Let’s face it; we live in a county of finicky eaters. Styles and trends in the restaurant industry seem to change just as quickly as those in the fashion world. While there are some foods that never seem to change always have a large following, those of us who live and breathe restaurants know that in order to keep our customers happy, we have to give them what they want. And often what they want is change. If you are feeling like your menu is stagnant and you’re struggling to find ideas of ways to update the food selection at your restaurant, here are six trends that are really hot right now in restaurants around the country.
1. Keeping It Fresh and Keeping It Local
This trend has seen huge growth over the past few years, and consumers are continuing to want to know where their food is coming from. Entire restaurants have popped up whose menus are based solely upon what ingredients are in season at the farms where they are sourcing their foods. You don’t have to create an entirely new menu to follow this trend, but finding a local source and being able to list the fresh items you are getting from them shows your guests that you are concerned about the freshness and quality of items on your menu.
2. Providing Gluten Free and Food-Allergy Sensitive Options
If it seems that “gluten free” is a buzz word that you are hearing every, that’s because it really is. While many people have diseases that require them to avoid eating gluten, many more people are making the choice to avoid gluten simply for diet reasons. As customers come in to your restaurant, gluten-free menu items can entice return visits and recommendations to friends who may also eat gluten free. Additionally, vegetarian, dairy-free, and peanut-free options are huge among consumers with other food allergies.
3. Using Sustainable Seafood and Meats
Similar to the concern about locally produced ingredients, consumers are also becoming more knowledgeable about where their meat and seafood is coming from. Recent news about the environmental impact of fishing has many people questioning the sustainability of the seafood they are choosing to consume. Because of the interest, there are plenty of fisheries that are using fishing practices with greater focus on how to raise or catch their products while also being aware of how their practices are affecting the ecosystems of the fish. Grass-fed beef and free-range chicken also continue to grown in popularity as people are concerned about the cleanliness of their meat and poultry products as well.
4. Taking It on the Road
If you haven’t seen or heard about food trucks, you may be living under a rock. This trend is super hot and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. Whether it’s catching a quick bit during a lunch break or late at night after a show, eaters are frequenting food trucks with fierce loyalty. And these aren’t the hotdog carts of yesteryear. These food carts are often run by well-trained chefs that are creating high quality, gourmet food on the go. Everything from Vietnamese cuisine to freshly cook Belgian waffles is all the rage and the people have spoken. They are loving it.
5. Going Low Brow
Perhaps this trend is partially caused by the increase in food truck popularity or maybe because of the current state of the recession, but fine dining seems to be out, at least for now. Cheap, quick, and tasty is in, and customers are getting it from the quick-serve market. Fast food restaurants with lots of options on their value menus are attracting both the younger crowd and the older as well. Many top chain restaurants are changing their menus to offer smaller, less expensive portions that consumers seem to be enjoying and choosing over their top-tier menu items.
6. Catering To the Kids
As the younger generation begins to have children of their own, they don’t seem to be staying home to eat just because they have little ones in tow. As restaurateurs, we need to provide kids meal options as well as an atmosphere that makes families feel welcome, because there are plenty of establishments out there that are already doing this and seeing an increase in guests. A word to the wise: macaroni and cheese, burgers, and corn dogs aren’t going to cut it anymore. These thrifty parents want more bang for their buck and they know quality food when they see it. Fruit and veggie side options are also a big seller for lots of parents.
In order to keep up with the demand of our customers, we have to be willing to make positive changes. You don’t have to follow all of these trends in order to run a successful restaurant, but looking hard at your menu and making a few small changes may be enough to attract some new faithful regulars.