Expect 2015 to be a continuation for the restaurant industry of the prior few years, but at a faster pace as the economy picks up. Top restaurant trends for 2015 include healthier kids’ meals, new cuts of meat, locally sourced meats, seafood, produce and condiments and greater commitments to reducing kitchen waste. The following sections explore some of the more intriguing trends for restaurateurs to consider.
- Local Sourcing
Local sourcing and in-house processing continue to gain ground in the battle for diner’s hearts and minds. Environmental sustainability promises to be the top trend of 2015, but this benefit is just one of the advantages of using local farms and suppliers. Transparency, local pride and accountability also matter to diners, so local sourcing easily becomes the top trend for forward-thinking restaurateurs to adopt. Many restaurants will carry the trend further by growing restaurant gardens, making their own smoked sausage and other preserved meats and brewing specialty beverages in-house.
- Social Responsibility and Accountability
Restaurants have become major arbiters in their customers’ lives by interacting on social media forums, staging events and popular publicity stunts and encouraging support for charitable causes and political change. Diners care about where their food comes from, how food is grown, how suppliers treat their employees and whether animals are raised ethically or caught responsibly. Social media networking not only provides forums for posting information but also holds restaurants more accountable for their practices and encourages diners to share their experiences.
- Custom Dining Options for Health
Against the backdrop of healthier menus, nutritional labeling and food-preparation transparency, restaurants face increasing requests for customized meals for diabetics, vegetarians and people on gluten-free, dairy-free and other special diets. Restaurants will offer more custom dining options where customers can choose their ingredients or substitute alternatives to classic ingredients for health needs and personal preferences. Many restaurants will also offer meals based on calorie counts or nutritional requirements on request.
- Asian Foods and Ethnic Cuisines Continue to Impress
Ethnic and Asian cuisines will become increasingly popular in 2015. Expect more fusions of local ingredients and Asian and ethnic cooking techniques. Popular Chinese, Thai and Japanese foods will lose ground smaller Asian nations like Korea and Vietnam. Peasant dishes, ethnic street foods and foods from the former Soviet Union’s Asian satellite countries will become trendy. Look for more emphasis on umami, the fifth taste, and balanced foods that combine salty, sweet, sour and bitter flavors in creative ways. Diners are abandoning sweet foods for dark and bitter tastes that are found in dark chocolate, bitter coffee and leafy greens. Restaurants are serving hops-infused beers, cocktails with bitters and barrel-aged and flavored whiskeys.
- Advances in Mixology
Restaurants are looking at beverages as key ways to generate revenue, attract loyal customers and differentiate operations from those of their competitors. Whiskeys have surpassed vodkas as America’s favorite spirits, possibly due to the general trends that favor robust and bitter flavors, umami taste sensations and local distilleries. Other advances in restaurant mixology to watch include:
- Bartenders returning to school to master mixology and techniques like molecular gastronomy, wine appreciation and event management
- Restaurants and bars that serve signature beers, spirits, cocktails and edible drinks
- Increases in nonalcoholic cocktails on menus around the country
- Bartending competitions
- Tasting events for small-batch beers, spirits and cocktails
- Small-batch sodas to complement restaurant and bar menus
- Restaurant Gardens and Butcheries
Restaurant gardens are blooming everywhere as part of the farm-to-table experience, and diners can expect more of the same in 2015 and beyond. Restaurant gardens achieve maximum sustainability. Kitchens can compost organic restaurant waste for gardens and save money on supplies.Restaurants shorten the path from farm to table when diners only have to walk a few steps from visiting a restaurant garden to enjoying its yield. Restaurants are also exploring a return to butchering meats, using every part of the animal, processing specialty foods in-house and even brewing their own alcoholic beverages. Look for restaurants to offer:
- Presentations and events featuring farmers and suppliers
- Restaurants working exclusively with local farms
- Chefs shopping for ingredients at farmers markets before planning each day’s specials
- Restaurants participating in Community Supported Agriculture agreements where they can buy shares in local harvests
- Incredibly Shrinking Restaurant Plates
Concerns about health and obesity continue to fuel the trend of smaller portions and plate sizes. Look for smaller plates but more tasting options where several two- or three-bite entrees are offered. Food tastings, dim sum and tapas dining will increase and evolve. Restaurateurs will note that restaurant dining rooms are getting smaller and more efficient to save energy, cut maintenance and overhead costs, foster intimacy and reduce staff. The in-house dining market is also shrinking due to alternative food vendors, supermarket dining rooms, corporate cafeterias, gourmet vending machines and widespread availability of food deliveries.
