10 Trends Shaping the Restaurant Industry in 2019

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With time comes change.

Like any other sector, the restaurant industry is not immune to these changes. In fact, you could argue that it’s even more sensitive to shifts because consumer expectations rise exponentially over time. While such rapid movement in the restaurant industry often brings advantages for guests, these changes can bring challenges for restaurant owners and chefs.

There’s just so much to keep up with. New tech, new food trends, the list goes on.

This article breaks down what’s happening in the restaurant industry by highlighting the trends and statistics that are currently shaping it. In doing so, we hope to give you and your teams a peek around the corner as you address these trends in your restaurants.

The Key Trends Shaping the Food Industry in 2019

1. The Biggest Trend Shaping the Restaurant Industry: Sustainability

Percent of guests willing to pay more at restaurants for sustainable options

Some key takeaways from the 2018 Food and Health Survey as they pertain to sustainability include:

  • Sustainability is important: 60% of guests say sustainability is important to them

  • Guests are willing to pay more for sustainability: 72% of Millennials and 74% of Gen Z willing to spend more for sustainability

  • 66% of guests overall are willing to spend more for sustainability

    • Sustainability factors: Over 50% of them are influenced by sustainability factors such as:

      • Food made from fresh, natural/organic ingredients (69%)

      • Environmentally friendly (58%)

      • Company commitment to social value (56%)

      • Sales and coupons did not even rank in the top five factors!]

Guests care about our planet and they’re showing up with their wallets to prove it.

Restaurants are responding by making sustainability much more than a buzzword. Many restaurateurs are going the distance by implementing more eco-friendly processes, and as a result are saving on costs too.

From using renewable energy and reducing food waste (also a huge drain on your profit margin) to recycling water and sourcing from local farms, restaurants are realizing the value in being more sustainable.

Tips for your restaurant: Localize your supply chain. Repurpose food scraps. Recycle. There’s so much you can tackle here. Take it step by step with your team as you make your restaurant more sustainable. If you want to learn about cutting costs and reducing waste, check out this blog post on the topic.

Food Trends Changing the Restaurant Industry

Let’s dive into the food.

That’s the best part, right?

Stock food image from Reza’s in Chicago ( Source )

Stock food image from Reza’s in Chicago (Source)

Your guests’ tastes are changing and growing as they get exposed to new cuisines and flavour combinations. More and more, they’re demanding delicious fare from all corners of the globe. They also have their eyes on rising trends in health-conscious eating such as fermented foods, vegetarian and vegan options, as well as cannabidiol (CBD)-infused delights.

Let’s take a look at how restaurant industry food trends are shifting:

2. The Expansion of Global Flavors

From tangy and complicated flavors in Filipino dishes to new favorite dishes like harissa hailing from the Middle East and Africa, guests’ preferences are spreading into new global regions. In particular, sauces such as s’chug, pomegranate molasses, toum, labneh and tahini are finding themselves in more and more dishes. Keep an eye on the Balkans too as another region ready to make their way into an array of food and drink offerings.

Needless to say, guests are looking for more traditional flavors and you should make it your mission to provide them with just that.

Recent restaurant industry research from Mintel has shown that Generation Z is driving this push for exotic fare with their preferences for African (27%), Indian (36%), and Middle Eastern (38%) flavors. If you’re serving a younger crowd (or want to), it might be time to consider some menu changes in this direction.

Tip for your restaurant: Grab one of the most popular seasonings of 2018, za’atar spice which is heavily used in the Middle East and North Africa, and sprinkle it onto your salads or hummus alongside some olive oil. Also toss some sumac onto roasted chicken as a paprika substitute to switch things up and dive into this new trend towards Middle Eastern and North African fare.

Stock image--veg burger--from Planta in Toronto  (   Source   )

Stock image--veg burger--from Planta in Toronto (Source)

3. Vegetarian and Vegan Options Go Mainstream

How many of your friends have raved to you about The Beyond Meat Burger?

If you’ve ever sat in at a restaurant that serves this, you may have heard expressions like:

  • “It tastes just like real meat!”

  • “If you dislike the taste of meat, chances are this isn’t a good vegetarian burger for you. Try our quinoa burger instead.”

  • “I didn’t think I’d like the taste of a veggie burger, but this is amazing!”

Whether it’s psychological or flavour-based reactions, people are raving over this new meat alternative. In fact, taste is now seen as the major driver for US consumers choosing meat alternatives, with millennials are leading the charge.

Statistics for why guests choose to consume meat alternatives

Gone are the days when restaurateurs could think of vegans and vegetarians as a distinct group for whom they had to offer a few simple menu substitutions. Nowadays, far more guests are seeking meat-free dietary options regardless how they identify as eaters.

