The driving forces behind some of the biggest restaurant trends this new year? The environment and technology.
With the rise of concern about climate change, there’s a stronger focus on our collective impact on the environment. Sustainability remains a major trend, and restaurants are going further to be environmentally responsible by working to mitigate waste and source local produce.
As the world becomes increasingly digitized and connected, restaurants are also striving for more streamlined, automated operations. And, given our social media–focused society, you can bet that restaurants are continually striving to be more Instagrammable.
Check out the restaurant trends to come in 2018:
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1. Waste-conscious menus
Farm-to-table and sustainable cuisine have been buzzy terms for years now as diners have become more concerned about where their food comes from, and its environmental impact.
“Root to stem” is the latest iteration of the movement, and it focuses on curbing food waste by using every part of produce possible. The NRDC reports that 40 percent of food goes uneaten in the U.S.; instead, it’s wasted and ends up in the landfill. (Check out their powerful commercial detailing the life of a strawberry, from farm to grocery store to – ultimately – the trash can after it’s left to rot in the refrigerator.) So many restaurants are finding ways to use every part of the produce — as well as food that has already been discarded.
Salt & Straw, for instance, partnered with food rescue organizations this summer to create a series of flavors that drew attention to food waste. And in 2015, Shake Shack partnered with NYC chefs for a pop-up that used “food trash” (like carrot tops and bones).
Look for this waste-mitigating practice to extend to mixology too, where the “farm to shaker” movement entails using locally sourced and/or leftover kitchen ingredients to craft cocktails.
2. Technology-driven operations
Whether you’re starting a restaurant this year or have been in the industry for a while, expect automation and digitization to take an increasingly prominent role in the restaurant world. Recently, Shake Shack announced that its new Astor Place location in Manhattan will automate the ordering process: customers will submit their orders to automated kiosks, not human employees. That location will also be cashless.
Shake Shack isn’t the first to automate ordering. Fast-food chains McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Panera Bread have all adopted touchscreen for ordering in some locations. And full-service chains like Chili’s and Red Robin have been testing tabletop screens for payment processing.
Yes, automating these processes can help restaurant owners keep labor costs down (although there will likely be substantial investment in technology), but they also have a real upside for customers. If customers have to punch in their order directly, then mistakes are less likely (which restaurants take a loss on when they have to remake orders).
3. Location-based marketing
In 2018, expect more restaurants to tap into the opportunities enabled by geolocation technology to attract customers. New functionality, like Google’s announcement that restaurants can embed their menus in their search results (as opposed to just having a link), provides more opportunity to target hungry diners who are nearby.
Expect restaurants to start doing more to target nearby potential customers through social media. Location tagging on social media makes it possible to serve users ads for a limited amount of time when they are in a specific area.
4. Instagram-worthy food and drinks
Social media has upped the ante for restaurants as people search for more unique, beautiful, and over-the-top items.
Recently, for instance, it seems like everyone wants to get a photo of a #crazyshake creation from @blacktapnyc — and if you check out its profile, it’s full of celebrities who’ve done just that. Before that it was rainbow foods, raindrop cakes, anything with avocado…
Buzzworthy food and drinks can be a boon for restaurants, as social media users scramble to try (or at least post photos of) the items. Count on this trend to hang on as foodies continue to seek out Instagrammable, FOMO-inducing content. (Learn how to make your own restaurant more Instagrammable here.)
5. Expanded pickup and delivery services
Gone are the days when takeout and delivery options were pretty much limited to Chinese food and pizza. Companies like Caviar, Postmates, and Seamless have built their businesses on the idea that people want to eat restaurant food, but they don’t necessarily want to be at the restaurant (and they certainly don’t want to call to order).
In response to the uptick in takeaway orders, restaurants are altering their processes and structures with dedicated makelines, pickup counters, cubbies, and more. If you don’t already partner with a delivery service, it might be time to allow your customers to get their favorite dishes at home.