While consumers are filling restaurant tables at pre-recession levels, they haven’t necessarily opened their wallets as freely according to a mid-2015 trend analysis from research firm Technomic.
"Midscale dining is doing better but must keep reinventing and innovating to continue this path," says Joe Pawlak, senior v.p. at Technomic. "Fine dining has bounced back. Meanwhile, limited-service restaurants, especially fast-casual concepts, continue to bite into the casual-dining market, although there is market improvement in this sector."
Technomic's experts traveled to some of the nation's noted restaurant cities and conducted first-hand research, interviews and surveys among operators, chefs and consumers. Combining their findings with qualitative data from Technomic's Digital Resource Library and quantitative data from the firm’s MenuMonitor database and Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, they identified six key trends:
1. Fast casual not slowing down: This segment continues to outpace all others, growing at 11 percent. Quick-service restaurants are growing at a 4-percent rate; casual dining at 5.6 percent.
2. Build-your-own keeps building: Within the fast-casual segment, concepts that emphasize customization are growing twice as fast as those that do not.
3. Cult status: QSRs that are doing well—Chick-fil-A and Culver's, to name a few—have developed clearly defined niches, achieved cult-like followings and garner higher check averages.
4. Subtracting the additives: Consumers are demanding to know the back stories on ingredient sourcing and processing; operators are responding with increased menu transparency.
5. Tech becomes necessary: Online ordering, mobile apps and table tablets fulfill two needs: appealing to Millennials' high-tech and high-speed preferences and supplementing service in a tight labor markets.
6. The new foodie norm: Food blogs, foodie media and foodservice everywhere mean everyone's a culinary expert; dining needs to be an Instagram-worthy experience.