Be ready for the mainstreaming of the meatless revolution.

Tip for your restaurant: Toss out those premade, frozen veggie burgers and swap in the very veg-friendly Beyond Meat® product line along with some beans, insect protein, and plant-based milk options like coconut or oat milk.

Stock photo of kraut-chi deviled eggs from Mighty Fine Brine in Toronto (   Source   )

Stock photo of kraut-chi deviled eggs from Mighty Fine Brine in Toronto (Source)

4. Peak Fermentation Takes Hold (And Other Healthy Ingredients)

From kimchi and kombucha to house-made pickles and sauerkraut, fermented foods are having their moment.

Why the big push for good gut bacteria all of a sudden?

Guests are increasingly looking for the least-processed foods while also seeking probiotics that offer benefits for their immune systems. As a restaurant owner, don’t be afraid to get nerdy with the science behind the “healthy gut” trend. Your guests are seeking more adaptogens in their diets—or ingredients that offer multiple benefits ranging from stress relief to boosted energy.

Keep in mind that this goes beyond fermented ingredients as well. Take a look at the cold pressed juice industry. Gain inspiration from different companies that provide healthy juice options like Fresh Restaurants and Well Juicery and look at the ingredients they use in their beverages. These could be really great options for ingredients you should incorporate into your restaurant’s menu.

Get in the weeds with your guests as they push your menu towards better taste and improved health.

Tip for your restaurant: Bring on a custom version of homegrown kombucha (sourced locally, of course) or other alternative for health-conscious guests. Don’t forget your craft beer lovers and be sure to add a few goses, lambics, and wild ales to your menu to satisfy their increasing demand for sour beer.

Stock image from Girl & the Goat in Chicago (   Source   )

Stock image from Girl & the Goat in Chicago (Source)

5. Farm-to-Table Goes Next Level

Cristina Martinez, of Chef’s Table fame, insists on importing her own corn from Mexico for the tortillas in her South Philadelphia barbacoa restaurant. She grows it just outside of the city on local farmland and works closely with one family farm.

More and more, restaurateurs are going the extra mile by engaging in custom farming. These days, they’re planting specifically for new menu development.

Not only do guests want healthier options, they want to understand how the food gets to their table including where it’s sourced. Guests want restaurant owners to be intentional about how they source their ingredients because they know (and can taste) the impact on their plates and their palettes.

Tip for your restaurant: Talk to your suppliers and bring an actual farmer from your supply chain into your restaurant. Get them involved in menu creation, talk to them about getting specific crops onto the menu. Even connect them with guests curious about how their food traveled from the farm to their table (cool event idea!). It’ll be a memorable and fruitful experience for your guests and team.

6. Snacks and Small Plates = Micro-Dining Experiences for Guests

Stock image of Chicken pakora at MAD Social in Chicago (   Source   )

Stock image of Chicken pakora at MAD Social in Chicago (Source)

Beverage giant Coca-Cola did some research.

Their DINE360 survey found that snacks (anything bought for immediate consumption but not apart of a major meal) are responsible for 11% of sales from all visits to restaurants. The rate is even higher (15%) among guests aged 18-24.

Nearly one third of guests in that age group reported buying a snack in the past two days. That’s a lot of snacking, especially among younger guests.

This trend towards snacks and smaller bites should nudge you to reconsider your menu to capture a big slice of guest traffic that is clearly out there for the taking.

Tip for your restaurant: Develop a themed snack bar menu—perhaps with trending global fare—that includes local, seasonal favorites. Make sure the snacks are readily available (ideally within arms’ reach where possible) for guests and tend towards the salty (to increase appetite).

Stock image of Nitro Cold Brew from Pilot Coffee Roasters in Toronto (   Source   )

Stock image of Nitro Cold Brew from Pilot Coffee Roasters in Toronto (Source)

7. More Drinks Go Nitro

The nitro trend has already hit the beer and coffee markets, to the delight of many guests.

Who doesn’t love that smooth, creamy texture in their cold brew? I’m personally obsessed.

Restaurateurs should get ready for the nitro craze to spread to other beverages like teas and kombuchas. More and more diners are seeking enriched experiences within otherwise traditional moments, such as their daily coffee. Nitro offers just that.

Tip for your restaurant: Keep offering all of the same great beverages you’ve always offered—now with a slight markup for the “nitro” version of each. With a moderate equipment upgrade, you can offer guests a new experience with their drinks while earning more from the drinks you already have on the menu.

Technology Trends Shifting the Restaurant Industry

Now we move to the equipment that you and your team use daily.

