Outside Inspiration: Ten Trends to Keep an Eye On

Consultants and our counterparts in commercial give us a list of trends to consider.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

We talked with consultants and editors from our sister publication, Restaurant Business, to get their takes on the commercial trends that will likely play a role in non-commercial facilities in the near future.

1. Technology: Forget paper menus. Many restaurants are now using iPads to display digital versions of menus. This is especially convenient for locations that change up their offerings frequently. Another technological area to keep an eye out for is mobile apps, from which customers can place an order on any web-enabled device allowing them to skip the line. Some non-commercial locations are already using these tools. Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., for one, is piloting this concept in its main café.

2. Breakfast: Pancakes and waffles are no longer sequestered to morning menus, according to Pat Cobe, senior editor of Restaurant Business. Oatmeal is one breakfast item that’s booming in restaurants. For a less traditional take on the morning meal, Cobe says burgers are making an appearance on several breakfast menus, often served with a fried egg on top.

3. Upscaling fast food: Fast food locations are upgrading options, says Sam Smith, editor of Restaurant Business. “Think Taco Bell's Chipotle-inspired Cantina Bell line of menu items, Wendy's adding sautéed portobello mushrooms to its cheeseburger and Sbarro crushing whole tomatoes on site for its sauce,” Smith says.

4. Health: “One thing we’re seeing in independent [restaurants] that I would look to bring into the non-commercial industry is a contemporary view of health, which is not a subtractive view of health where we’re taking things away. Rather it’s holistic, highlighting the wholesomeness and connections to health,” says Steven Goldstein, partner of The Culinary Edge in San Francisco. People don’t want to be hit over the head with health messaging, Goldstein says. Rather, customers want the ability to make healthier choices when they want to—but being satisfied with good food is always a must. Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, puts it this way: Customers equate the freshness of food with being healthier.

5. Value: Because of the recession, consumers are redefining value, says Tristano. It’s not as much about the food quality and experience anymore, but how much do I spend and what do I get for that money? Tristano says restaurants are responding to this by offering smaller portions, using less expensive ingredients and offering specials during off-peak times to keep busy.

6. Groupon: Restaurants are no strangers to using the online coupon service, and Tristano says there’s no reason why this service couldn’t translate to non-commercial operations.

7. Pinterest: This social networking site allows users to “pin” or post content to their virtual pinboard. That content then enters into a searchable database. So, if I’m an operator looking for new ideas for a burger concept, I can search for burgers on Pinterest and see what people want in a burger. Cobe says the site has proved to be a great way to publicize a restaurant.

8. Transparency: Every one of our experts mentioned this concept, saying customers want to know where their food comes from and how that food items was grown, raised and produced. The catch here is that consumers don’t want to pay for these sustainably and humanly raised ingredients.

9. World flavors: European cuisines from countries like Germany, Austria and Hungary are making more of an impact in restaurants, says Goldstein. He says this could start to trickle down into diners’ preferences at non-commercial locations.

10. Personal approach: Orlando Espinosa, principal at Orlando Espinosa + Associates, says he expects a more intimate approach to the entire dining experience to make its mark on the non-commercial industry. Customers want to see their food being prepared in front of them, and not just the finishing touches, but start to finish. “I see more of an integration of the food being prepared closer to where the people are seated. That helps with supporting the environment of supporting what I’m eating. I’m being part of the show,” he says.