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Food Service Industry Updates

Association Says Trends ‘Show Restaurateurs’ Resiliency, Innovation and Commitment’

Consumers told the National Restaurant Association that menus that offer a good selection of comfort foods influence their restaurant choice.

2020 was about a year of survival for restaurant operators. And with the industry down nearly $240 billion in sales and with more than two million employees still out of work, it’s still about survival.

But there are still trends, the National Restaurant Association says. And those trends “show restaurateurs’ resiliency, innovation and commitment” as they reacted to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.

For its “2020 Top Food & Menu Trends,” released Jan. 12, the association surveyed 6,000 restaurant operators and gleaned consumer preferences from a survey of 1,000 adults. The trends reflect the ways in which restaurateurs were forced to survive.

For instance, No. 1 on the list is “streamlined menus.” The association points out that the pandemic forced full-service operators to get lean fast — reducing inventories and developing menu items they could make well with smaller staffs. “These items had to travel well and be what customers craved. Expect menus to stay trimmed in coming months,” the association says.

The No. 2 trend is “off-premises takes precedence.” Prior to the pandemic, 80% of full-service restaurant traffic was on-premises, the association points out. But when most restaurants were forced to shut down on-premises dining last March, the focus quickly shifted to off-premises, via takeout and delivery, in what was likely the fastest pivot in industry history, the association said.

Third on the list is “blended meals, a team effort.” Being homebound, restaurants found that customers like to mix up meals — meaning they make the main dish but order out for appetizers, sides or dessert. So restaurants had to appease them.

“Bundled meals? Considered deals!” is fourth on the list. The association points out that customers’ restaurant choices can be influenced by the offer of a bundled meal that perhaps includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert in either family packs or for individual meals.

The No. 5 trend is “meal kits make cooking fun.” More than half of adults surveyed by the association say they would likely purchase a meal kit if it was offered by one of their favorite restaurants — and that percentage rises to 75% for both millennials and Gen Z adults.

“Meal subscriptions” are No. 6 on the list. This is where customers sign up to get meals during the month for pickup or delivery — at a discounted price. More than half of consumers surveyed say they would sign up if their favorite places offered this option, the association found.

At No. 7 is “selling groceries.” The association learned that more than half of consumers would buy groceries (fresh, uncooked food items such as meat, produce, dairy, bread or pasta) if restaurants offered them.

“Alcohol to go” is No. 8 on the list. The association said one-third of off-premises customers (ages 21 and over) said they included an alcoholic beverage with a takeout or delivery order since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, and they’ll continue to in the future.

“Comfort foods” comes in at No. 9. Consumers say menus that offer a good selection of comfort foods influence their restaurant choice, according to the association. Restaurants should think burgers, pot pies, lasagna, soups, curries, sandwiches, pizza and noodle dishes.

Finally, at No. 10, is “healthy and diet-specific food.” To the same degree the availability of comfort foods influences restaurant choice, so do healthful menu options, the association noted.