Emerging chains, with their innovative spirit and potential for nimble execution, are excellent predictors of changing winds in the restaurant industry. Here are some of our predictions for emerging concepts for 2018. Will these strategies make their way to the big chains? Talk to us in about 12 months and we’ll see.
Delivery’s where it’s at. In 2018, look for more multiconcept operators to launch delivery-only operations from their existing kitchens, much like ASAP Poke and Seaside’s from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Also, given the difficulties and expense associated with third-party delivery, expect to see more emerging concepts handling their own deliveries. To make that happen, small operators will need to work hard to beef up loyalty programs and app-based ordering so they’re not so reliant on outside ordering platforms.
2. Smaller footprints/nontraditional units
In looking for ways to expand the brand, Honeygrow execs launched the pared-down spinoff concept Minigrow this fall. The growing concept is built to enter high-rent, urban areas where Honeygrow’s real estate costs would be prohibitively high. Plan on at least a couple more emerging brands going this route in 2018 to combat rising rents while entering new markets. Also, don't be surprised to see more operators adapting their concepts to fit in food halls, airports and other small spaces.
All-robot kitchens in 2018? Probably not. But it’s not science fiction to expect more emerging concepts to add kiosk ordering and other efforts to offset the cost of front-of-house labor. Wow Bao, the Chicago-based steamed bun chain, became the first brand to license Eatsa’s automat technology. It’s unlikely to be the last, especially as consumers become more accustomed to minimal human interaction at quick-service restaurants.
4. Capitalizing on snacking
Consumers are increasingly adopting infant-like feeding schedules—with meals and snacks every couple of hours. We’ve already seen plenty of operators add grab-and-go counters or diversify by expanding to all dayparts. But expect to see even more concepts cater to snackers with portable, sometimes less-indulgent offerings at price points that are easy to stomach.
5. Mining new revenue streams from full service
Full service continues to struggle, as fewer diners embrace the notion of sitting down to eat in restaurants. More full-service concepts will launch delivery in 2018. But, more than that, they’ll be getting creative with new revenue streams. Some will start selling branded merchandise or signature items via retail routes. Others, like La Mercerie—a new concept in New York City—might attempt to boost check averages by selling the plates, napkins and furniture featured in the restaurant.