Stock image of lightweight food delivery packaging (   S    ource   )

Stock image of lightweight food delivery packaging (Source)

Without the right gear in your restaurant, your team will struggle to deliver top-notch tastes for guests. From new lightweight take-out packaging to “smart” appliances in your kitchen, tech continues to shape how restaurants cater to guests within their dining rooms and beyond.

Here’s a quick look at how technology trends are changing the restaurant industry these days:

8. Lighter, Modern Packaging for Improved Food Delivery

With the rise of GrubHub and UberEats, consumers have dived head first into the convenience offered by these new food delivery services.

In 2018, mobile delivery orders accounted for 53% of all online restaurant orders, an increase from 33% in 2013. Uber estimated that, as recently as 2016, the top 25% of restaurants on the UberEats platform increased their monthly sales by $6000 in additional revenue.

Now that the potential gains are clear for restaurateurs, it’s all about optimizing this convenience even further. In other words, making sure the food gets there faster, fresher, and warmer than other competitors in the market. Beyond integrating orders into your kitchen’s back-end so orders get fulfilled quickly and seamlessly, improving your packaging for delivery is the new trend.

Restaurateurs are also taking the opportunity to market their restaurant by offering guests cool swag like nice canvas bags that can be reused for grocery shopping and other occasions, carrying the restaurant’s name and logo around town with them wherever they go.

Tip for your restaurant: Whether you’re running a dark kitchen or any sort of food delivery service, outfit your delivery crew with these modern, lightweight packaging options. Your guests will thank when their food arrives hotter and fresher than before. Your delivery team will thank you for making their tough job a little easier.

Stock image of a high-tech appliance in the kitchen (   Source   )

Stock image of a high-tech appliance in the kitchen (Source)

9. The Rise of the Machines (in Your Kitchen)

From front-of-house to back-of-house, more and more technology is available to streamline operations and help staff become more efficient and better able to improve the overall experience for guests.

The takeaway here is simple: restaurants that fail to adopt this rising tide of tech will have a tougher time competing with restaurants that embrace it.

Why?

Restaurants that optimize their work with technology will reach more people, turn over tables faster, save money, and generate more revenue. This has been shown by many types of technology now making its way into restaurants:

  • Within 2 years of launching their app, Starbucks saw a 100% increase in unique customer traffic

  • The top 25% of restaurants taking advantage of Uber delivery generate an additional $6,000 in revenue each month

  • More than 80% of diners browse mobile menus before going out

  • Sixty-one percent of diners say that servers with handheld tablets improve their dining experience

  • ChefHero users save 15%, on average, when ordering supplies

It’s important to note that not every restaurant needs every piece of tech out there. Restaurateurs should carefully pick tech that is both affordable and enhances their team’s ability to serve guests. Think about it this way… If you put $100 into a piece of technology, will you be saving/making more as a result of that initial investment? If so, it’s definitely worth your investment!

Tip for your restaurant: Survey your staff to better understand which appliances are giving them problems and slowing things down.. Armed with that information, set a plan in motion to upgrade this equipment over time, opting for smaller, multifunctional machines (reducing the need for multiple pieces of equipment) that make the work easier for your team.

Also take a look at machines with programmable settings that are bluetooth-enabled to allow for remote control to help with multitasking during busy times. (Why not run your slow cooker while you’re organizing deliveries with suppliers?)

You’ll likely see preparation times decrease and staff appreciation increase.

Stock image of an Amazon Go store (   Source   )

Stock image of an Amazon Go store (Source)

10. Grab and Go Becomes the Norm

We won’t lie, this is a big challenge for modern restaurateurs.

Balancing guests’ desire for quick, frictionless access to healthy and high-quality food options alongside personalized and professional dining experiences isn’t easy. The best restaurant owners are figuring out a way to do both.

With the rise of options like Amazon Go, drone delivery, and other app-based checkout services, restaurants are facing new competition like never before. In many ways, it feels like a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” situation.

Smart restaurant owners would be wise to pay attention to this trend and offer similar options for guests alongside the traditional model, without compromising their unique brand.

Tip for your restaurant: If you’ve got clientele that you know will benefit from a Grab & Go station, set one up and stock it with some of the favorites from your menu. Or, offer alternatives to some of your top menu offerings with a slightly different spin on the same concept (e.g. turn that roast chicken w/ vegetable puree entree into a seasoned chicken sandwich for lunchtime guests in a hurry).

We know it’s not easy to stay on top of all of these trends, especially with how fast they change in the restaurant industry. Keeping your eye on at least a few of these and making adjustments when needed is a great place to start!

You’ve got this.

Hiba Amin
Hiba Amin
Marketing Specialist
ChefHero