Restaurant Trends for 2014: What to Watch

2014 Restaurant Trends

Every December, upcoming trends are published and shared so that restaurant owners can decide if they’d like to continue with their current service, food, and décor—or if new trends will benefit their business and clientele.

We have scoured industry blogs and articles, and we’ve gathered the most talked about restaurant trends that your customers may come to expect in 2014.

Local Sourcing Stands Out. This idea, which started to become popular about five years ago, continues to grow. Using locally-produced food means that you are supporting others in your community, that you truly believe fresh is best and the most nutritious, and that you’re environmentally conscientious. Some restaurants are being built next to garden areas, allowing them to use hyper-local sourcing—literally, food from a restaurant’s backyard.  Because the phrase farm-to-table is being used a lot these days, be careful to identify your local food sources very clearly and with the utmost transparency.  If you get your eggs from Farmer Jones on Lincoln Road in Your Town, USA, say so!

The True Power of Social Media. If you concentrate on one thing this year to bring customers in the door, it should be to learn and then use social media. Many restaurant owners set up a Facebook page, link it to a Twitter account, and then do nothing else. In the meantime, people are looking for information about your restaurant and come across a Facebook page with one post, with no reviews, with no menu or pricing. Don’t let that happen! If you don’t have time, hire someone to help you. Now that Google+ is starting to gain traction in the social media world, it’s another source of information that people will use to make decisions about where to eat, so you should post on there too after creating a Google+ business page. You can use Twitter to share promotions and to attract bloggers and local businesses. Overwhelming? It can be, but setting aside 20 minutes a day to work on social media will pay big dividends.  (If you need help learning the ropes of each network, check out this series of articles I wrote regarding social media for restaurants.)

Bread Makes a Comeback. After years of a downturn in bread and starches, mostly because of fad diets that were trumpeting meat, people are beginning their love affair with bread, pasta, and potatoes again. Starches are once again an acceptable part of restaurant menus, and they’ve branched out. Specialty and flatbreads are becoming a part of bread baskets but are also complementing main dishes.

Healthy Kids’ Meals. If you want to attract families to your restaurant, you probably have chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and mac and cheese on the menu. With consumers becoming more and more interested in the benefits of healthy food, though, many parents prefer that their kids have a nutritious meal when they eat out. But what can you serve that’s healthy AND that kids will enjoy? There are programs available, such as Kids LiveWell (a partnership with Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association), that introduces meal selections to restaurants that feature lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

Ordering Using a Mobile Device. Online ordering ahead of time used to be a technological wonder. Now, restaurants are jumping ahead and letting customers sit down and order using a mobile device—mostly using customers’ devices in the era of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). However, a major restaurant chain just announced their plans to use a tablet at every table that they say will decrease wait times and make them an attractive option for a quick lunch or a long dinner—plus diners don’t have to flag their server down to get the check. While smaller, independent restaurants may think that’s a pretty expensive way to attract customers, remember that many companies who design apps that can be used on customer’s mobile devices are competing for the businesses of smaller restaurants. If you consider convenience to be one reason why people want to eat at your restaurant, you should consider what you can do to upgrade the customer experience.

These ideas are just the beginning of what 2014 will bring to the restaurant business. While most places won’t be adopting all of these ideas, owners can use this list to introduce fresh concepts to their customers.

We wish you all a successful new year!

Win Moms & Dads Over with Family Friendly Restaurant Marketing

She cuts out of work early to pick up her youngest from daycare and heads to a soccer game for her oldest, followed by a stop at the store to pick up the middle child’s last-minute request for the perfect dinosaur toy to add to the science diorama that’s due in class tomorrow. And she hasn’t even thought about what’s for dinner. Even though there’s a cafe right beside the store she’s rushing through, this mom is willing to drive a few miles down the road to go to one of the restaurants she knows will cater to her…and her kids.

Is your restaurant going to be the one that saves her day?


Delighting Kids and Their Grown-Ups

Little girl eatingAttracting families with kids is smart, since they make up about half the population. According to The Restaurant Mom, a marketing consultant for kid-friendly restaurants, parents who are satisfied with their family experience at your restaurant will talk you up to their friends or social networks.  And scoring that word-of-mouth promotion is easier than you think.  Follow these tips to become the dinnertime superhero for families in your neighborhood.

