The restaurant industry is always changing.
It’s what keeps it exciting.
Among all the many challenges faced by owners and managers is the task of keeping up with trends that keep new customers coming.
In 2018, restaurant consumers are driven by a number of new trends in the scene: local and ethnic ingredients, environmental sustainability, and the way technology is intersecting with the restaurant industry. Keeping on top of these trends will put your spot on the cutting edge.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Restaurant Industry Right Now: Fresh, New, Surprising and Healthy
One of the biggest trends to emerge in the last few years is all about what your restaurant is serving — and where it comes from. Increasingly, consumers are looking for flavors that surprise them, which includes hyper-local, fresh, and previously under utilized ethnic flavors.
Here are a few ways you can jump on this trend with simple menu change-ups.
Few modern restaurant consumers are meat-and-potatoes type people. Foodies are travel-obsessed, and they want their plates to reflect that, even here at home.
By incorporating dishes and ingredients inspired by unique places around the world, you can play into that desire for globally inspired eats that will delight the modern foodie with both its flavors and its Instagram-readiness. Restaurant.org’s 2018 Culinary Forecast predicts that ethnic-inspired flavors will be all over menus this year and that includes everywhere from kids’ menu offerings to spices and condiments.
We agree that the world’s cultures are going to have a huge influence over what American diners are looking for on their plates this year.
Good food - that's good for you
Almost 40 percent of American adults are obese. Despite that (or maybe because of it), great tasting, healthy food is having a serious moment. More than 1.5 million American adults now identify as vegan, and even meat eaters want to see conscious portion sizes and healthy servings of fruits and vegetables incorporated into their meals.
There’s also been a rise in the addition of prebiotics and probiotics to foods as people start to recognize the direct effect what they eat has on their gut health, and begin to treat food as medicine. That trend is only likely to continue to pick up steam.
Coming to the community table
In 2018, across many industries, there’s a renewed focus on community. And that extends to restaurants, too. More and more, modern foodies are considering eating out to be more than just nourishment — it’s a social event.
Here’s how your restaurant can stay community-focused and ahead of the trend.
Hyper-locally sourced foods
Consumers are seeking out food that comes from your own backyard — literally.
While farm-to-table, locally sourced ingredients have been en vogue for a few years, consumers are looking to know more about exactly where their food comes from, which means many of the trendiest restaurants are growing ingredients themselves at onsite gardens.
Consider Olmstead, a bustling Brooklyn bistro run by a chef-farmer who planted a garden behind his dining room in Prospect Heights. Not only did put emphasis on the “jungle” part of concrete jungle, but he brought new customers to the door who were seeking the freshness and the sense of trust that come with knowing exactly where your food is coming from.
In 2018, we expect that trend to continue, and the more local your ingredients can be, the more customers will be hoping to get their hands on your food.
Waste not, want not
Alongside the hyper-local food sourcing movement is a renewed focus on environmentalism and sustainability in the restaurant industry.
Today’s consumers do their best to be good stewards for the planet, and so they tend to gravitate toward restaurants and other businesses that emulate that philosophy.
One of the easiest ways you can strive for sustainability in your establishment is by making an effort to cut down on food waste.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about a third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide each year — or around 1.3 billion tons — ends up wasted. Instead of throwing out usable food, try to find ways to utilize every part of the meats and vegetables that come into your kitchen.
Follow the example of New York eatery Graffiti Earth, which practices sustainability by using the “ugly” fruits and vegetables that are usually tossed aside instead of displayed on store shelves. Many restaurants give leftovers to shelters or other community causes. The bottom line is that there are a ton of ways to make your restaurant more sustainable, and gain a loyal following of eco-conscious customers in the process.
Camaraderie at the community table
“Table for two?” Maybe not so much in 2018 and beyond.
The trendiest of restaurants are moving away from seating parties separately, instead opting for communal tables where diners all sit together. This style of seating encourages patrons to mingle and interact, making dining out even more of a social event than it was already.
While diners love this excuse to share an experience with potential new friends, having long communal tables may also be good for your bottom line — it maximizes square footage in your restaurant, getting more people seated and more meals sold. You’ll need that extra seating space to accommodate all the foodies flocking to the trendiest spot in town.
The Restaurant Industry... of the Future
In 2018, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest and newest trends in restaurants have to do with the intersection of the service industry and technology.
Tech is a huge part of almost every facet of our lives, so it makes sense that consumers would be looking for restaurants to embrace technology in their operations to streamline service, production and more. Here’s how you can get on board.
Straight to your front door
Home delivery from restaurants has emerged as a major trend in recent years, and it’s one we only predict will continue to gain momentum as more restaurants get on board and more delivery partners compete to dominate the space.
From Ubereats, Seamless, Grubhub and Postmates to Foodpanda, Rappi, Doordash and SkipTheDishes, there have never been more ways to get food from your restaurant to hungry customers not keen on leaving their homes.
The sheer number of options takes the logistical planning out of delivery, making it conceivable for many restaurants, even upscale ones, that never would have thought of doing home delivery.
In 2018, the days of a friendly delivery driver knocking on the door may soon be in the past. Businesses continue to test delivery options that will get food from restaurants to consumers without an actual human involved. Self-driving vehicle technology continues to advance, and Domino's Pizza is already in trial stages for using driverless cars to deliver pies.
In 2018, we're likely to see more businesses, including major food delivery partners, preparing for their own driverless vehicle delivery trials. But that’s not the only way restaurants may be getting their wares to customers in the near future. Drone deliveries are getting closer and closer to becoming a commonplace reality in 2018. Flirtey has already done commercial product deliveries for 7-Eleven in the U.S., and Domino's Pizza has tested drone delivery in New Zealand. Keep an eye out for this trend to continue to grow.
Burgers by Machine
Go to any fast food spot in Europe, and it’s likely you’re placing your order at a kiosk with a touch screen.
Head to the Sushi Train chain of restaurants, and you’ll find tiny trains acting as the front-of-house workers, chugging tasty servings of nigiri and sashimi to hungry customers. Fast casual chains are starting to install tableside tablets where customers can place orders, summon servers or play games while they wait for their food to arrive.
Automation has a roll to play in just about every part of the modern restaurant, and it’s no longer the gimmick it was once viewed as. Automating can mean streamlined service, lower costs and increased profits, and tech-savvy customers are increasingly hungry for it.
Innovation isn't only customer facing
Among the trends you employ this year, consider one of the most essential aspects to running your successful restaurant: your suppliers.
Your supply chain just presents another opportunity to innovate. Have you thought about how you can secure lower prices, better quality (and increasingly, local) ingredients, and do so with as little hassle as possible?