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The restaurant concepts likely to bloom or bomb in 2015

1. Butcher-restaurant hybrids

Today’s consumers are all about transparency; they want to know every detail about their food—what’s in it, how it’s made, where it comes from. Well, it doesn’t get more transparent than seeing what you’re about to eat being butchered in house. Plus, for an added convenience factor for guests (and a bonus revenue stream for operators), consumers can use these restaurants as specialty stores, purchasing the butcher’s wares to take home. Why not stop into S&M Sausage and Meat in San Diego for a meal and take housemade sausage to go, or head to Dai Due in Austin, Texas, for a pork chop and buy a raw one home to cook later? If the wild success of Mario Batali’s Eataly concept is any indication, consumers like to patronize places where they can buy a meal and then buy the ingredients to make that meal at home.

2. Single-food concepts

Grilled cheese shops were all the rage a few years back, and New York City-based The Meatball shop still does gangbusters business. Now, ramen shops have taken hold in New York City and are expanding in other large cities elsewhere. There’s room for more single-food concepts; the caveat is that operators need to come up with a new food that’ll work well in this setting.

3. Distilleries with on-premise food

It’s the next iteration of brewpubs, but with a mixology twist. As the cocktail culture continues to resonate with consumers looking for specialty or small-batch concoctions, operators such as CH Distillery—Chicago’s first vodka distillery with a cocktail bar—are poised for success.

4. Build-your-own pizza spots

They won’t all bomb, but with the rapid growth that customizable fast-casual pizza joints experienced in 2014, it’s destined to go the way of frozen yogurt. These concepts will hit market saturation soon enough, and PizzaRev, Blaze Pizza, Pie Five and others will have to worry about sales cannibalization both from competitors and their own newest units. 

5. All-tech, no-interaction service

As much as restaurants are trying to incorporate the latest tech into their operation, it’s not always the best fit. Time and again, we’ve heard that millennials want little to no interaction during their dining experiences, and they love to be able to use tech to skirt staffers. A fact about millennials: that’s not always true. As much as this frictionless service is buzzed about, leaving service all to tech alienates a huge number of consumers—and dollars—including some millennials. After all, not every dining-out occasion is meant to be warp speed. Sometimes diners not only need but want a little attention. And someone pointing out how to key in their own orders isn’t enough to do the trick.

6. Cat Cafes

The jury’s still out on these coffee shops with cats roaming around willy-nilly. While there’s the initial “What the heck?!” reaction, the Asia-born phenomenon is shockingly catching on in the U.S., with Planet Tails in Naples, Fla., Cat Town Café in Oakland, Calif., and more expected to open soon in Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles. It does make sense for consumers who live or work alone and need some quick-fix companionship. We keep hearing that dining is all about the experience, and what’s more welcoming and friendly than a furry friend to cuddle up to? Still, cat fur falling in a latte just seems a little too unappealing.

7. Traditional casual-dining concepts

Sadly, the basic, one-size-fits-all, everyday casual-dining concept might be going down the tubes. Some of the largest chains have cited quarter after quarter of negative sales or traffic. For all those failing, though, there are plenty making casual dining work with today’s much more fickle market. Take Darden, for example. Olive Garden is an operational nightmare with low consumer interest and a menu that’s too jumbled to follow, whereas its specialty concepts Yard House and Eddie V’s are both hits with consumers, because of their points of differentiation.

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