The foodservice industry has seen huge ups and downs over the past few years. Couple that with seasonal shifts as we enter autumn, and you can imagine how rapidly trends emerge and recede. Here are the top six trends that foodservice and restaurant professionals will want to plan for in 2023:
1. LOYALTY PROGRAMS.
Inflation and the rising cost of food mean that people are likely to make some household budget cuts. Going out is probably going to be a big part of that. One way that restaurants can incentivize customers to keep coming back is to institute loyalty programs. Offering free food, drinks, or upgrades after multiple visits can encourage people to keep returning.
It's important to note that loyalty programs aren't enough by themselves. Customers who don't have a good experience aren't likely to return, no matter what they're offered. Consider loyalty programs like an extra push to help people decide to keep coming back -- if they weren't planning to ever return to begin with, the program alone isn't going to make them.
Sustainability itself is a little too long-running to really be a trend, but it's important for foodservice pros to realize that this is a value that's here to stay. Customers want sustainable food, and restaurants need to be prepared to do their best to offer it. Even if you can't provide local farm-to-table meals, sourcing the best quality, most sustainable ingredients you can is important to your clientele.
This is especially important for seafood. Worldwide, fish populations continue to decline due to a combination of overharvesting, contamination, and climate change. If you aren't taking advantage of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch List, consider doing so. You're likely to have more customers asking where their seafood comes from and how sustainable it is and being able to answer will give them more confidence in your restaurant.
You may also want to offer more vegan options. Many conventional recipes can easily be "veganized" with the substitution of just a few ingredients. New substitutes for eggs, beef and even fish perform just like their conventional counterparts.
3. COUNTER SEATING.
Interestingly, more and more people are choosing to dine alone. This can be a bit of a challenge for restaurants that don't have a lot of solo seating options. If you notice an uptick in single diners, you may want to do what many other restaurant owners are: Set up more counter seating.
Counter seating allows you to take advantage of unused space under windows or along walls, with a minimal impact on the rest of your tables. You can cater to individual diners without having an entire table tied up by one person.
4. NATURAL BEVERAGES.
The market for "natural" wines is growing. These are wines produced with native yeasts, using grapes grown with organic or biodynamic practices. No fermentation-boosting additives are used, and no sulfites are added. Proponents tout natural wine's sustainability, unique flavors, and milder hangovers.
While "natural" isn't a protected term and there's no regulatory body to determine what's natural and what isn't, an increasing number of customers are still seeking out natural wine. Consider adding some to your restaurant's wine list to cater to this expanding customer base.
5. MORE THAN JUST FOOD.
Post-COVID, dining out is an occasion. More people want it to be an experience beyond just eating and drinking. While high-quality food and beverages are important, so are atmosphere and entertainment.
There's an upward trend in restaurants becoming community hubs. More and more are reaching out to local artists, poets, and musicians to set up events that will draw in more customers and integrate the restaurant into the community. Some established eateries are also offering their kitchens as pop-up locations for up-and-coming chefs.
It can benefit restaurants to reach out to see what communities they're serving and reach out to local talent within those communities. Expanding the menu to include cultural offerings from surrounding communities can turn a restaurant from a place to grab a bite to eat, to a place to gather and enjoy. Think beyond food and see what you can offer your community.
6. FUSION CUISINE.
Piggybacking on sustainability and serving the community, restaurant owners may want to look into expanding their menus with fusion cuisine. While customers want more local ingredients, they also want more creative, international dishes. Combining local ingredients with multicultural products and preparation methods can scratch that itch for customers.
Offering kitchens as a pop-up spaces for local chefs can also bring in some insight into what the community around you wants. Communities with a large West African population, for example, are likely to have different tastes than ones with a majority Portuguese population. Tap into the vibrant cultures and talent in your community to help you create a truly unique menu.
People's tastes change rapidly, even before the pandemic was a factor. Today's customer is more conscious of the origin of their food, more likely to dine alone, and more likely to want their local restaurant to do double-duty as a gathering space and arts and culture hub. Restaurants can continue to grow their customer base by doing what they can to cater to these desires.