Adapt Sooner to Thrive in the Evolving Market

What’s on your menu for 2020? Food trends like take-out and delivery coupled with increased consumer demand for fresher, more local ingredients are heavily influencing what restaurant operators are putting on their menus. Consumer eating habits are changing, and restaurants that want to stay innovative and competitive need to adjust their approach.

Operators need only to look around their restaurants to know that times are changing. These are the top consumer food trends driving industry-wide change:

  • Greater control over where and when they eat
  • Rise in delivery dining
  • Desire for more sustainable food choices
  • Preference for local, fresh food (think made-from-scratch and farm-to-table)

Coinciding with these eating trends is a changing population. In the coming years, the U.S. will shift to an older and more diverse population. In addition to addressing changing eating habits, restaurant operators will need to keep an eye on population shifts and be able to respond to the changing needs of their regional demographics.

What’s Hot Culinary Forecast 2020

According to the National Restaurant Association’s What Hot 2020 Culinary Forecast, the top 10 overall trends this year are:

  1. Eco-friendly packaging
  2. Plant-based proteins
  3. Delivery-friendly menu items
  4. Healthy bowls
  5. Scratchmade
  6. Creativity with catering
  7. Revamped classic cocktails
  8. Stress relievers
  9. Specialty burger blends
  10. Unique beef and pork cuts

Off-Premises Dining

Not all dining takes place at the restaurant table anymore; in fact, most of it doesn’t. Take-out, curbside pick-up, delivery, drive-thru, and even food trucks make up about 60% of all restaurant traffic today and are expected to comprise about 80% of restaurant growth over the next five years.

A new generation of consumers and increased commute times to and from work are two factors influencing the dine-out trend. Whatever the factors driving this change, off-premises dining is an area where restaurants can – and should – be growing this year and into the future.

Other than simply being aware that delivery and take-out orders are rising, there are ways to embrace these changes to allow for better growth. One option is to reconfigure the physical space both front- and back-of-house. Some kitchens are already changing their layouts with separate food prep areas for take-out and delivery. Restaurants should also be able to accept online food orders – studies showed that in the past year or so, about 25% of Americans ordered food online. This number is projected to grow quite a bit, and quickly.

Consideration of which menu choices travel well and travel safely deserves quite a bit of thought, too. From a different menu to more eco-friendly take-out packaging, some restaurants might need to reconsider their entire food service delivery model, and soon.

Delivery, Please

Millennials are key drivers of the food delivery trend; they spend the most amount of their budgets on prepared food compared to other generations. When it comes to delivery, how fast food is delivered is the top consideration for customer satisfaction – which begs the question of whether restaurants should start employing their own delivery drivers or continue letting third-party apps do the legwork.

For food delivery, there’s an app for that. Every restaurant that wants to prioritize its delivery revenue stream should have its own online ordering system that’s easy for customers to use on mobile devices. Restaurants need to be prepared for how their customers want to interact.

Sustainability is King

A restaurant’s commitment to eco-friendly practices is a major selling point to more than half of customers. Sustainability matters, from energy-saving initiatives like water and electricity conservation to how food is served and packaged. Food waste is another growing concern among consumers.

Restaurants that want to stay ahead of the curve on sustainable food choices can look at ways to minimize waste during food prep, donate leftover food, use eco-friendly packaging, and right-size operations, as well as rotating the menu based on what’s available and educating customers about the ingredients.

Fresh and Local

Consumers’ palates are becoming more sophisticated. They’re also paying more attention to where their food comes from and how it gets to the table, especially in restaurants. Expect a rise in demand for healthier food options that prioritize plant-based protein alternatives to meat. Healthy bowls and healthy kids’ meals are trending, as well as specialty produce like new chili peppers and vegetable noodles

Don’t adjust the entire menu yet: there will always be a market for comfort foods, so be sure to leave the hearty meals that customers love as menu staples.

Most Popular Food

Nationwide, the top ten fastest growing food orders in 2019 were dominated by plant-based foods and meat alternatives. The rise in popularity of plant-based alternatives can be due to the younger generation’s concern for the environment as much as a desire to eat healthier, according to industry experts. Keto and Paleo diets, which are high in protein, are also influencing what restaurants offer.

Ways to Stay Competitive

To meet consumers’ demands for fresh food anywhere, anytime, restaurants should be looking at the following best practices and how they can fit into an existing food service model. Notice that technology plays as much of a role as the food itself.

  • Re-evaluate your current marketing and operational strategies
  • Accept mobile payments and food orders
  • Enable tableside payment options
  • Increase healthy, local menu options but remain balanced with comfort foods
  • Redesign the interior layout to accommodate areas for take-out and delivery
  • Incorporate zero- and minimal waste food options and operational workflows

In the future, consumer eating habits may change the way most restaurants look altogether. Operators that lean into these changes and adapt sooner will be more likely to thrive in a new and evolving market.