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CHICAGO — The restaurant industry is evolving faster than ever, with technology, consumer trends and menu trends revolutionizing foodservice. To help industry insiders prepare for the future, Technomic Inc. released 10 trends that consultants and experts believe will be transformative in 2015.
Based on Technomic research. including consumer and operator surveys, site visits and data from its Digital Resource Library and MenuMonitor database, the 10 trends are:
1. Lights! Camera! Action!
Instead of just being a personal experience, dining is now a staged event for which plating and lighting are increasingly designed with smartphone snapshots and social-media sharing in mind. Customers collaborate to put on the show, and menus, marketing and even charitable efforts are crowdsourced.
Small is in, as diners demand petite plates and flexible portions. Additionally, units are smaller with shrunken, laser-focused menus, multi-use equipment and expanded hours to leverage fixed costs. Labor pressures also lead to leaner staffing and increased technology, but a backlash may be in the works as more diners opt to unplug and be waited on.
3. Foodservice everywhere
Alternative forms of foodservice swallow share — from retailers' increasingly sophisticated on-site restaurants, to fresh food and drink vending, to enterprises that deliver ingredients only. In the restaurant world, fast casual shakes out, segment lines continue to blur, pop-ups proliferate and demand for tech-enabled delivery increases.
4. Signature beverages
New wine, beer and cider cocktails may provide competition to classic favorites, and flavorful and flavored whiskeys trend up alongside spiced rums and liquors. Operators are also increasingly differentiating themselves with non-alcohol beverages, such as handcrafted or small-batch sodas, pressed juices and health-halo teas.
5. There's something about Asia
Asian cuisines have been trending for years, but in 2015, Korean food may break out, Vietnamese may go mainstream and spicy ramen noodles may go upscale.
6. Bitter is the new bold
Darker coffees, deeper chocolates, next-generation cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and collard greens, hoppy beers and cocktails are all likely to provide a bitter bite.
7. Do-it-yourself health
More consumers care about healthy eating, but in different ways. Menus increasingly display pick-and-choose options, from gluten-free to vegan choices to paleo-diet offerings. Choices swap in and out as nutrition trends come and go.
Consumers are more interested in going local with everything from house-purified water to regional seafood to locally manufactured beer and liquor. As the supply chain consolidates, specialty and citywide distributors gain share, and an anti-chain ethos prompts chains and multi-concept operators to launch quasi-independent restaurants that are fine-tuned to local market demands.
9. Up with people
Corporate social responsibility evolves as consumer concerns shift to the human factor. Diners care that restaurants deal fairly with their employees and offer them opportunities for advancement. Other participants in the food chain gain visibility as farm worker and Fair Trade movements win victories.
10. Channeling Z
Appealing to all ages becomes a greater challenge as younger diners intensify demands for speedy, high-tech service, heightened experiences, louder music and kinetic visuals. Plus, a new generation of teen digital natives begins to speak up.