A Look at 2011 Restaurant Trends

When we eat out, what will we be eating in 2011?


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One thing is for sure, restaurants are scrambling to increase their offerings of healthier menu options and to serve up more nutrition information.

That’s a positive trend, but restaurant-goers are still wanting the occasional indulgent dining experience and value is still a priority, according to Chicago-based market research firm Mintel. Operators are tasked with balancing federal regulations with the differing demands of their customers. Next year will be about walking that fine line between open disclosure and customer satisfaction, said Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel.

Here are the top five foodservice trend predictions in Mintel’s Menu Insights report:

Healthy by association Surveys indicate that 62% of consumers say they plan to eat healthier in the upcoming year, but many complain that healthier food doesn’t taste as good without the added sugar, sodium and fat. Restaurants will address this problem by swapping better-for-you ingredients to their customers’  favorite dishes to make them appear healthier. For instance, Taco Bell has quietly reduced sodium at 150 stores in the Dallas market, while Jason’s Deli promotes its food as being free from high fructose corn syrup, trans fats or pesticides. When consumers visit restaurants that are perceived as healthy, it makes them feel good about themselves and their meal choices, even if they’re wooed by the not-so-healthy limited-time-only special when they get there, Mintel said.

Transparency Consumers want to know what they’re eating, and the recently passed healthcare bill mandates such disclosure. Restaurants with 20+ units are now required to list calorie counts on their menus. Consumers seem happy with the impending disclosure, as 61% agree that restaurants should post nutrition information, like calorie counts and fat grams, on menus. Additionally, more cities will start forcing restaurants to visibly display their letter grades from local health departments, further increasing menu transparency.

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Exemptions to the rule A vast majority of restaurants will have to disclose calorie counts on their menus, but that rule doesn’t apply to limited-time-offers. Mintel predicts that many restaurants will take advantage of this loophole by offering less-than-healthy novelty or seasonal menu items, allowing customers to indulge in a guilty treat, without feeling pressured to make a healthier menu choice. According to Mintel, 43% of consumers say they’re likely to change what they order when calorie counts are listed on the menu. Limited-time-offers allow consumers the occasional opportunity to indulge in a meal out.

Indigenous ingredients While the local food movement continues to grow, the push toward indigenous ingredients takes that trend a step further. In 2011, we will see restaurants incorporating more traditional or authentic ingredients to their ethnic or globally-positioned entrees. One example of this trend is Frontera Grill’s Panucho Yacateco, an entrée that boasts a traditional Yucatan crispy tortilla filled with black beans and hard-boiled egg with shredded chicken in tangy escabeche. “Local” as an ingredient marketing claim has grown by 15% from the second quarter of 2009, according to Mintel Menu Insights, and it’s likely that number will increase in the coming year.

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Automated menus Convenience and technology will form the perfect union this year as restaurant-goers will see an increase in automated menus at their favorite establishments. These electronic order-takers will provide customers with the opportunity to order food to their specifications in do-it-yourself style, thus reducing the restaurant’s reliance on front-of-house staff, as well as full-time employees. Automated menus, in addition to mobile applications, will allow restaurants to reach a younger, more mobile consumer.

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