Restaurant Trends for 2012

What’s in store for us when we go out to eat in 2012?  Here’s what Technomic, a foodservice research and consulting firm in Chicago, predicts will be the seven leading restaurant trends in the coming year.

A twist on the familiar. In today’s economy, shell-shocked consumers are in no mood to take risks, but novel flavors still tingle their taste buds.  Look for comfort foods with a twist (gourmet, ethnic, artisan, wood-fired) as well as innovation in familiar formats (sandwiches, wraps, pizza, pasta) rather than breakout items taken from less-familiar global cuisines.

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Mac & cheese made with fontina, dry jack fonduta and shaved black truffle topped with onion rings at Citizen’s Band by Niallkennedy on flickr.com.

Rustic fare made in-house.  Commodity costs are rising, labor costs hold steady and diners demand rustic fare, the simple preparations of fresh ingredients. The result:  restaurants will curtail purchases of value-added items in favor of cheaper cuts, beans, grains and produce that require more back-of-house prep to transform into honest, homestyle food.

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Johnson’s Farm Rabbit Cassoulet with red beans, pork belly and bratwurst by Social Eatery on flickr.com.

Next steps in local sourcing. The rising use of seasonal and local items suits the less-is-more culinary trend. To facilitate purchasing, growers, manufacturers, distributors and operators continue to work toward a more transparent, safe and efficient supply chain, streamlining workflow, recording every step and reducing waste.

Power of social media. Consumers increasingly trust friends and peers more than professional marketers. They’re taking control of social media to share their restaurant experiences and opinions with the public (via review sites such as OpenTable), or with their own circles, such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare (and now Google+ as this article in QSR Magazine reviews).  This helps some restaurants rocket to popularity and leaves others quiet.

IMG_1334Image courtesy of WaterStreetCC on flickr.com

Transparency rules. Restaurant customers are looking for disclosure of everything from calories and allergens on menus to labor and local-sourcing practices.  A small but growing number are serious about nutrition, labeling, sustainability and community involvement, and they are using this knowledge to make purchasing decisions.

Resistance to discounting. The foodservice industry will continue to operate in a take-share environment, but discounting is cutting to the bone.  To counter daily deals and other forms of discounting, operators turn to creative, sometimes in-the-moment, methods to reward their best customers, such as a free dessert out of the blue.

Brands expand through flexible formats.  Format flexibility is required as restaurants cater to new around-the-clock day parts, switch gears from fast-casual by day to full-service at night, or transform their kitchens into catering commissaries during slow times.  This flexibility is also evidenced in streamlined, high-effeciency smaller-footprint units and brand extensions.

5816283490_d6d26b4628_zMichael Kornick’s Fish Bar in Chicago by sbbenhcs on flickr.com.

4153581829_13b48eb542_zMichael Kornick’s DMK Burger Bar in Chicago by Kidltamap on flickr.com.

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