As the integration of new technology and social media in the food service industry gathers momentum, it is becoming ever more important for restaurant owners and managers to stay ahead of the game and think about new ways of catering for their customers. As 2014 draws to a close, we take a look at what trends restaurant owners and managers can expect during 2015.
1. Interacting with Social Media
People love to talk about their dining experiences, whether it be posting pictures of a quirky meal to Instagram, tagging their new favourite restaurant in a Tweet, or posting a status complaining about the poor service the other night. Customers now have the ability to publicly voice their opinions to large audiences, more so than ever before, and for restaurants, who live and die by their reputations, their social media presence is fast becoming a critical part of their survival.
In 2015 we can expect restaurateurs to interact with their customers more and more through social media, responding to compliments and complaints and posting original content. Those businesses who embrace social media and do it well have the potential to thrive and those who ignore it risk being left behind.
2. Healthy eating and dietary requirements
The UK government recently introduced new allergen labelling requirements which require restaurants to specify which of their products are gluten free, dairy free, peanut free etc. The regulations demand greater transparency from restaurants and their menus, with each meal detailing any potential allergens contained.
Furthermore, over the last year there has been a surge in popularity of more personalized diets and eating habits which has in turn made catering for a wide-range of customers a much trickier task. Combined with the new labeling regulations it is likely that we see restaurants becoming much more flexible in how they cater for their diners. One already popular method is to incorporate pick-choose options on menus, allowing customers to swap items in and out of their meal to meet their specific dietary requirements.
3. Different dining experiences
There has been a marked increase in alternative dining experiences over the past 12 months and we can expect this trend to continue to grow in 2015.
In a recent interview, Michelin Guide editor Rebecca Burr highlighted how an increase in the number of tapas bars, noodle bars and BBQ style restaurants is a consequence of customers looking for new and exciting ways to eat out. She added that these different dining formats offer a relaxed atmosphere whilst providing a well-organised, efficient service.
It seems inevitable that the popularity of these unique dining experiences will only increase over the coming year as the public looks to embrace alternative ways of eating out.
There has also been a more uniform switch in the way restaurants are run in recent years, with technology becoming an increasingly integral part of how a food service business operates. Online booking systems such as OpenTable and review sites like TripAdvisor are already very popular, but some establishments are now starting to implement more revolutionary methods such as electronic ordering pads and mobile apps allowing wine lists and menus to be viewed on the customer's phone or tablet.
4. Staying local
Sourcing local ingredients has often been a bit-part method of restaurateurs with one or two meals containing locally sourced items. However, more and more restaurants are now looking to stock local produce - everything from locally manufactured ales to fish from a nearby port to meat from a neighbouring farm. Similarly, you can also expect a slimming down of menus, with a more regionally focussed, rustic take that looks to draw inspiration from traditions of the local area.
5. Fast food being taken over by fast casual
There is a well documented decline in the fast food industry in America, with BBC News reporting a drop in sales of 4.6% for McDonalds in November 2014. Many experts are attributing this decline to the increasing popularity of fast casual restaurant chains such as Chipotle and Boston Market.
Although the fast food market in the UK is relatively strong in comparison, we can expect a similar trend to travel across the pond, as the number of fast-casual restaurant chains in the UK, such as Nando's, Giraffe and Chiquitos, continue to grow and expand.
Whilst the pace at which the food service industry is evolving has seemingly accelerated in recent years, the ability to keep track of these trends and to stay relevant has never been easier. There are numerous online communities, websites and magazines available to help you keep your ear to the ground. If you proactively stay in touch with what the industry is saying and how it can benefit your business you will not risk getting left behind.
However, it is also worth bearing in mind that the fundamentals of running a successful restaurant aren't reliant on that business's use of technology. Many trends will come and go, but the customers' expectations for quality food and service are a constant, so make sure you aren't compromising the foundations your business was built on.
How are these trends affecting your business? Let us know in the comments box below.