Big operators like Chili’s, Applebees, The Cheesecake Factory, and others are always looking for ways to improve taste and customer experience while increasing efficiency. These companies spend a lot of money every year in research and development, and studying the trends that come out of the big chain restaurant’s R&D can be very informative.
Here are four trends on the rise in the food service industry:
1. Maximizing ingredients. Inventory control is vital to managing what is typically the second largest monthly expense for any restaurant: food. The more inventory you have, the harder it is to control, and that is the idea behind using the same ingredients in multiple menu items. That makes purchasing, regulating temperature, and managing First In First Out (FIFO) practices much, much easier.
2. Diversifying menus. Culinary fusion has long been the norm in fine dining, and now this trend has gone mainstream. American diners have been exposed to a much more diverse range of ethnic foods than ever before, and restaurant chains are bringing in new and exotic flavors and styles because their customers are much more familiar with the world’s cuisine.
3. Jumping on the gastropub bandwagon. The success over the past two decades of “gastropubs,” or beer pubs that also serve high quality menu items, has grabbed the attention of menu developers for large chains. It’s also changed customer expectations when they see a menu. Potatoes, meat, and other standard pub fare isn’t good enough anymore, and many chains have responded by offering an increasingly diverse and higher quality menu selection.
4. Sweet & Spicy and Sweet & Salty. Adding a kick to new menu items has become a popular trend as chefs expand the flavor horizons of their guests with unique combinations. Contrasting flavor combinations give simple menu items like salads or appetizers a fresh tasting kick.
These trends seem to reveal a food service industry that reflecting the times in which we live: unprecedented globalization and cultural integration has opened the palates of the average American diner, and if a restaurant can bring fresh takes and flavors to classic dishes, that’s a recipe for success. Of course, figuring out how to do that while managing to keep inventory under strict control is how you make money here. Finding that balance is any restaurateur’s challenge, and mastering it is the key.