First came the food-and-drink trend predictions from Andrew Freeman and his restaurant consulting company in San Francisco, then came the same from Baum+Whiteman, one of the leading firms on the opposite side of the country, in New York. Not surprisingly, a few of their picks overlapped slightly, but many did not.
Being one of the first to capitalize on the next “It” food or drink could be the difference between a good and great year, but just as important, and maybe more so, are understanding and taking advantage of the latest marketing trends. For an idea of what’s working across the country, here are eight methods to promote and maintain your business from Andrew Freeman & Co.
Eat your adventure: Restaurants are picking slower nights to delve into a theme or concept. Unique menus allow guests to travel without leaving their hometown and leave with a deeper understanding of a specific region, cooking style or ingredient. For example, stay in San Francisco and Travel the Spice Route at E&O Asian Kitchen with monthly menus designed around the ancient spice route.
Everyone’s a critic: As traditional media cuts more and more of their food coverage, the era of the anonymous food critic may be coming to an end. This is paving the way for a plethora of bloggers and freelancers with no shortage of opinions and huge rosters of followers. Bottom line? You never know who’s dining in your restaurant and how their experience will shape the future of your business.
Yelp? Help! Restaurateurs are becoming increasingly concerned by the influence of Yelp reviews and are no longer sitting silently by. We predict the power of Yelp may be waning, but in the meantime, restaurants are going so far as to create dedicated roles to publicly respond to reviews. M.Y. China in San Francisco has created a Director of Enjoyment position, whose function is to manage Yelp responses and create an engaged and active voice on the review site.
Voyeur eating: Savvy young chefs are sharing when, where and what they are eating, cooking and doing on Instagram. Anticipation builds for fans and diners who can’t wait to try what they’ve been seeing.
#tricksofthetrade: Too noisy, too dark, too hard to find? Tech tools can help the baby boomers enjoy their dining experience. Restaurants can get in on the millennial action too by staying up on the latest in social media. The Magnifying Glass app, for example, lets diners see your menu better. Or capture tech-savvy millennials with #cleverhashtags, Instagram contests and Facebook secret passwords.
Pop-up restaurants aren’t just the purview of chefs. Brands, and even countries, are popping up for limited runs and causing a big stir. New Zealand’s Waiheke Island Yacht Club in San Francisco took advantage of their America’s Cup run to introduce new ingredients from their country.
Eat now/text later: Restaurants are combatting the lure of the small screen by getting serious with their cell phone policies. Put away your phone and focus on the food, the atmosphere and the company. Introduce the Phone Stack Game, where phones go in the center of the table and the first to grab their device picks up the check. With the strictest cell phone policy in Los Angeles, Bucato keeps phone use to a minimum with designated cell phone areas outside the restaurant, while D.C. eatery Rogue24 makes diners sign a no cell phone use contract when dining at the restaurant.
Ride, dine & sign: Restaurants, particularly in difficult-to-park-in neighborhoods, are partnering with transportation companies, from local taxis to luxury ridesharing company Uber, to encourage diners to ditch their rides for a discount. JM Curley in Boston’s Downtown Crossing shows their support of Uber by providing diners with discounts on meals with proof of travel. Water Taxi Miami partners with waterfront restaurants to offer a 10-percent discount or free appetizer to patrons who choose to ride by water.