A Look Back at Top Restaurant & Hospitality Industry Trends

In an industry known as much for the quick-pace as for the long hours, as restaurant & hospitality consultants and operators, we continually focus our efforts on making strides that move our client’s businesses forward.

How do we succeed? By making it our business to stay informed on the industry’s latest technologies, food trends, research, and resources. By listening to guests and crafting real solutions for giving them what they want. By looking at the past to help our clients forecast their future.

Each year we look back at the top restaurant and hospitality industry trends of the year, and reflect on what challenges and problems will face restaurant owners and operators in the coming year.

Here’s A Look Back at the Top Restaurant & Hospitality Industry Trends We Saw from 2013- 2016: 

Top Restaurant & Hospitality Trends of 2016

  1. All Day Breakfast. Proved a savvy business decision as we saw this popular trend bring guests into restaurants in droves for these hearty, relatively inexpensive, delicious meals. Did it make sense for everyone? Maybe not as restaurant owners & operators had to weigh demand vs. staying true to their brand identity, but for those eateries where it worked it looks like breakfast is going to be an all-day affair for some time.
  2.  Owners & Operators: Young Millennials Are Movin’ On Up. What word best describes millennials? We’re going with ‘savvy.’ Yup, this generation doesn’t miss a trick. From social media instant gratification to technological aptitude and a passion for knowledge to a thirst for success, we see millennials willing to do the work to climb the ranks. So, this year we got the calls to work with clients to install training programs to not only offer the best industry instruction and service training we could provide, but to also help guide their young team members along the path from restaurant employee to owner & operator.
  3. Global Hospitality. The hospitality industry has gone global! As we become a more and more global society, restaurants are best served by having practices in place to welcome guests from around the corner and around the globe. How? Since food plays a huge part in introducing one to a local area, you’re in luck. Position your hospitality platforms to feature food items grown primarily in your area, use any natural allures (i.e. are you by the sea?) to your advantage, and incorporate interesting historical or fun anecdotes to pique interest. Enticing out of towners by tying elements back to your brand is a great way to roll out the proverbial global welcome mat.
  4. Back Office Business & Its Challenges. Restaurant and hospitality industry management teams are facing tough times. Concerns over covering rising minimum wage and hence retaining enough staff to run kitchens smoothly; what part (if any) tipping and tipped minimum wage plays; finding a way to offer employees comprehensive health coverage and the like, all prove challenging in today’s business environment. We will see back offices continue to clamber to crunch numbers in order to meet demands while balancing the struggle of taking care of their people with the cost of running a profitable business.

Top Restaurant & Hospitality Trends of 2015

  1. Credit Card Fraud. Operators embraced credit card microchip technology as we witnessed a rise in restaurant industry cashiers/servers using credit card skimmers for illegal financial gain. We’re happy to see operators taking note to impart change as this type of breach can have huge financial, ethical, and liability impacts to operators and guests.
  2. Innovations Behind the Bar. Setting the bar high is crucial as guests are savvier on the bar & beverage seen. Concepts like shared cocktails, craft sodas, juice bars + juice cleanse programs, and craft beers have taken flight. Offering guests what they crave, in the freshest form possible, was the driving force behind this trend. All setting a trajectory stage for even more innovation to come.
  3. Great ‘Scapesf199c4b19856482a76dfea89830f1c8d1. We’ve done the research. Besides being a gorgeous, natural art piece, green roofing environmental and economic benefits far outweigh any negatives. This progressive stepin sustainability is making its mark, and we couldn’t be happier.*In fact, here’s a green space we created for client, MoCo’s Founding Farmers
  4. The New Age of Business Practices. Initiating technology advancements. Streamlining data systems. Crowdsourcing as investment success. Seeking out business partners abroad for serious growth potential. All play a major part in the new face of, and roadmap to, the restaurant & hospitality industry landscape: today and tomorrow.
  5. Waste Not, Want Not. Significant 2015 topic: waste of time + food, and the importance of remedying both through education, example, and dedication. Whether timeline or inventory management, seeking productive partnerships or streamlining workload or purchasing control – the key is to effectively reduce waste before it’s created.
  6. Natural Food Trend: Antibiotics/GMO Backlash. A call for lessened antibiotic usage was answered from such Federal entities as high up as the White House as our food supply is becoming increasingly vulnerable to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In addition, the complex, related food safety issue of modifying natural, genetic material (GMO) remains on our radar.
  7. Going Global: Ethnic Foods Trends Take Flight. As American palates become more sophisticated, restaurants are exploring interesting, innovative global ingredients to spice up menus. Making its mark: the unique, vibrant flavors of India. As industry reports reveal that more and more non-Indian centric restaurants are offering Indian-inspired food items. In fact, its up 63% over the last nine years … and counting!

Top Restaurant & Hospitality Trends of 2014

At the onset of 2014, we predicted the 9 Tectonic Shifts & Challenges Facing Restaurant Owners & Operators in 2014. Here are the restaurant industry game changers we witnessed.

