Even in a tough economy, Americans like to eat out making food one of the bright spots in the past few years, with new food and restaurant concepts cropping up fairly often. To help foodservice entrepreneurs get a jump on the future, research and consulting firm Technomic recently announced its 11 top trend predictions for 2011. Here’s a rundown:
1. Adult beverages. Consumers want to celebrate (or drown their sorrows). “Mad Men”-style retro cocktails, gin and bourbon will be hot, as will craft beers and punch (including sangria). Cocktails incorporating herbal ingredients will proliferate; so will “skinny” (low-calorie) cocktails. To attract a wider range of consumers, more fast-casual chains will start adding alcoholic beverages.
2. Think outside the bricks-and-mortar box. Food trucks have been a major craze nationwide, and many restaurants are adding them on to use for catering or simply to spread their name outside the local area. Hot for 2011 will be seasonal and temporary “popup” restaurants and kiosks.
3. Celebrity farmers. Remember when chefs like Emeril Lagasse first got famous? Now, Technomic predicts, the same is about to happen to local farmers thanks to the focus on locally-sourced foods. Restaurants will highlight partnerships with well-known farmers who provide their meats, produce or cheeses by offering special menus, hosting visits from famed farms and referencing them in menu descriptions.
4. Social media/mobile/technology. Restaurants have been among the businesses benefiting most from mobile and social tools like Foursquare and Groupon. That will continue, as apps, couponing websites and location-based social media will continue to grow.
5. Korean and more. Korean tacos have surged to prominence thanks to mobile taco trucks, but Korean barbecue in general was also hot in 2010. That trend will continue, with Korean food in general growing in popularity in 2011, along with multicultural tacos and portable street food of all kinds.
6. Frugality backlash. Diners are sick of counting pennies. Anyone with a bit of disposable income will use it for luxury dining in 2011. That means business customers and affluent individuals will return to high-end restaurants in search of over-the-top specials. More middle-class mortals will be looking for reasonable prices, but along with that, even they will also want unusual menu items and restaurants that deliver an “experience.”
7. Deals still dominate. It may sound contrary to #6, but consumers have gotten used to discounts and specials, so they’ll still demand deals. However, with food prices on the rise, staying profitable will require careful attention to costs and cash flow.
8. Brand extensions. Full-service restaurants and even non-restaurant brands will move into fast-casual brand extensions as the economy picks up. Existing restaurateurs will look to remodel units and do brand makeovers.
9. Return to roots. In down times, people want comfort food. No wonder hot menus feature items like homestyle Southern fare; retro Italian; and family-style service. Also hot are “kid foods” like popsicles for dessert or items that put a twist on long-time favorite treats like Twinkies.
10. New convenience store competition. Retailers of all types continue to offer a wider range of food, treading on restaurant turf. In particular, convenience-store operators are adding more food items and upgrading quality.
11. Fit vs. fat. The battle between healthy and indulgent menu items has raged for years, and won’t end any time soon. In 2011 new federal menu labeling requirements will take effect. Restaurants will go to two extremes: Adding more healthy items like gluten-free and low-calorie meals, and promoting fattening delights as limited-time offers (which doesn’t require posting nutritional data).
If you’re in foodservice, consider ways to add some of these trends into your business for 2011 and beyond.