While many shifts in the restaurant industry are slow to take hold, the use and availability of data is one trend that's quickly emerging, according to the 2018 Restaurant Trends Forecast, produced by Restaurant Business magazine, Chicago, and Technomic, Chicago. The study predicts that even more so, data will drive restaurants to achieve a level of personalization that sets brands apart.

"We expect data to impact every area of operations, from marketing messages personalized based on behavioral analytics to hyper-customized menu suggestions based on past purchases to sensors that track staff productivity," says Kelly Killian, director of the foodservice content group for Winsight, LLC, Chicago. "And, in the kitchen, smarter equipment will gather data to make for more efficient purchasing, production and more."

Findings, which range from menu trends to operational predictions, reflect the restaurant industry's continued dedication to finding new approaches to the ever-evolving circumstances.

Highlights from the report include:

Gut check. Now that allergen-free foods are mainstream, restaurants are exploring the next health frontier—lower-intensity, gut-friendly menu items. Some concepts are responding by incorporating probiotic, prebiotic and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric, aloe, flaxseed and skyr that improve digestion.

Baby Boomers bounce back. After years of going gaga over Millennials, restaurants are falling back in love with Baby Boomers. The customers who gave rise to fast food and casual dining may be grayer today, but they also boast more money and an affinity for those old-guard segments.

Federal and local governments face off over labor issues. Restaurant employers are getting tangled up in a tug of war between the federal and state governments. States and cities are already tussling over who should set minimum wage and scheduling regulations, and increased pressure on immigration policies could force pro-immigrant sanctuary cities to directly oppose national crackdowns.