Restaurateurs should be able to anticipate a bit less insanity in the coming year compared to the “roller coaster” that has been the 2020s up to this point, according to Technomic.
The consumer and menu research firm said the lows of the pandemic followed by the rapid recovery will level out to low single-digit growth for many restaurants in 2024, with limited-service operators benefitting from continuing trade down and full service restaurants focusing on managing prices while providing “experiences that are different and engaging.”
More broadly, an aging consumer base and slower population growth will make it more difficult to achieve organic growth in the coming years.
Here are some more specific trends that Technomic expects in the coming year.
The Great Consumer Occasion Shift
As inflation pressures continue and fears of a recession loom, Technomic expects to shift from pricey delivery to takeout. It also anticipates growth in going out for breakfast rather than lunch, satisfying a desire to eat in restaurants, but at a lower price. Ditto weekend brunch instead of dinner.
Menus get granular
Saying where an ingredient comes from, or specifying the variety of fruit or vegetable that’s being used, decommodifies it and makes it more valuable and interesting to customers.
“Cocktails won’t contain just any apple flavor, but rather that of a Granny Smith. Generic red wine vinegar will move aside for Barolo wine vinegar,” Technomic predicts. Specific meat cuts also will be called out, such as filet mignon carpaccio or tenderloin steak tartare.
Ingredients’ origins also will be called out.
“This in-depth menu detail will further push quality, premiumization and transparency in the consumer mindset,” Technomic said.
‘Pandemonium on the plate’
The pickle craze of 2023, and unusual food combinations on display on TikTok and other social media, have opened the doors for more out-of-the-box items at restaurants, according to Technomic. That could mean savory cookies, garlic or mole in cocktails, tahini coffee and other non-traditional combinations.
“We even predict more skin (fruit, that is) and blood (literally) in the game,” the research firm said.
Coping with climate change
The El Niño weather pattern, meaning hotter and dryer conditions in most of the country but wetter climate in the Southeast, will exacerbate the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, storms, and cold snaps, so Technomic recommends upgrading those HVAC systems and improving window insulation to be ready for whatever might happen.
The research firm also suggests using energy-saving equipment, misters, and fans, and developing menu items that require less heating to create a better working environment for back-of-house staff. Lighter dishes will also likely be more appealing to guests as temperatures rise.
Additionally climate change will likely affect the availability, taste, and quality of ingredients, it said.
“The type of wow-factor restaurant technology launched over the pandemic will settle into more practical applications,” Technomic said. Examples include online ordering systems being integrated with kitchen systems to allow for smoother takeout experience, and supply chain management software communicating with sales data to allow for better inventory control and staffing levels.
In the kitchen, dangerous or repetitive tasks will be taken over by machines, allowing humans to do work more suited to them.
“And each technology will be increasingly supported by artificial intelligence, some of it generative in the case of drive-thru chatbots, and some of it predictive in the form of labor, supply and marketing-mix management,” it said.
2024: The Year of the Tomato
Technomic expects operators to turn even more to tomatoes than they already do thanks to its versatility, appeal, and health benefits. It predicts more tomatoes in desserts and as meat replacements, as well as in jam, and clarified and fermented products.
Additionally, global tomato-based sauces such as those used in jollof rice or Philippine sarsiado will be seen more frequently, as well as cocktails beyond the Bloody Mary, including the Michelada, which is similar to a Bloody Mary but with beer instead of vodka, and drinks using tomato water and basil inspired by the Caprese salad.
Technomic is a sister company of Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]