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Top 10 trends in food service industry

Top 10 trends in food service industry

The restaurant business is like oxygen. If you're alive, you'll use it.

According to Technomic, Americans now dine outside the home an average of 4.2 times per week. That practically makes it America's kitchen.

As someone who spends a lot of time with food service clients analyzing and identifying trends, I thought I'd share the Top 10 with Post-Crescent readers.

No No to GMO

Diners are more concerned than ever with what's in their restaurant food. Look for many chains to get out ahead of this issue (like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and even McDonald's have done recently) amending recipes, menu items and trying to gain more market share among the majority of diners who finally understand that you truly are what you eat.


Is the new beef, beer is the new wine and Asian is ascendant. Creative chef-takes on chicken and a preponderance of exceptional regional craft beers and artisan cocktails are showing real traction. If Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, Thai and provincial Chinese cuisine was any hotter, well it would have to be rolled in a tortilla.

"Farm-to-Table" fatigue

A recent restaurant leadership conference pegged "farm-to-table" as a confusing and tired marketing trend that was fading from menu descriptions. Yet the demand for locally produced, sustainably-grown, additive-free, non-processed, nutritious food is still popular among diners. It just needs a better name.

Mobile ordering and payment

The new menu is already in your pocket or purse. It's your phone. Google Wallet, Apple Pay and Samsung are working hard to integrate seamless payment through the smartphone (Starbucks has led the category for years now) and mobile-friendly websites and menus are a must for foodservice operators. Look for congestion pricing too: a meal on a slow Monday night may soon cost less than one on a prime Saturday.


Are destined to become the most influential consumer group in the U.S. Currently accounting for 22 to 24 percent of restaurant spending, Millennials will represent 40 percent of restaurant revenues by 2020. They have the collective spending power of $1.7 trillion. To this group — bigger in size than baby boomers — food customization and quality is a must, not a luxury. See next point.


This segment — arguably pioneered by Subway — is showing tremendous growth across the U.S. in a variety of menus. Build-your-own pizza is the biggest trend with build-your-own Asian (ShopHouse Kitchen) and Italian (Vapiano's) not far behind.

Fast casual segment is booming

Fast casual restaurants (think Chipotle) were up 12% in 2014 while casual dining (think TGI Friday's) was down 7%. This nearly 20-point swing is a result of Next Gen dining preferences. The ability to customize your meal, not tip and get quick service at a price point 20-30% less than full-service restaurants is attractive to any generation. Casual dining is fighting back with creative menus and aggressive pricing.

Kinetic appetizers and desserts

Think smaller bite-sized sampler portions with a variety of dipping sauces that allows you to customize the flavor of each appetizer or dessert bite with every dip.

Digital servers

What are all those mini-kiosks doing on casual dining theme restaurant tables? Two things: First, they allow you to order, pay, tip, purchase apps and rate your experience, and secondly, they're training you how to eat without a live human interface. Goodbye servers, hello iPad Menu. Stand-alone kiosks in quick-service restaurants are a thing too, helping to solve the restaurant operator's No. 1 challenge: staffing, retention and turnover.

Strong growth

Because of time constraints, quality and convenience, the restaurant has entrenched itself in American lifestyles. The food service industry is already back to pre-2008 levels, restaurant IPOs are the new darlings of Wall Street and expect the industry to continue to grow by 2-3% annually over the next five years.

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