2018’s restaurant tastemakers can’t pooh-pooh noncommercial trends

Every year around this time, the arbiters of culinary fashion predict how dining in restaurants will change once the New Year’s confetti is swept away. The poor dears, sweating up their all-black duds. Instead of struggling to read oolong leaves and animal entrails, all a true hipster need do is hang out in a noncommercial facility and note what’s already caught on there.
If they’d done it two years ago, they’d have been hailed as savants for knowing all-day breakfast and the blurring of dayparts would reshape the mainstream dining-out market. The trend would be a bright spot for many a major quick-service chain in an otherwise bleak 2016, from McDonald’s to Jack in the Box.

But it was part of the backdrop by then in college and university dining, as fundamental as offering a full slate of gluten-free choices—another trend just beginning to catch hold in the wider commercial sector.

It happened in 2017 with catering, delivery and carryout—an emerging trend set to explode in 2018 in almost all sectors of the noncom market, from B&I feeding to colleges, healthcare and even K-12.  Yet those mega-trends are still unfolding in the restaurant sector, fundamentally changing the market that traditionally had been the source of trends for foodservice directors.

If anyone doubts the exchange of trends between commercial and noncommercial foodservice is now a two-way street, they need merely read what trendinistas are forecasting for the streetside market in 2018. Topping many a list of restaurant forecasts: plant-forward dishes.

Please, you professionals in noncommercial, try to stifle the yawn. C&U dining in particular has been riding that current for years. Panera Bread Co. and a host of fast casuals hop aboard and the foodie community trembles.

And not all of the best practices being transplanted into restaurants are food-related. Labor is a problem common to the two channels. But remedies such as developing career ladders—enticing employees to stay longer by providing them a professional pathway—was once evident only in the noncommercial market. That’s changing in a flash, with celebrated restaurateurs such as Danny Meyer helping strong hires think long term.

Ditto for internships, a convention as common as spatulas in the noncommercial and hotel dining markets. Tweaked to merit the label of apprenticeships, the learn-on-the-job arrangements are now being embraced in the restaurant mainstream as an enticement for youngsters who don’t want the staggering debt of a college education.

So it’s decided, restaurateurs. For a preview of tomorrow’s trends, don’t look to the haute crowd wearing black on black. Just turn to noncommercial operators in foodservice whites.

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