Yes, the fried-chicken sandwich war still rages on in 2023. However, the biggest restaurant trends this year are not centered around any individual ingredients or online feuds. Consumers will crave something they have not been able to get in recent years – a dining experience they can connect with and that feels crafted around their values.
Consumers are focused on finding connections in their experiences, seeing their loyalty rewarded, and consciously seeking out sustainable businesses. Here is what that will mean for restaurant operators:
Diners will Crave a Connection
Following the trail of the experiential travel trend, restaurant customers are now looking for a dining experience rooted in the local community. For restaurants with a local customer base, this means creating opportunities to gather and connect over food. Restaurants will need to ramp up their accommodations for large parties and catering. If a restaurant does not already have a catering or sales manager, they may want to consider finding someone for this role so that gatherings run smoothly.
For restaurants with more transient customers coming from out of town, this means offering ‘real deal’ local fair. Travelers are more conscious of inauthentic, generic food, so restaurants featuring local specialties and ingredients will be the most competitive in attracting the tourist business. Multi-unit restaurant operators will need to find a way to make each location unique, instead of a copy-and-paste business approach.
Regulars Want Value for their Loyalty
Loyalty programs in restaurants have long relied on the classic punch card. But as diners look for more customized experiences and ways to find even more value amid rising food costs, restaurant operators are turning to technology. Most major chains have had robust loyalty programs and apps that add a gamification element for consumers for years. Now, more third-party apps are allowing small local restaurants to pull in repeat business as well. As more restaurants compete for diner’s attention and business, consumers have come to expect some sort of perk from their dining experiences. Thus, a loyalty program will go from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ for restaurants.
Upcycled Food is On the Rise
Last year, TikTok was full of videos showcasing unique ways to use up food scraps at home. Now consumers are eager to see this “upcycling” trend take hold in restaurants. As supply chain issues and rising food costs continue to plague the industry, this thrifty sustainability hack is being embraced in restaurant kitchens. Restaurants will be featuring things like house-made broths from vegetable scraps or unique, often discarded, meat cuts. Creative collaborations between local food and beverage manufacturers like breweries and cheesemakers can give new life to spent ingredients like grains and whey.
Restaurants will need creative back-of-house teams who can utilize unique ingredients. And while interest in this trend is growing, education will be essential to making this trend work for a restaurant. Menus will need sufficient information about the ingredients and their sources. Finally, front-of-house staff must be able to speak knowledgeably about the ingredients to diners. This would all require the tweaking of business models and a team that is flexible.
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