Today’s restaurants face multiple pressures based on shifting consumer behaviors: More and more diners are health and fitness conscious; today’s foodies are experimenting with a literal world of flavors and ingredients; young diners are tending toward pick-up and make-at-home kits versus eating out; and more competition is coming from out-of-category sources like grocery stores and even furniture emporiums!
How do you stay relevant in an increasingly diverse and competitive environment? Avendra is always looking for ways to help operators stand out from the crowd.
We’ve put together a few examples of trends that will show customers you’re keeping up with their lifestyles.
There’s no such thing as too many options. So many people are on so many meal plans these days – ranging from raw vegan to zero carbs to protein-packed paleo. Restrictive diets like these can make eating out difficult. The challenge is to make it easier! It starts with offering meatless, dairy- and gluten-free options in every category, from appetizers to desserts (or at least making modifications available). And why not make it interesting? Dishes that diners create themselves from a list of ingredients – bowls, salads, appetizer plates – can satisfy diverse palettes and make eating out fun and healthy.
Think small batch, real food. The drive for organic foods and natural ingredients has permeated the food industry. People are resistant to the idea of “food factories,” so they’re looking for menu offerings that tie back to nature, the farm, the past. If you’re using local produce or meats, homemade jelly, ancient grains or craft beer, be sure your menu tells the story. Transparency in labeling is a huge issue for today’s diners, so make the most of all the eco-friendly ingredients you’re using.
Vegetables rule. Studies show that today’s US population is eating 26% less meat, a trend that should be reflected in your menus. Options include reducing the amount of meat on the plate, offering meat as an “adder,” and creating veg-centric dishes that go beyond the steamed vegetable plate. Reception has been good for dishes that introduce a new type of produce, experiment with exotic and ethnic choices and/or use the whole vegetable, from tip to greens.
All breakfast, all the time. In a cost-effective switch for both consumers and operators, urban areas have seen a boost in restaurants that offer unusual breakfast dishes, adding surprising sides like salads, greens and fried chicken to the traditional egg offerings. These dishes are hearty and satisfying enough to serve as any meal – thus, giving way to all-day service. In addition to “egg-plus” sandwiches and souped-up oatmeal, diners favor migas, or breakfast tacos. Fast, easy and delicious, these can be amped up with peppers and hot sauce or simply made more complex and unique with your own blend of ingredients.
Eco-friendly and proud. Recent research shows 50% of produce grown in the US is thrown out as waste, and the food service industry is a key contributor. Beyond organic and natural foods, today’s consumers tend to prefer restaurants that are good corporate citizens – meaning that they minimize waste, recycle and compost and minimize use of non-sustainable ingredients such as palm oil. Diners like to support businesses that share a respect for the environment. The best advice is to adopt more sustainable practices, and communicate your involvement.
Turn up the heat! There are a lot of factors at play: younger diners have adventurous eating habits, people travel to more exotic places and eat local foods and restaurant patrons have never been more diverse. Whatever the reason, your customers increasingly prefer hot – and hotter – taste profiles, created through sauces, spices, rubs or peppers. Don’t be afraid to mix and match when it comes to ethnic foods. Fusion is a good thing!
Turn the tables. There are so many alternatives to a classic restaurant today, so maybe it’s time to add to what a restaurant offers? In addition to keeping a menu on-trend, smart operators make sure their plates are photogenic (and social media friendly), and even create events and décor that offer photo opportunities. Forward thinking restaurants have started to offer cooking and bartending classes as a way to engage customers, along with tasting and pairing menus for food enthusiasts. Who says a restaurant can’t be entertaining?
The preceding article was published in Avendra’s 2018 Cost Outlook Forecast. Avendra customers can visit myAvendra.com to download Avendra’s comprehensive 2018 Cost Outlook Forecast.