- Increased Emphasis on Restaurant Alchemy
Restaurants continue to lead culinary trends by taking risks, introducing unexpected foods and pairing opposites in clever but satisfying ways. Expect to see unlikely combinations on restaurant menus and dishes that combine old-fashioned ingredients with modern cooking techniques and technologies. Restaurants will increasingly offer meats, sausages, patés and terrines that are processed in-house.Diners can look for big increases in the number of businesses that offer backyard-grill foods and gastropub beverages, upscale smokehouses, retail shopping while dining and Midwestern kitchens with epicurean delights. Look for cocktails in kegs, blurred lines between fast casual and full-service restaurants and gourmet food options in the most unlikely places.
Technology Fuels Paradigm Changes in the Hospitality Industry
Top technology trends include tablet ordering and using smaller staffs and more technology. Technologies that are trending in restaurants include staged dining environments, mobile apps to customize ordering, automatic loyalty programs and rewards and guest-facing technologies that strengthen sales and customer loyalty such as facial-recognition software.
- Online and Mobile OrderingMobile ordering is the top technology trend for 2015, and restaurants are finding that they need to post their menus and take orders online or lose business to competitors. Restaurateurs can choose from embedded widgets on their websites such as Gourmet Labs, marketplace ordering systems that feature menus from multiple local restaurants and dedicated POS systems that handle dedicated online and mobile ordering.
- Mobile Apps
Mobile apps will continue to allow customers to receive coupons, real-time messages and customized ads. Customers will be able to preorder their meals while waiting for seats and receive their food faster. Restaurants can use apps for inventory management, customizing the dining experience for each customer and allowing customers to pay at their tables without surrendering their credit cards or account information.
- Digital Signs
Digital signs generate dozens of restaurant benefits, and diners should expect to see this technology in all styles and sizes of restaurants in 2015. Managers can use signs and big-screen monitors to broadcast specials, change menus at different times of the day and promote events, catering services and merchandise. Other ways that restaurants can use digital signage include:
- Upselling food and introducing new menu items
- Posting nutritional information
- Providing biographical information about the staff
- Sharing news and social media happenings and posts
- Displaying behind-the-scenes photos of the restaurant
- Changing menus quickly
- Entertaining diners who are waiting to be seated
- Kiosks and Tablets
Kiosks are becoming attractive for restaurants because they allow customers to customize their orders, place carryout orders without tying up staff, sign up for loyalty programs and entertain their kids. Customers can play games, preview the menu, check on their friends and get news, weather and sports information while waiting for their tables.Millennials are fueling the kiosk and tablet-ordering trend because these younger diners are comfortable with technology and prefer to customize and review their orders personally. Tablets enable diners to view an updated menu based on food availability, daily specials and a restaurant’s decision to discount slow-moving foods or provide instant coupons. Rising labor costs make all types of guest-facing technologies attractive to restaurant owners because many restaurant services can be handled with self-service.
- Technology for Impromptu Social Gatherings
Restaurants and customers can use smartphones, technology and social media networking to arrange work meetings, parties where people with similar interests gather and social gatherings among friends, families and coworkers. Hobbyists with similar interests can get together for impromptu meals. Restaurants can post messages on social-sharing bulletin boards that let people know when a group is gathering at the restaurant. Using digital signs, managers can post relevant information, social posts and all kinds of relevant information to generate spontaneous interaction among diners.
- Scalping Reservations Becomes a Thing
Although many diners and restaurants deplore the situation, reservation scalping seems destined to become a significant force in 2015 and beyond. Restaurants and diners can use technology apps to pay for holding reservations. However, opportunistic companies like ReservationHop, a new startup in San Francisco, are selling and trading reservations to diners who need immediate seating at busy eateries that don’t have any reservations available. Restaurants aren’t happy about scalpers selling off their tables or making speculative reservations, but the practice is likely to grow more common in 2015.Restaurants can’t take the moral high ground because maître d’s have accepted bribes for generations to find seats for sufficiently motivated diners. In a related technology trend that restaurateurs do support, customers can now prepay for dinners that can’t be canceled or refunded. Managers can even use supply and demand to set prices for menu items with limited supplies. Surge-pricing offers restaurants greater profits and ways to discount items that aren’t moving.
- Instant Gratification
Technology allows diners to take photos of menu items, post them online and write reviews of their dining experiences that people can share in real-time. Restaurants can even post their favorite photos on digital displays for every customer to see.Restaurant trends in 2015 favor sustainability, environmental stewardship, creative food combinations and technology that frees servers to provide a more personalized experience to each customer.