Keep It Local
Sustainable food sourcing is important to many consumers and restaurant owners as well. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in 2011, chefs are using more local ingredients and ranked locally sourced meats and seafood as their top menu choices whenever possible. In addition, the NRA noted, about a third of single-unit restaurants that favor locally sourced food have gardens on-site!
Responsibly-sourced animal products include cage-free eggs, pigs that have not been crate-raised, free-range chickens and sustainable seafood (i.e. farmed or fished in ways that do not negatively impact wild, healthy ecosystems). Already on board with this trend are national chains and franchises such as McDonalds, Burger King, Denny’s, Baja Fresh and Wendy’s, Long John Silver’s, Red Lobster and Olive Garden.
In addition to locally sourced meats and seafood, according to the NRA there will also be an uptick in locally produced beer, wine and spirits. The Association has also noted that as more and more diners prefer their food as fresh and local as possible, that it only makes sense that they expect the same from their beverage choices. Therefore, locally sourced, artisan beers, wine and liquors have grown in popularity over the last decade. This trend has increased over the last year in particular as restaurants are introducing more locally-crafted spirits to their menus. These are often paired with menu items to influence diners in making their selections and to spur beverage sales.
Micro-distilled/artisan spirits use local ingredients to give the alcohol a unique flavor and to give diners a unique and memorable dining experience. Currently the number of artisan distilleries in the U.S. has exploded, increasing by 30 percent a year.
Food Waste/Reduction Management
Increasingly diners have become more interested in knowing what restaurants are discarding and how this can be reduced. This may be an extension of the farm-to-table concept wherein an animal is respected in its entirety and utilized as fully as possible with little or no waste. Whereas in the past, restaurants would use prepared stocks or broths, now animal bones and vegetable parings are simmered in a stock pot to reduce waste and introduce additional flavor to meals.
For restaurant owners profit is not always measured in profits, but also in reducing costs. Less food waste translates into lower costs to manage its disposal. And as there are some who will find a silver lining anywhere, cold-pressed juices made from misshapen or blemished fruit deemed unfit for restaurant consumption are now available in about 40 locations near Washington, D.C.
Delivery is on Its Way
Home delivery of prepared meals will be one of the industry trends most likely to ignite in 2016. Seeing opportunity where Yelp and GrubHub have reigned, Google, UberEATS and Amazon Prime have set their sights on muscling into this territory in 2016. By offering food and meal delivery, these new services are poised to influence how consumers dine throughout the entire restaurant industry from fast food chains to fine dining establishments.
In August 2015, Amazon Prime Now test marketed its restaurant food delivery service and a month later had secured partnerships with numerous local restaurants to bring lunch and dinner to specific areas of the city. The service offers free two-hour delivery and one-hour delivery for just $7.99.
The new service will roll out in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, L.A., and the cities in Orange County, New York, Miami, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco, and the rest of Seattle in 2016. It will be offered as an additional service included with an Amazon Prime annual membership.
Google has launched a similar service with a different approach by partnering with Whole Foods and Costco. UberEATS offers a scaled-down version and extends its taxi service to delivering meals from local restaurants.
Bring on the Heat
While spicy food trends have long been favored by millennials, 2016 will likely see a global search for the next great intense ethnic flavor. McDonald’s among other fast-food chains has introduced spicier versions of some of its popular chicken sandwiches. Forbes has noted that ghost pepper from India, sambal from Southeast Asia are the top contenders. Additionally, harissa, sumac, dukka and gochujang which have been staples in many ethnic storefront restaurants have been introduced recipes that now appear in fine dining establishments.
Time magazine noted recently that the trend in spicy food has been influenced in particular by millennial’s dining choices. Technomic, a food and beverage consulting firm, has noted that 54% of consumers find hot or spicy food appealing. So it is understandable that by delivering more heat, restaurant menus are responding to their diner’s needs.
An important trend to watch is not on any menu. Debates on Capitol Hill over how high to increase the minimum wage will eventually create new challenges for restaurant owners. Restaurants provide jobs to millions of Americans. Restaurants also devote about of third of their sales to wages and benefits. Previous mandated wage increases forced higher menu prices to offset as well as reduced employee hours.
It is also projected that the dining public is in favor of increased wages for restaurant workers and will likely support this change by continuing to dine out. Diners who were polled regarding the wage increase stated that they were most likely to tip less to offset increased menu prices due to wage increases.
Faced with new labor and other costs due to new federal wage mandates, industry watchers are waiting to see this trend’s influence on the industry.