share its attitude or belief.  And no business wants to deliberately shrink its potential market.  That being said, values and attitudes are a largely untapped opportunity for brands.  According to an Earned Brand Study by Edelman, 62 percent of survey respondents said “they will not buy a brand if it fails to meet its societal obligations,” and 55 percent agreed “brands can do more to solve societal ills than government.”

Not only are people looking to companies to make social change, but they’re also hungering for tribes.  Robert Cialdini (renowned for his research in the field of persuasion)  has discussed this as the Unity Principle.  Most people consider their values, attitudes, beliefs and opinions to be the primarily building blocks of their identities.  And when two people (or a company and buyer) share identities, they become a cohesive unit.  By defining the values and attitudes of your business in your messaging, a potential customer will know who you are and, more importantly, who you’re not.  If they identify with you, you’ve just made a buyer into a tribe member.  Apple is an example of a company that has built this kind of tribe.  And their sales have been pretty good…

Now that we’ve come to appreciate the power of values and attitudes in your messaging, let’s look at how certain restaurants have put these psychographic insights into effect.


Example #1

A value that has gained big traction in the industry is sustainability.  A prominent example in the fast casual space is Chipotle.  its mission includes the aim to “build a better world”.  How?  Their messaging says through a commitment to only using high quality, sustainably-sourced ingredients.  And Chipotle has walked the walk of its marketing talk.  It sources a great deal of its produce from local farmers, uses antibiotic-free meats, equips its restaurants with energy-efficient lighting, and utilizes compostable packaging.  Chipotle target customer is a younger person who prioritizes environmental issues.  Since Chipotle understands the psychographic makeup  of this market, its values have resonated with these individuals – and they have the sales to show for it.


Example #2

Another food service business that has made sustainability the cornerstone of their brand is Founding Farmers.  Just take a look at the start of their mission statement: “Sustainability is not a catch phrase. It’s a natural extension of who we are. We are mission-driven, working every day to make high-quality food and drink grown and made with care, while preserving our land and waterways and giving back to our communities.”

Right off the bat, you know who they are and what they stand for.  Founding Farmers has even partnered with their supplier, Congressional Seafood, to increase the market for the Chesapeake Blue Catfish, an invasive species decimating the local ecosystem.  Guests who eat from their menu aren’t just getting a tasty meal, they’re helping to save Chesapeake Bay.


Example #3

Just Salad, a fast casual chain, has taken the mission of sustainability step further.  They partnered with the circular economy-focused investment firm Closed Loop Partners.  Together, the companies are driving to make zero-waste “closed loop” systems scalable.  One way Just Salad is driving this initiative is through its Reusable Bowl  Program, which is promoted and encouraged on their digital platforms through a loyalty program.  There are a number of chains focused on selling healthy salads and bowls (Sweetgreen comes to mind).  But Just Salad is able to attract the type of customer who not only wants to eat healthy, but values reducing their environmental footprint as much as possible.


Example #4

The last example of restaurants taking a stance with their values and attitudes revolves around social justice and ethical consumerism.  With the growth of these movements, several restaurants have opened up shop with a purpose of promoting social change.  Some businesses – like The Battleground in Kent, OH – promise that portions of their beer sales will be used to combat climate change and promote universal healthcare.  Others – like The Roosevelt Coffeehouse in Columbus, OH – put some of their profits toward fighting hunger and human trafficking.  Across the U.S., many other restaurants are operating a pay-what-you-can model.  A risky business model to be sure, but one that communicates a powerful message with consumers.

Another restaurant focused on a unique social cause is Curt’s Cafe in Illinois.  In their two locations, they hire and educate student-trainees – many of whom have either been in the juvenile detention system, homeless, food insecure, or school dropouts.  Thus, customers of Curt’s Cafe know that, when they visit, they’re not only supporting a local business, but they’re helping at-risk youth avoid recidivism and find success in the community.



How can you gather psychographics?

You can gather psychographic data several different ways:

  • A focus group: fruitful for a guided discussion about a specific product or service among a carefully selected group of consumers
  • Open-ended customer interviews: excellent for getting authentic, individual experiences and stories – as well as detailed information on potential barriers to engagement
  • Customer surveys: great for getting more data on and verifying the results of focus groups and interviews
  • Google Analytics: powerful tool for extracting demographic and psychographic information (check out the “Demographics Overview” feature)
  • Social media research/analytics: these platforms have built-in analytics which can help you uncover the feelings, interest, and attitudes of
  • Manual web research: visit forum sites and platforms like Reddit, Quora, and Discord for unfiltered access to interactions among your target audience (a lot of work, but well worth it!)

How can you implement psychographic data?

You’ll want to document all the insights you uncovered in your psychographic research.  Then, with a small team, identify a list of 3-6 insights that you think are actionable and aligned with your brand.  (Some customers might have said they value free food, but that doesn’t mean you should do it!)  After you have a solid list of actionable insights, transform them into initiatives that you share with your whole team.  Make sure you get total buy-in, so that your initiatives are successful.  Guests can tell when something is done halfheartedly or haphazardly.

Along with using psychographic research in building brand initiatives, you should use your findings to enhance your website, mobile app (if you have one) and marketing messaging.  Your guests online experience should be in harmony with the interests, lifestyle, values, and attitudes of your target market.  Also, the messaging you use in you email marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, and traditional advertising should incorporate the language, beliefs, desires, and pain points you unearthed in your psychographic research.

Does psychographics work?

Some studies have shown that psychographic targeting can make certain advertisements more persuasive. Ads crafted from psychographic insights resulted in 40% more clicks and 50% more purchases. The caveat was that these ads had to align with viewers’ existing levels of extraversion and openness.

While the publicly available data doesn’t conclusively prove the effectiveness of psychographics, it’s telling that it’s spread to so many industries – real estate, automotive, politics, healthcare, and on and on.  For what it’s worth the CMO of Subaru said their company targets customers based on their interests and passions (psychographics) rather than straight demographics.

What’s the future of psychographics?

As alluded to earlier, psychographics has spread across industries and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.  The fields of data mining and behavioral psychology have exploded in the last few years – further fueling the use of psychographic insights in consumer marketing and beyond.  Specifically in the restaurant space, a number of psychographic segmentation firms have popped up.

However, If you want to develop a holistic branding strategy (psychographics included) for your restaurant, then book a call with us and we’ll connect you with one of Synergy’s marketing experts.