Restaurant & Food Industry Trends | The Future of Restaurants

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." Many people like to see that the food on the menu comes from nearby sources. Multiple restaurants have noticed this trend and are working to satisfy it by featuring locally sourced meats, seafood and produce.

Studies examining restaurant trends in 2013 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. Deep-fried chicken nuggets 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. Bartenders are infusing vodka and gin with kiwi and mango and mixing cocktails with pureed melons and various types of exotic syrups. Some locations are even making their own sodas and lemonades from fresh, local ingredients.

Challenges for 2013 restaurateurs

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, many customers appreciate seeing the name of local farms and suppliers showing up on their menus. While it means more work, chefs and restaurant managers might see tangible benefits from including a list of gluten-free menu items — or even a separate menu altogether.

Cooking through adversity

According to the National Restaurant Consultants, the drought of 2012 — which is driving up prices on beef and many other foods — and cost-conscious 2013 diners — who are still recovering from the recession — may force restaurant managers to update their menus more frequently. This may seem like a bad thing; however, restaurant managers might be able to take advantage of this situation by offering specials based on the seasonal availability of local products from their suppliers. A dynamic menu could also help a restaurant to reinvent itself regularly as customer tastes and preferences change.

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 passing up full-service restaurants in favor of "fast-casual" places where customers step up to the counter, order their food and watch it being prepared in front of them. Chipotle is an example of this style of restaurant. 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 who are entering the fast-cas market not only to embrace diners' desire for local products and exotic 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, it is vital for restaurants 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?


  1. National Restaurant Consultants, "Top Trends for 2013," 2013,
  2. National Restaurant Association, "What's Hot in 2013," 2013,
  3. Baum+Whiteman, "17 Hottest Food And Dining Trends For Restaurants & Hotels, 2013,"

About the Author

Jim Sloan is a freelance writer in Reno, Nev.

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