The dining landscape is constantly changing and re-invigorated by trends: from wellness to farm-to-table to Chipotle-style customization. Lately, the industry is moving toward casual concepts that encompass a strong sense of place and personality. The farm-to-table philosophy is likewise here to stay and staking new territory in beverage programs in addition to food.
Here are five more current trends to integrate into your concept - bound to keep you relevant right now.
Birthed from the “farm-to-table” philosophy, sourcing locally has become popular as a response to the globally-sourced cuisine we came to know in the last thirty years. Restaurants are increasing relationships with local farms and purveyors, and the most successful restaurants these days include the names of local farms on their menus - with many touting “market-driven” menus or “market price” fish and steaks based on price and availability. Studies show that many consumers, especially those under 35, are willing to pay higher prices for high-quality, ethically-sourced ingredients. How can you best integrate this into your menu? If possible, have a small garden on site. Try growing herb pots in your space and use the herbs in cocktails or to finish plates. If there’s a farmer you love, call them out on your menu and educate your hospitality team so they can get excited about it too.
Vegetarian / Vegan Options
While only 5% of Americans identify as vegetarians, consumers are regularly turning toward vegetarian options, even when they’re not fully vegetarian. Plant-based food sales saw an 8.1% increase in 2017 and continue to grow, with some studies suggesting that plant-based menu options can increase sales. In response, restaurants are privy to boast more vegetarian options and the items are getting a lot more interesting. Menus are moving away from the hackneyed hummus or mozzarella/tomato sandwich and getting a little more creative. Many of the most successful restaurants don’t even sell these options as vegetarian alternatives - rather, they treat them as creative and integrative parts of their menus. Take Turkey & The Wolf’s Collard Green Melt or Shake Shack’s mushroom burger. These options go hand-in-hand with local sourcing and farm-to-table trends; vegetarian menu items are a great way to call attention to seasonal vegetables and local farmers on your menu.
Craft cocktail programs have been gaining popularity over the last ten years - and it seems they’re here to stay. This is especially evidenced by chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s boasting “craft cocktails” as a selling point on their menus. While customers used to seek out specialized cocktail bars, they now expect a unique, curated cocktail experience nearly everywhere they go. Local or otherwise fine liquors, homemade syrups, simple glassware, and fanciful garnishes have become the norm at bars and restaurants alike. This applies to non-alcoholic mocktails as well, in what Forbes called the biggest trend in cocktails in 2018. The newest consumer research shows a “back to basics” approach to cocktails as well, incorporating classics like the negroni, gin & tonic, and cosmopolitan.
Natural / Organic / Biodynamic Wine
Natural wine is sweeping the world right now. Not only does it play into current trends towards local sourcing, specialized craft, and organic farming, but it’s bringing a new type of wine lover to light. The natural wine movement appeals to young people and doesn’t alienate them: its approachable, artisanal vibe is inviting an entirely new crowd of wine drinkers who’ve long felt excluded from the club. Incorporating natural wines into a wine menu illustrates that you’re in the know and has the potential to get young front of house employees excited about the wine list as well. Some restaurants are becoming known for their eclectic wine lists as much as their food. And with the existing high profit margin on alcohol, adding an appealing wine list could also boost sales.
The all-day dining trend is similar to what Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz calls the “third place.” Through building a comfortable, approachable environment, Starbucks became a third place - after work and home - for its customers to spend time. All-day dining concepts can be similarly effective. For example, coffee bars that become wine bars are gaining popularity in Europe and New York City - offering multiple opportunities for customers to come by throughout the day (or, in the best case scenario, to stick around all day). You’re also increasing revenue by offering longer hours and multiple points of sale. A simply-executed menu and high-profit items like coffee and pastries are a good way to offset the extra labor cost.