  1. Local Connections. Savvy diners craved experiences in more local eateries this year, which included the desire to know where their food came from, and how it was prepared. We also saw plenty of misuse and wasted investment in the word “local” as some operators assumed it would just boost revenues and be a panacea.
  2. Loyalty Programs. Operators discovered the added value in gathering behavioral-based guest data, average spend, and other information to create customized “thank you’s” and enhanced guest experiences, thereby recognizing loyalty in a subtle yet effective manner, which in turn encourages repeat business. While the frequency of these programs continues to increase, so does Big Data Overload as operators deploy initiatives that tend to overwhelm them.
  3. Technology Reigned. Embracing technological game changers, such as mobile pay, menu listing services, and use of social media as sales and retention tools, reigned supreme as restaurateurs wanted to keep up with new ways to enhance business and engage across a wider guest demographic.
  4. Back to Basics. We saw industry shifts away from the celebrity chef craze of years past in favor of real stories of restaurateurs reveling in the importance of building a long-term food service foundation from the ground up. It’s not about a “15 minutes of fame” ideal; it’s about consistently creating honest menus, providing genuine service, and offering creative dining experiences.
  5. Recyle. Reuse. Repurpose. Key industry mantras this past year, as restaurants begin to reap the rewards of implementing environmentally guided methods to repurpose materials, reduce food waste, and install green appliances. Investments aimed at not only affecting waste management, but also taking positive steps in reducing future carbon offsets, and saving money in the long run.
  6. Sriracha, Anyone? Spicy foods (chilies in particular) were red-hot this year. In fact, market research firm, Technomic’s Consumer Flavor Trend Report revealed more than half of Americans (54%) prefer hot or spicy foods, sauces, dips, and condiments. It’s not changing anytime soon, as our palates adapt to these more exciting, intense flavors.
  7. Menu Labeling. A vital, on-going food industry issue as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalizes regulations ensuring calorie labeling on restaurant menus with 20 or more locations. While it’s difficult for smaller operators to provide this information because of cost, more and more guests are asking specific questions about what they see on restaurant menus.
  8. Real, Fresh Food. Taking cues from the growing concern of childhood obesity, trends toward healthier living, and successful industry advocacy campaigns such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month, industry operators were challenged and encouraged to educate and inspire guests to eat well by offering them real, fresh, highly nutritional foods. It’s brands like Founding Farmers that demonstrate consistency of top food quality without any freezers in the restaurant!
  9. Corporate Social Responsibility. Industry operators are giving back in a big way. In fact, roughly 94% of U.S. restaurants make charitable donations annually to the tune of $3 billion. Operators show that they know and understand the value and gratification of giving back, and then set an example for staff and guests alike, to do what they can, how they can.

Top Restaurant & Hospitality Trends of 2013

In 2013, we witnessed an amazing year of positive strides for the restaurant industry. And as food and beverage consultants happily dedicated to the incredible business of creating restaurant concepts, we thought it a perfect time to ask VSAG co-founder Michael Vucurevich to reflect back. Her’es what he saw as the 9 Top Restaurant Industry Trends of 2013.

  1. Serving Real, Fresh Food…it all started with an industry shift away from processed to fresh, house-made offerings. Sourcing quality, real ingredients from local producers and purveyors is key – and lower food costs is an added bottom line benefit. As operators learn that non-processed foods can mean more delicious offerings, AND more profit, the trend will continue to spike.
  2. Sustainability…at every turn. Though not a new trend, the depths to which restaurateurs are learning, researching, and pushing sustainability is fantastic. The consideration of purchasing ingredients with conscious intent and running day-to-day operations in more earth-minded and sustainable ways continues to find new methods of intriguing and pleasing diners. All measures lead to serving nutritional – real food – and to growing a more sustainable, enduring businesses. The magic that makes this trend permanent is making a profit through these initiatives.
  3. Developing In House Training Programsrestaurant training and promoting from within, reinforcing team/brand loyalty, and increasing opportunities to build dedication to, and knowledge of, all operational elements for every team member – is always good business. We see a renewed commitment to homegrown talent; with the ongoing expansion in the restaurant industry, the dilution effect is rampant, and homegrown talent is the only real path for developing a rock solid team with a bench for growth.
  4. Serving Nutritional Kids Meals …national movements like Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign and the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Kids LiveWell program helped restaurants educate kids (and parents!) about the benefits of eating healthy to help end childhood obesity. These kids menu trends are forcing the national chains to adapt, and give credibility to the regionals and independents that are already leading the way. Healthy kids are vital for a strong economy, a viable healthcare system, and yes, even our national defense; it is an issue that touches everyone and every aspect of the country.
  5. Awareness of Gluten-free Menu Items…and supporting and catering to the millions of Americans with sensitivity to gluten and other food allergy concerns made huge strides. Education from the kitchen to front of house is key to understanding guest concerns. As knowledge-based health care trends (and fads) make Americans realize that what they consume affects their minds and bodies, restaurant operators will continue to have opportunities to drive sales and loyalty by meeting these demands.
  6. Seeing More Vegetables on Plates …as eating more healthfully is on guest’s minds now more than ever before, ‘flexitarians’ and those making non-animal protein food choices more often are becoming more and more prevalent in dining rooms. This guest demand for more vegetarian meals generated more vegetables to appear on menus. Case in point: kale was seemingly served everywhere in 2013!
  7. Offering Safer, More Responsible Foods…starts with producers and importers and ends with the food on the plate. As the FDA’s new import food safety regulations and the US Healthful Food Council’s Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) verification program suggest, starting with fresh, safe, and reliable foods always garners great outcomes. Sourcing and regulation matter, and operators benefit from helping to make the public more aware of these issues.
  8. Whole Grains…Quinoa became a mainstreamed menu superstar in 2013, catering to those wanting healthful menu selections and a hearty answer to rising costs of proteins such as beef and chicken. While the truly chef-driven concepts have been featuring it for years, they will move beyond it to discover the myriad of ancient ingredients that are good for mind and body.
  9. Healthful Beverages…the great soda ban of 2013 – need we say more? Restaurants ditched soda guns in favor of offering safely sweetened beverages with natural ingredients or made from scratch; from great fountain-style sodas, to enhanced coffee programs featuring specialty crafted beverages, and seasonal, flavorful offerings incorporating fresh fruits, freshly squeezed juices, and real ingredients. Will any of the national chains have the courage (and profit margin) to do the same?