Mintel, Chicago, announced the four key trends set to transform the U.S. foodservice industry in 2017, highlighting ingredient, technology and experience trends expected to make an impact on the market.

“With restaurants where customers never interact with employees and others with pizza-making robots already emerging, the availability for technological innovations that improve overall convenience will grow into an expectation in 2017. In the coming year, expect restaurants to simplify their menus, choosing to focus on a repertoire of seasonal or previously discarded ingredients, while further helping to eliminate food waste. Global cuisines and flavors that are new to American palates are growing on menus, as the desire for authenticity grows, while restaurants are aiming to fulfill consumer cravings for unique experiences with photo-worthy meals and venues,” says Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research.

Automated nation

Technological innovations that add convenience and streamline the dining out experience are disrupting traditional restaurant service models amid rising labor costs.

As costs for foodservice operators are becoming more substantial and the price of food for at-home consumption continues to decline, restaurants are streamlining operations. However, whether dining in or out, convenience plays a role in where Americans choose to spend their dining dollars, as 82% of consumers say convenience is an especially important aspect when dining out. In 2017, restaurants will increasingly automate service to provide convenience and efficiency to consumers, whether it be through kiosk-only restaurants, chatbots that allow online users to make reservations or drones that can deliver frozen yogurt to your doorstep.

Reduce, reuse, upcycle

Restaurants are finding new ways to repurpose existing foods that would previously be discarded and are streamlining their menus, offering simplified choices that cut down on food waste and consumer decision fatigue.

Food waste is a growing issue in the United States and beyond, and operators are tackling the issue with a varied approach. Chefs are growing ingredients on-site and finding uses for all parts of vegetables, similar to the nose-to-tail approach taken with meat. In fact, nearly two in five (38%) consumers agree restaurants should offer more meat alternatives. Restaurants are incorporating on-hand ingredients in new ways, including using ingredients that were previously discarded, such as cascara, which is the skin of the coffee fruit, and focusing on core menu offerings. As chefs get creative with these ingredients in 2017, consumers will become more open to trying these dishes, while operators can benefit from reduced food costs.

Fundamentally global

Along with the emergence of different global cuisines is a shift in focus toward food preparation techniques based on age-old methods.

A new wave of global cuisines is emerging in the United States, fueled by consumer curiosity and greater exposure to international foods and flavors, such as Filipino, Korean and African. Fundamental preparations, such as fire-grilled or smoked, are growing, as Americans explore these cuisines. Fire is being used in place of traditional ovens and stoves in restaurants from casual to fine dining, while ‘pickled’ and ‘fermented’ are increasing on menus as an ingredient preparation. Indeed, more than one fifth (23%) of Millennials want to see more pickled ingredients on the menu. Whatever the format, a focus on authenticity is essential in 2017, especially for younger generations who crave authentic experiences and foods.

The experience dichotomy

The dining out experience can be a form of entertainment in itself or it can take a back seat to another form of entertainment.

Driven by a sense of exploration or simply FOMO (fear of missing out), Americans today are on the hunt for new experiences. Restaurants are offering novel, fun and memorable meals through pop-up restaurants, entertainment-themed venues, and as nearly two thirds (62%) of U.S. consumers say they like to experiment with new alcoholic drinks, “secret” bars are giving customers a thrill for just finding the location. While restaurants are providing a unique experience through their food and beverage options, venues that typically place experience over food and drink, such as sporting events and music festivals, are upgrading their menus to complement the experience. The experiential dining trend is set to grow quickly in 2017, and for foodservice operators, the opportunity to stand out from the crowd is too good to pass up.