5 trends likely to drive restaurant sales into 2016

As we head into the second half of 2015, industry forecasters already are talking about the trends that will be powering restaurants in Q3, Q4 and beyond. Presenters at Technomic’s Trends & Directions Conference, held June 24 in Chicago, propelled that discussion forward, as they shared their research and insights with the audience of restaurant operators and suppliers.

Patrick Noone, VP at Technomic, led off the conference with a reference to the trends that gained force this year and still will have clout: Food with a story, clean labels and shrinking menus. The fast-casual segment will continue to be the growth engine for the industry, projected to gain five share points on QSR, and build-your-own concepts remain the sweet spot in this category, Technomic reported.

But here are five newsier trends that will be impacting the restaurant business through 2015 and beyond.

1. The U.S. is running on three speeds.

The economy is surging in some parts of the country, like Austin, Texas, and stagnating in others, including Eastern Washington state, said Arjun Chakravarti, an economist with ITT Stuart School of Business. Unemployment is down and Americans have more disposable income—trends that Chakravarti believes will continue—but not every part of the U.S. is sharing the wealth. “Regional trends matter,” he said.

2. Gen Z cares more about taste than quality.

When choosing a restaurant, millennials are more apt to look for organic or premium ingredients and healthy menu options, but 33 percent of consumers 21 and younger care more about convenience, price and taste, said Sara Monnette, senior director of consumer insights at Technomic. More customers will be aging into the 18- to 21-year-old demographic in 2016—those Gen Zers with the most autonomy and money to patronize restaurants.

3. Community involvement counts.

The hottest growth concepts all focus on giving back to their communities, said Darren Tristano, EVP at Technomic. He singled out several emerging chains where community action is key to growth and the company’s culture: Cava Mezze Grill partners with Washington, D.C., nonprofits;  &pizza has a “Buy One, Feed One” program; and 4 Rivers Smokehouse established a Barbecue Ministry to support local schools, churches and charities.

4. New ways to go local. Customers’ attraction to locally sourced ingredients continues to trend upward.

Now operators are capitalizing on that interest in local through other means, said Tristano. Eureka!, a bar and grill concept, brings in local musicians to entertain guests at its California, Washington and Texas locations. Rapidly expanding Shake Shack incorporates local treats into its concretes (extra-thick shakes), using Chicago’s Glazed & Infused Doughnuts at its newest unit in the Windy City, for example. Consumers are interested in supporting local businesses—not just farms, Technomic found. 

5. Voice-ordering technology is the future.

Dennis Maloney, VP of multimedia marketing at Domino’s, participated in “The Mobile Consumer” panel with execs from Wendy’s and Chili’s. While all three companies are making strides in mobile technology, Domino’s has been at the forefront with its ordering options. “Customers can order pizza wherever they are through text, Twitter and our pizza emoji,” said Maloney. “Half of all our orders now come through digital platforms and half of those are through mobile.” These tech options are driving sales for Domino’s, he said. Next up—the pizza giant recently implemented a voice-ordering digital assistant.

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