Restaurant & Food Industry Trends | The Future of Restaurants

by Jim Sloan
CulinaryEd Columnist
April 18, 2013

The Future of Restaurants

You don't have to drive far from any town in the U.S. before you start seeing the roadside produce stands and signs for "fresh eggs." More and more, people are growing or raising their own food, and new restaurant trends are reflecting that. When people are dining out, they like to see that the food on the menu comes from nearby sources. One of the greatest restaurant industry trend these days will be restaurants trying to meet their customers' expectations by featuring locally sourced meats, seafood and produce. One component of these restaurant trends will be assuring diners that those foods are organic and free of genetic engineering.

That's the conclusion of recent studies examining the top restaurant trends for 2013. Studies show that other major food trends include an increasing demand among diners for gluten-free foods, healthier foods -- such as "super fruits" acai, goji berry and mangosteen -- and healthier kids' menus that include whole-grain items and fruit or vegetable side dishes. For the young ones, deep-fried chicken strips and fries are being replaced with oven-baked chicken fingers and potato wedges.

Many of the same trends are showing up in lounges and bars, as customers show an interest in fresh, new flavors made from local fruits, herbs and vegetables. To meet that demand, bartenders are infusing vodka and gin with kiwi and mango and mixing cocktails with pureed melons and various types of exotic syrups. Some restaurants are making their own sodas and lemonades from fresh, local ingredients.

How restaurateurs can adjust to the future

These trends are coming at a time when diners are still watching their expenses, which poses a real challenge for restaurateurs. Local and organic products typically cost more than the alternative, and the supply is sometimes unreliable. Nevertheless, customers appreciate seeing the name of local farms and suppliers showing up on their menus, so that's something for restaurateurs to keep in mind. Many chefs and restaurant managers will see benefits from including a list of gluten-free menu items -- or even a separate menu altogether.

Rise of cost-conscious customers

According to the National Restaurant Consultants, the drought of 2012, which is driving up prices on beef and many other foods, and cost-conscious diners, who are still recovering from the recession, will force restaurant managers to update their menus more frequently. This restaurant industry trend will allow restaurant managers to take advantage of specials offered by their suppliers as well as the seasonal availability of local products.

A dynamic menu also lets restaurants address the restaurant industry trend of consumers being drawn to more exotic flavors. According to the National Restaurant Association, the hot new ethnic cuisines will be Peruvian, Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese food.

The emergence of 'fast-cas'

According to restaurant consulting firm Baum+Whiteman, one of the most important food trends in the future of restaurants is the emergence of "fast-cas" establishments. Budget-minded diners in 2013 are more likely to pass up full-service restaurants in favor of "fast-casual" places where customers step up to the counter, order their food and watch it prepared in front of them, the way it's done at Chipotle. As a result, many restaurant chains -- including Red Robin, Denny's and IHOP -- are embracing this restaurant industry trend with "fast-cas" approaches.

Baum+Whiteman advise their clients entering the fast-cas market to not only embrace diners' desire for local products and exotic, new ethnic flavors but also to establish a personal connection with diners by supporting recycling or energy conservation or other social issues that their customers support. As always, the best way for restaurants to stay abreast of or ahead of trends in dining is to listen to their customers: What kind of special preparations or flavors or products are they asking for, and how can restaurants meet those expectations within the price range their customers are comfortable with?


National Restaurant Consultants, "Top Trends for 2013," 2013, http://nationalrestaurantconsultants.com/top-trends-for-2013-2/
National Restaurant Association, "What's Hot in 2013," 2013, http://www.restaurant.org/News-Research/Research/What-s-Hot
Baum+Whiteman, "17 Hottest Food And Dining Trends For Restaurants & Hotels, 2013," www.baumwhiteman.com/2013trends.pdf

About the Author

Jim Sloan is a freelance writer in Reno, Nev.

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