  1. Be clean.  From the highchairs to the bathrooms and, of course, the restaurant tables themselves, germ-phobic moms are looking for a safe, tidy environment to serve their kids meals.
  2. Appreciate dads, too.  Are there changing tables in the men’s bathroom, or do you have a family restroom?  Consider what you can do to make it easier on a mom or a dad dining out with young kids.
  3. Seat quickly. Minimize wait times, but when there is a line at the door, find ways to keep families occupied until their table is ready.
  4. Provide kid-friendly seating. Have a supply of highchairs and booster seats, and consider a few anchored restaurant booths against a wall, where adults can corral their little ones. Some family restaurants even have a play area with children’s furniture.
  5. Talk to everyone.  Sure, you want to make Mom and Dad feel like family, but don’t forget the tots. Your waitstaff should be making eye contact and directly interacting with everyone at the table – even those whose feet don’t reach the floor.
  6. Entertain the kiddos.  Have a supply of games (Cracker Barrel has a peg game on every table) or books to keep youngsters occupied. If you pass out crayons and an activity sheet, you should change your activity sheet every other week so families who come in regularly always get a new sheet to complete.  QR codes placed on the sheet linking to branded kid-friendly content, games, or apps are often a hit, because kids love a reason to use their parent’s smartphone (and families may download your app for use when they’re not at your restaurant!)  Many pizzerias will allow kids to play with pizza dough as they wait for their pies to bake.  What’s the best entertainment you can offer kid guests?
  7. Serve kids first.  Not only should you deliver drinks and a snack immediately (e.g., dinner rolls, fruit, or crackers for each child), but you should ask the parents if they want the kids’ meals (which usually take less time to prepare) to come out first.
  8. Give a treat.  Offer a free cookie or scoop of ice cream to kids after their meal (just ask the parents first to make sure it’s OK!)
  9. Discount for good behavior.  Some restaurants actually frown on youngsters dining in their establishment, but you are smart enough to know that kids who have been seated quickly, entertained, and well fed are going to act like princes and princesses when they come into your place. Thank the parents for allowing you to serve their family meal with a surprise discount on their receipt for good behavior when the visit has been exceptionally pleasing for the family, your staff, and other restaurant patrons.


Creating a Children’s Menu

If you think kids just want hot dogs and chicken tenders, you’re stuck in 1989.  Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re creating a kid-approved menu.

  1. Hot dogs, chicken nuggets alone won’t cut it anymore.  Sure, those are basic staples to any kids’ menu, but today’s parents are exposing their children to a wider palette of tastes.  Many children don’t mind eating salads, shrimp, steaks, or even ethnic favorites.  Consider adding junior-sized portions of your best-selling menu items; kids will feel mature eating the same foods Mom and Dad do, and you won’t need to add more ingredients to your inventory.
  2. Healthy options aren’t an option for you.  Parents don’t want to feel guilty about feeding their kids “junk” for dinner just because they don’t have the time to prepare a home-cooked meal, so offering healthful choices is really important.  But those items have to taste yummy, too! Try incorporating healthfully-prepared entrees with sides of fruit, yogurt, or string cheese.
  3. Be allergen-free, gluten-free friendly.  If a child has a special diet, it’s really hard for his or her parent to trust restaurants to prepare a safe meal.  Build trust by making it clear on the menu that you’re willing to offer a reasonable amount of substitutions and specially-prepared meals.  Stock soy milk and gluten-free breads, and include a list of those items on your website and/or menu.
  4. Minimize portion size – even more.  Parents with two kids under the age of five often order one kids’ meal for their tots to share, according to The Restaurant Mom.  Perhaps you should offer a tier of portions to serve kids of all ages better.
  5. Add in some fun.  Some kids are picky eaters, but all kids like to play.  Find creative ways to display kids’ meals (search Pinterest for some great ideas) and experiment with exciting ingredients (O’Charley’s serves their Shirley Temples with cotton candy!)


Now that you’ve got a family friendly restaurant strategy in place, you can look forward to happy little smiles and the sighs of relief from your community’s parents.

8 Restaurant Trends for 2012

A few days ago, we watched the ball drop.  Toasts were shared.  Resolutions were set into place.  And 2012 is now officially upon us.  Is your restaurant ready for what the new year will bring?  I’ve put together a list of restaurant trends for 2012 that I hope will get you thinking and help you reach all your new year hopes and dreams.

1. When it comes to design, less is more. We are just a bunch of minimalists.  Don’t let the few pat racks in the world that they make TV shows about influence the way you design your restaurant.  If you have shelves of dusty knick-knacks, it’s time to reinvent your image.  Anything you put into your restaurant design needs to celebrate your theme and brand; if it doesn’t, it should go.  Be picky when you choose your color scheme, artwork, lighting, and overall look of your restaurant.  If you are sports bar, then sports memorabilia is OK.  But if you are a modern, American family dining establishment, retro Hummels on a shelf probably aren’t doing anything for you.  Today’s consumers want to see shiny, germ-free, clean, and clutter-free surfaces.  The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of money or a complete overhaul to accomplish this design task.  Not sure what to do with empty shelves?  Why not turn them into functional space by storing wine bottles, dessert glasses, or pretty pieces of fruit or veggies?
–>We also recommend some contemporary tables, chairs, or barstools!  In keeping with the less is more idea, how about an aluminum table and base set, our simple cross back metal restaurant chair, and/or the new Z stainless steel bar stool.

