Mintel, Chicago, announced four trends set to impact the U.S. restaurant industry in 2019. In the year ahead, the foodservice landscape will evolve, driven by increased awareness around social and environmental responsibility and innovation in technology-enabled customer service.
You are where you eat
Where consumers choose to dine says more about them than just their food preferences; it’s a reflection of who they are. With more restaurants extending their reach beyond the dining table, diners are supporting restaurants with cultures and values that align with their own lifestyles.
Restaurants today are showcasing more of their personalities. American diners are literally wearing their favorite restaurants on their sleeves, as operators offer branded merchandise from hoodies to sneakers. Branded collaborations featuring limited-time-only items and contests used to boost brand appeal are programs that establish customer relationships and relevancy and build brand ambassadors.
“In the year ahead, expect restaurants to take customer engagement a step further by creating a sense of community with their patrons. Knowing that diners want to align themselves with brands that fit their lifestyle, restaurants can meet diners halfway by taking a stance on social and political issues and supporting organizations that are important to them. The most successful brands will be those that are personable and form transparent relationships with diners,” says Amanda Topper, associate director, foodservice research.
Serving the Earth
While consumers are looking for guidance on ways to be more environmentally responsible, at the same time, operators are realizing their impact and the role they play in being partners and educators in environmental and social responsibilities.
As consumers aim to incorporate more environmentally responsible practices into their lives, they have begun to expect the same from the companies they buy from, including restaurants. From compostable straws to upcycled food scraps, diners depend on restaurants to draw on environmentally friendly business practices. Restaurants have an opportunity to become a guiding force that enables consumers to feel good about the decisions they make, including where they get their lunch.
“With more restaurants adopting environmentally friendly practices, sustainability will become the new normal, and operators will need to take more innovative steps to stand out. Expect to see restaurants make changes to the way they operate in 2019, including partnerships that put the greater good above competition and circular economies that benefit the environment and the people involved in the food systems,” adds Topper.
Restaurants for good
Rising labor costs and declining unemployment are creating challenges for restaurant operators to hire and retain top talent. Restaurants are not only focusing their attention on the well-being of their employees to reduce attrition, but they are also focusing on their customers by giving back to the communities they serve.
Technology and robots are playing an increasing role in reducing labor costs, but foodservice will undeniably rely on humans for the foreseeable future. In 2019, restaurants will find even more creative ways to attract and retain top talent, and in turn, build loyalty in their own communities by backing causes that matter most to their customers.
“Employee retention programs and community outreach initiatives will be crucial for brands in 2019. Although mental health care and sexual harassment protections seem like they should already be basic necessities, these issues are ongoing in the restaurant industry. With national awareness mounting for both, expect to see restaurants implement stricter procedures and protocols surrounding these issues in an effort to better protect and support their employees,” adds Topper.
Tech in balance
As technology continues to drive the changing face of foodservice, restaurants must strike the right balance between operational efficiency, a desire for human interaction and excellent service to all customers.
The invention of the drive-thru window forever changed how customers define convenience. Today, restaurants are continuing to roll out technology innovations to enable time-strapped consumers to experience quicker transactions, shorter wait times and meals delivered straight to their door. Looking ahead, operators must ensure that new innovations benefit operational efficiency and customers.
“As restaurant technology continues to become more sophisticated, the way consumers order will dramatically change moving forward. Restaurants will utilize technology to heighten customer experiences and provide value through more personalized service. By implementing technology with tangible benefits for customers, such as greater customization and more intuitive recommendations, operators will be able to drive efficiency and better customer service,” adds Topper.