The restaurant industry finished 2013 with profits of around $438 billion and is expected to experience an increase in sales of about 5.9 percent throughout 2014. You can expect some of these trends in the food service industry to play a role in how restaurants do business this year.
“Fast Casual” Will Continue to Grow
Fast casual dining focuses on providing convenient, fast service and customizable menu options that use higher-quality ingredients than you’ll find in traditional fast food. Though these higher-quality dining establishments are also more expensive than traditional fast-food chains, customers don’t seem to care. They’re willing to pay a little more for higher quality convenience food, so you can expect to see more of these establishments emerging and thriving in the year ahead.
More Alternative Proteins Will Appear
Beef prices are rising, and as a result, you can expect to see alternative proteins remain popular on menus throughout 2014. Chicken and pork will be mainstays, but non-traditional meats will also gain center stage — think lamb, duck, bison and game meats. Egg-based and vegetarian dishes will also become more popular in 2014.
Menus Will Get Healthier
Few people aren’t concerned on some level about their health, but as consumers become more and more aware of what they eat, where it comes from and how it’s made, you can expect to see restaurants add more healthy menu items. You’ll also see more menu items that cater to diners’ dietary restrictions, especially gluten-free diets.
Snacking, Sampling and Sharing Will Become the Norm
Parings, trios and samplers will continue to gain steam in 2014 as more diners see the value of snacking. Today’s diners want snack-size portions packaged to be eaten on the run; no one has time for a sit-down lunch anymore.
Restaurants Will Cater to the Older Generations
The food service industry has traditionally catered to the younger generation, and for good reason — these are the customers who will keep coming back for decades to come. But food service professionals are realizing that the Baby Boomers and their parents like to eat out, and they also have more money to spend than Generations X and Y. Expect to see more restaurants trying to attract the older demographic.
Menus Will Address a Changing Population
Emerging population changes, specifically increases in the Hispanic and Asian populations, mean that restaurants will increasingly feature menu items popular among these demographics. Expect to see more fruits and exotic juice drinks, savory seasonings and spices, noodles, specialty sauces and rice.
Mobile Ordering Will Become More Common
One flaw with the fast casual dining model is that individual customers slow down service for everyone when they customize their orders. In 2014, you can expect to see customers placing their fast casual dining orders via mobile device. Some restaurants may provide iPads or Android tablets, but many establishments will be BYOD.
New Tap Technologies Will Appear
Technology is changing everything, and that includes the way we serve beverages on tap. In 2014, taps won’t just be for beer anymore; you’ll see them used to serve coffee and wine. Chefs will use soda-water taps to concoct their own signature soft drinks. RFID cards will be used to enable self-service beer taps at the hippest bars and pubs.
Restaurants Will Move Toward Transparency
2013 saw more than one restaurant get swept up in controversy over the political views of its leadership or its operating practices. Customers want to spend their money in businesses that they feel reflect their own beliefs and morals. In 2014, expect to see increasing transparency on both the personal and business fronts from members of the food service industry.
New Customer Loyalty Incentives Will Emerge
Once upon a time, restaurants used paper coupons to draw in customers new and old. Then, combo meals, value menus, tiered pricing and even sweepstakes took over. In 2014, you can expect to see more restaurants return to coupon incentives, especially since the Internet allows cheap but widespread dissemination. You’ll also see a surge in popularity for customer loyalty programs designed to encourage new and old customers to return more often.
2014 is expected to be an exciting year for the food service industry, as new trends emerge and food service evolves. Look for these emerging trends — or better yet, get in on the ground floor.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Nick Cummins has worked in the food service industry for nearly 20 years and has owned his own restaurant more than half that time. He recommends Nisbets.com for all your food service equipment needs.