Consumers, on the whole, will be making a bit more in 2014. Combine the predicted rise in disposable income for 2014 with the steadily declining rate of unemployment, and there’s hope that wallets will begin to open more easily. This leaves restaurant operators wanting for one thing in the New Year—increased business. And that’s just what they can expect, according to The NPD Group’s restaurant industry forecast for 2014. The Rosemont, Ill.-based research company projects positive growth in terms of both traffic and dollars for the restaurant industry compared with 2013. But it won’t be that simple to get dollars in the door; consumers will continue with their pattern of cautious, controlled spending. What else does the New Year hold for restaurants? Here are a few trends NPD is expecting in the industry:
- Increased patronage from older diners: Baby boomers and senior citizens felt less of an impact from the recession and its aftereffects, and their restaurants visits continue to increase. One thing to note, according to NPD, is that their growing taste preferences don’t differ that much from the general population.
- Value-driven marketing: Due to their price-savvy way of thinking, consumers will continue to seek out deals. Whether its online couponing, value deals, loyalty programs or straight discount pricing, promoting value must be a big part of operators marketing plans.
- New main meats: With beef prices still on the rise and the cost of chicken decreasing, restaurants will push chicken and other non-beef entrees, especially through suggested protein pairings, from chicken and pork combo dishes to pairings of chicken with other proteins such as beans.
- Diversity drives menus: As the population of the U.S. continues to shift, different ethnic groups will bring more influences to popular offerings. Specifically, NPD predicts the Hispanic and Asian cultures will make even more of a mark on menus in 2014 through spices, seasonings, sauces and other flavors.
- Access to healthy fare: Better-for-you offerings continue to be at the forefront of trends for the New Year, according to NPD, as consumers knowledge base for healthy eating continues to expand. The healthy focus for 2014 will be on freshness, from fresh ingredients and fresh-made food.
- A new niche? Operators and restaurateurs will push the boundaries to create entirely new, unique concepts, many with the end goal of finding the next big niche, “the next fast casual.”
- Fine dining proliferates: This segment is growing, especially since its main audience was less impacted by the financial issues of the last few years. Fine dining is changing, though, as operators move these high-end concepts to the more casual, contemporary arena.