There are certain trends in the foodservice industry that needed to go. Like artisanal toast. And designer water.
But if you’re in the restaurant business – or thinking of getting into it – things are changing a lot from where they were even a few short years ago. Technology as well as the particular palates of millennials have made the whole restaurant industry adapt.
Two of the leading consulting firms – Baum & Whiteman and Technomic – released their reports on the top foodservice industry trends they see for 2015. And so you don’t have to sift through those entire reports, we’ve boiled it down to the restaurant and food trends most pertinent for you.
The Chipotlization of Everything
Ok, so Chipotlization is not a word. What it refers to is the model Chipotle has used to effectively take over the burrito world: Lots of options, customization, and quality ingredients.
These are all key trends moving forward, especially in the fast-casual arena. Five Guys, for instance, offers an alleged 250,000 ways to order a burger. Spots like Blaze Pizza are offering a similar number of combinations for pizzas.
And people want to make those combination themselves. Sure, you can come up with some zany creations to whet the collective appetite, but ultimately customers are valuing the ability to customize. Burger King, though they’ve slipped, may have been ahead of their time in promoting “have it your way.”
You’ll need a story for your ingredients too. Maybe you DO order everything from Cisco and have freezers on-site, but you’ll need a few things to talk about as consumers are increasingly looking to see if products were raised hormone-free, free-range, and other sustainable ways. So consider updating your restaurant’s menu if you want to keep pace with growing competition.
Fast Casual is King
Saying you eat fast food these days is getting you almost as many judgmental looks as saying you smoke. McDonald’s hasn’t produced a same-restaurant monthly gain since 2013, and as such even that QSR giant is looking to go more fast-casual with smaller menus and upgraded decor. Even Taco Bell hired a celebrity chef to revamp their menu a few years back.
Similarly, as we are squarely in the era of the $17 restaurant hamburger, consumers are looking more at places with good food and a casual atmosphere. So while your life’s dream may have been to serve your grandma’s recipes to eager seated customers, you may find more success in having them look up to order rather than down.
Sustainability is Essential
“Locally sourced” is another buzzword that’s on the rise in 2015. Now that Wal-Mart is offering organic products, environmentally conscious consumers are looking more at the global footprint of their food than at how it’s produced.
Now, if you’re in Nebraska, don’t start trying to sell locally sourced salmon, but if there are farms nearby to your business mention them by name on the menu. Will 98% of your customers have any idea what those farms are? Probably not. But most will pretend to, and that’s all you need.
Complicate Your Beverages
Unless you’re a drink-slinging dive bar, the days of hiring pretty people to add alcohol to mixers and pour domestic drafts are over. Even the days of offering simple sodas are coming to an end. Now, even in a fast-casual environment, customers are looking for craft beers, inventive cocktails and a wine selection that’s at least better than what you’d find at 7-11.
Not that you need to go hiring “mixologists” with long beards and suspenders to craft the drink menu for your burrito shop. But at the very least you should play around at home with drinks involving herbal liqueurs and fresh ingredients to come up with something unique to your restaurant.
Similarly, past the usual Bud, Bud Light, Corona and Heineken, find some local craft beers to offer by the bottle so people can get some value added to their beverage selection.
If you’ve got the ability, make some home-made sodas with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Or at the very least stock some from your beverage vendors. And wine on tap is trending as well, if you don’t want to carry a large volume of bottles.
Online Ordering and Electronic Payment
Though we’re not one to suggest ditching the traditional waiters, many restaurants now are offering touchscreens for people to order their food, complete with pictures. Also, mobile apps that allow online ordering are becoming essential in the fast-casual arena, and more customers will expect the ability to pay with their phones.
Catering to Specialized Diets
As much as we know you LOVE people who spend half an hour asking about the preparation methods of your ketchup, people with gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo and other trendy diets are becoming a substantial section of your customer base. So while catering to them might not be your first choice, the reality is you need to. Because if one person in a group can’t eat at your restaurant, but can elsewhere, guess where that group is going to go? Squeaky wheel and whatnot...
Small Plates and Asian Flavors
The millennial generation is far more comfortable with sharing than those before. Look no further than Car2Go or AirBnB to see that. This is true with food as well: millennials prefer smaller plates with more variety.
A leader among those “smaller plates” are spots serving dumplings, sushi and other Asian delicacies. But as Japanese and Chinese cuisines have dominated the market for years, this year is primed for Korean and Vietnamese cuisines to make a major impact.
So even if your restaurant is established, there are always ways to reinvent yourself. If you’re a restaurant owner and you’re not keeping up with the food trends, you will risk being left behind. And if you’re entering the market, these are all things you must take into account. It may not fit the model you have in your head but it is, like it or not, the way new restaurants are going to be successful.