- Jessica Dunker is president/CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association
The Food Network is fast approaching its 15th year of delivering food-focused television programming into homes across the country. The impact that 24-hour access to TV shows featuring chefs, culinary tourism, cooking, “rescues” and competitions has on every facet of the restaurant industry cannot be overstated.
Suddenly everyone is, or wants to be, a foodie. Or at the very least a food enthusiast. Many appear to be succeeding in their quest to increase their cuisine savvy.
Research from the National Restaurant Association found that 9 out of 10 restaurant operators feel guests are more knowledgeable about food than they have been in the past. Eight in 10 say their customers are also paying more attention to food sourcing and production than they were two years ago. Just as many have seen a notable rise in how adventurous restaurant guests are willing to be with their food choices.
Consumer data confirms these operator observations. One study found 72 percent of people are in fact seeking restaurant food experiences that provide tastes and flavors they can’t duplicate at home. Roughly half of restaurant patrons actively seek establishments where they can try foods they haven’t tried before. This is true for both table service and limited service restaurants — further indicating that American palates are expanding and expectations are increasing regardless of price point.
So how are restaurants responding to this brave new world full of foodies?
In a recent food and menu trends survey, more than three quarters of operators said their restaurant is offering a wider variety of menu items now than they did even two years ago. Last year alone more than 80 percent of restaurants added a new entrée to their menu, of those, more than 90 percent plan to do it again in 2016.
As consumer expectations evolve, restaurant operators know they must do more than keep up— they need to be a step ahead. What might that look like? If the most recent chefs’ surveys are any indication restaurant patrons can expect to see the rise of vegetable-centric meals, ethnic meals, condiments and spices, and the harking back to traditional preparation methods (bring on the meatloaf).
Ultimately though, restaurateurs will serve what people are willing to pay for. Meaning, menus will change and evolve, but there will always be a place for perennial favorites, no matter what goes on around them. Being in the restaurant business is after all being in business. Operators need to do things that keep customers coming back.
So even if trendy new foods dominate conversations (as well as Instagram), there will always be a place on the menu for French Fries, burgers, and fried chicken. And thank goodness for that.