Food Trends 2011: Dining Trends

Fast, fresh food concepts like Chilango will do big business this year

Vouchers and discounts have meant big business for restaurants over the last year, but with consumers increasingly looking for value in more than just their wallets, and with warnings that vouchers could permanently damage brands, restaurants will need to pay attention to other dining trends in order to fulfil their customers’ desires.

“It’s going to be difficult to wean both operators and diners off vouchers and discounting, particularly in certain markets like pizza and pasta restaurants that have been particularly prevalent in that area,” says Helena Spicer, foodservice analyst at Mintel. “They’re still going to be around, but I think the focus in 2011 needs to be on weaning consumers away from that habit.”

A major part of doing this she suggests is to rebuild consumers’ trust with your business through communication and transparency. Demonstrating your passion for food and service through your menu, values and staff could persuade diners to part with their cash and establish a loyalty to your brand.

“This could mean greater menu transparency in terms of sourcing and provenance to add personality to menus and give a sense of value again. A lot of gastropubs have blogs online that show enthusiasm for their food and cooking. None of this will encourage diners to spend more - it’s that idea of putting personality and passion toward food back on the menu and not always being about price.”

Michel Roux standard

Customer service will also play a huge part in developing consumer loyalty over the next year, especially with high-profile TV shows such as Michel Roux’s Service on BBC2. Those operators that haven’t already implemented a staff training programme for their business will need to think about doing so as a priority. As consumers become more aware of how they should be treated, they will come to expect first class service as standard.

“Price promotions have damaged loyalty and made people more promiscuous in terms of where they’ll go to eat, and something like customer service is key to bringing them back in and encouraging loyalty much more than a loyalty card will ever do,” adds Spicer.

With money still tight, and consumers forced to work longer hours than before, takeaway meals and lunches on-the-go have become increasingly popular, proven by the success of fast-casual venues like Moolis and Chilango, and mobile street food concepts like The Meat Wagon, The Byron Shack and Jun Tanaka’s Street Kitchen.

“Takeaway has consistently been a growing sector, as consumers still feel they are treating themselves without the expense,” says Steve Gotham, executive director of Allegra Strategies. “We’ll see supermarkets increase their lines of dine at home offers, and restaurants would do well to offer takeout options too.”

Share and share alike

Another offer restaurants would do well to add as menu options are sharing plates, not only for antipasti but for mains and desserts also. Gastropubs and brasseries have already begun to clock onto the whole roasted family-size chicken to be carved and shared at the table, while dessert sharing plates are starting to take off also.

“In some venues you can get a certain type of steak to share between two, and there’s a huge variety of roasts you can share between a party where they serve themselves,” says Spicer. “This all taps into the idea of eating out as theatre and an out-of-home experience, which all our consumer surveys show experience has become a top spending priority.

“Again, the top trend here is getting away from price and putting passion and experience back into dining.”

Other dining trends we expect to take off this year include:

Flexible Pricing – Grant Achatz’s Next in Chicago is charging for tables rather than meals, and setting prices aprtly on what day of the week you decide to eat. An effective way of pulling diners through the doors at quieter times.

Thirty-minute lunches – One-hour lunches have been about for years, but time and work pressures will drive a demand for faster service, especially in major cities.

Freestyle cooking – Restaurant Sat Bains and The Mall Tavern offer whole tables the chance to choose their ingredients, in consultation with the chef, while at Eddie Gilbert’s in Kent they’ll cook whatever you’ve caught or shot that day.

Coffee shop growth – This well-performing sector offers consumers an in-between mealtimes indulgence as a less formal, often cheaper alternative to restaurants. Expect some trading down to this area as a result, unless you’re a gastropub serving excellent coffee.

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