2. Nutrition is important. While not everyone who goes out to eat cares about the number of calories they are over-indulging in, the fact remains – some people do care.  And that number is growing.  Balance your menu with the “I’ve been good all week, so I deserve to stuff my face” items with the “I want to keep my jeans buttoned on the ride home” items.  Make it easy for smart eaters to find your healthy menu items, and be sure to make all the label-readers happy by listing out nutrition/caloric information by those menu items.  It’s good practice to be transparent, and your health-conscience consumers will feel at ease knowing exactly what they are putting in their mouths.  A growing trend is also creating more healthy side options for children.  Don’t just give them chips or fries; offer their choice of a salad, vegetable, or fruit.  Don’t forget to list the kind of milk you serve (is it skim or whole?), and be sure to choose juices with low sugar content.  If your kids’ menu is filled with fried finger foods, consider adding some healthier options or creating smaller portions of your regular, adult menu items, like many restaurants do for senior citizens. As long as you don’t expect the children dining at your restaurant to eat liver and onions, you should be able to make both child and parent happy by finding that intersection of nutritious and delicious.

3. Minimize your desserts.  Think about the dessert shooters at Applebee’s or the collection of mini desserts at PF Chang’s.  Everyone loves a burst of sweetness at the end of the meal, but if you’ve already served them an appetizer, salad, and main course, they are probably close to skipping dessert.  If you can offer them a small but satisfying treat, you are more likely to make that up-sale, and they are less likely to feel guilty about ordering dessert.  It might not be so much about nutrition for your “I’m so full, I don’t know if I can walk to the car” guests, but creating a few mini-sized desserts on your menu will pay off for you in the long run.

4. Buy local. When possible, buy local produce, fresh ingredients, and otherwise support local business by using local vendors for your purchases.  Then, don’t forget to tell your customers that the tomato on their sandwich was grown at Farmer Bob’s down the street, that the buffalo-turned-bison-burger was raised on the outskirts of town, and that you support the local fishing industry.  Consumers love to feel good about frequenting a business that cares about the same things (and people) that they do.  So if you are supporting other local commerce, they feel as if everyone is doing their part to boost the local economy and help their neighbors out.  You many consider adding a local or regional section to your menu, as well, and feature foods that are staples in your neck of the woods.  For example, where I come from, it’s not uncommon to see ox roast, pepperoni balls, Lake Erie perch, or Pittsburgh-style slaw sandwiches on a restaurant’s menu.

5. But when it comes to menu, don’t be afraid to go global. While consumers, who are still shell-shocked from the recession, are not going to want to take a lot of risks in 2012, offering some exotic-but-not-too-exotic menu choices to show off your global culinary expertise will help you compete with your fellow restauranteurs.  But don’t go too daring.  Just add a little Asian or Indian influence in your cooking, or try some borderline unique ingredients, such as coconut, pistachio, or mango.

6. Cook, don’t just heat. Chain restaurants, especially, are notorious for ‘heating’, ‘unfreezing’, and ‘scooping’ their pre-packaged meals (sent from a faraway headquarters) onto their guests’ plates.  Adding just a few homemade items, made-to-order menu choices, or house favorites can go a long way with meeting consumer expectations.  As cooks and foodies alike get more savvy, bringing more of the prep and cooking in-house will prove to be a wise choice this coming year and into the future. Empowering your kitchen staff and training them to make some of your signature dishes can prove to be a successful HR strategy, too.

7. Promote sustainability. Have you gone green?  Do you use recycled paper for your menus?  Can you grow your own herbs for cooking at your establishment?  Are your light bulbs and appliances all energy-saving products?   This is a trend that we will continue to see grow in 2012, so being able to not only market your restaurant as such but to reap the economic advantages of being sustainable will be beneficial for your own business’s growth and prospering.
–>Looking for some furniture that shows off your sustainable values?  I recommend our poly lumber tables, made 100% of recycled materials, which are good for indoor or outdoor use!

8. Listen to your customers more/better. In the age of social media, customer reviews, online surveys, and let’s face it – a lot of chatter about where people go, how they spend their money, and what they expect, it’s crucial that every business owner or marketer listen and respond in the form of improvement and action.  You may even want to jump on the bandwagon of giving discounts to customers who complete surveys, start your own restaurant Facebook page, offer a social deal of the day, or start tweeting your restaurant news and events.  Whether you want to join the online conversation or not, you should at least listen in when people are talking about you.  Be prepared; you may hear some complaints.  Don’t let that discourage you, anger you, or turn you away from those conversations.  Instead, use your customers’ advice to create a better product, atmosphere, and well-liked restaurant.  More than ever, it’s easy to collect customer feedback, so take advantage of those channels and listen closely!  Savvy marketers, like mega pizza makers at Domino’s, can take hard-heard truths and turn them around into positive marketing…and better pizza!

Facing 2012 head on by making a few adjustments to keep up with these restaurant trends is a great new year’s resolution for any restaurant, whether you are a casual family diner, formal fine dining restaurant, or small cafe.

Your friends at East Coast Chair & Barstool wish you a very happy new year!