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5 New Year’s resolutions for restaurant-goers

The research says that about half of Americans make resolutions—and by now, a quarter of us already have abandoned them. But I’m holding out hope for this list of to-dos to help me make a better restaurant-goer in the coming year. And I’m sharing them here not only to keep me honest, but also in hope that other consumers will join me.

Resolution No. 1: Order one “new” menu item a month

The vast majority of Americans (70 percent) won’t try a new menu item at restaurants, says a study last year from NPD Group. In 2015, I aim to be one of the 30-percenters who will. But with so many restaurants defaulting back to once-successful LTOs—Burger King and its Yumbo, Wendy’s and its Chicken Fries—I’m not sure these “everything old is new again” defaults help my cause.

Resolution No. 2: Interact with at least three humans a day

When Starbucks starts delivering lattes directly to loyalty-card holders’ desks through its mobile app later this year, you might as well send out a search party. If you think email keeps people glued to their chairs, eliminating the craving for a coffee run will all but render conversation (and hospitality) useless. Restaurants’ frictionless options—such as Panera’s Rapid Pickup and the option to skip the line when ordering through Taco Bells new app—just compound the likelihood that we soon are headed toward a Wall-E-esque existence where we only interact with humans via a high-tech screen.

Resolution No. 3: Don’t just have Apple Pay—actually use it

When Apple launched its answer to the e-wallet in October, I, like many, immediately downloaded the hot, new app but stopped short of throwing away my conventional change purse. Good thing, because I don’t think I’ve used the thing once. It’s not for lack of trying. Despite a number of merchants (including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the tech giant to announce they’d be accepting the electronic payments via customers smartphones—though only the newest Apple phones, of course—actually finding units who are proudly doing so is easier said than done. I’ve quickly grown tired of searching for some signage at my local McDonald’s to indicate that the kid working the drive-thru actually knows how to guide me through an electronic transaction. And not once has anyone ever asked me, “Would you like to pay for that with Apple Pay?”
At Starbucks, I’ve already gotten used to making payments with the coffee chain’s own mobile app, so I don’t see any good reason to make the switch. Independent research from ITG finds that Apple Pay was responsible for 1 percent of digital payment dollars in November and that Apple Pay customers used the service more than once a week, suggesting promising engagement. Apparently, someone’s using it. Maybe this will be my quarter.

Resolution No. 4: Drink more

No need for an intervention. I’m just stepping up to do my part to contribute to the projected 2.7 percent rise in consumer expenditures on alcohol away from home, predicted by Chicago research firm Technomic. While beer still dominates, owning 48 percent of the share of the on-premise dollars, a rise in beer cocktails—the fastest growing cocktails on chain-restaurant menus according to Technomic—may just be what it takes to get me to imbibe. And while I’ll try not to let it go to my head, women are an increasingly important audience for restaurants and bars. That’s because we’re even more likely than the general public to spend more on adult beverages than last year, we’re more likely to try new adult beverages and we’re more likely to be swayed by enticing menu descriptions for such beverages (39 percent for women versus 29 percent for the general public).

Resolution No. 5: Take my dog to a restaurant

Full disclosure: I “borrowed” this resolution from my colleague Peter Romeo’s own list. But it makes perfect sense for 2015, especially now that lawmakers are practically demanding that restaurants not discriminate against four-legged patrons. In California, a new law went into effect Jan. 1 that overturns previous rules prohibiting pets at restaurants and officially allowing them at the discretion of the restaurant owner. I say “officially” because many dog-friendly restaurateurs in California already were fine with Fido, but now they no longer have to fear the long arm (or leash) of the law.

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