Bennigan's Grill & Tavern, one of the brands of the Metromedia Restaurant Group, is testing offering children's books, Etch A Sketch toys and hand-held videogames to appeal to women who bring their children. The chain is also creating salads and healthier combo meals for the moms.
Last year, KFC, the chicken chain owned by bringbackdinner.com to appeal to mothers who want to eat at home with their families. The site allows users to print dinner placemats and word games as well as custom design an at-home dinner using KFC's chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, green beans and chocolate-chip cake., launched the Web site
Management at KFC has been watching the leveling off of women in the work force for a few years and trying to develop strategies to adapt to it, says James O'Reilly, chief marketing officer for KFC. "We know that moms, when they're home, do spend time online trying to find dinner solutions," O'Reilly says. "That Web site is tailor-made for that."
The increase in at-home meal preparation doesn't necessarily mean people are cooking more meals from scratch. The success of, with its large, attractive sections devoted to prepared foods, has prompted mainstream supermarkets to offer higher-quality ready-to-eat dishes that customers fashion into meals in their kitchens.
Packaged-food companies are also offering more products aimed at consumers who want to whip up meals at home that require little, if any, true culinary effort.Some chains are trying to combat what Metromedia's Dover calls the "foodie phenomenon," or the popularity of television cooking shows that have made it cool to be a home chef. Bennigan's is pushing its lightly battered Monte Cristo sandwich because it can't be replicated "unless you have a fryer in your house," Dover says.
For one-income families pinched by gas prices, "convenience may now mean going to the grocery store and buying a bunch of meals at once, instead of stopping at the restaurant at night," says Doug Brooks, chairman ofThe company's Maggiano's Little Italy chain recently added nationwide delivery, and Brinker is trying to shorten the time it takes to eat at some of its restaurants to appeal to guests seeking a quicker meal. , which owns Chili's Grill & Bar.
Restaurant executives say they don't see a sales rebound on the horizon, though they hope the government's planned economic stimulus payments will give eateries a small boost.
Craig Miller, chairman of, says that he also hopes the retirement of the baby boomers will help offset the leveling off of women in the work force because baby boomers will be looking for a relaxing dining experience.
"You don't accomplish that when you dine at home," Miller says. "Someone always gets ordained as the worker."
This article was reported and written by Janet Adamy for The Wall Street Journal.