September 21st, 2020

Winter Dining with COVID – How Restaurants are Planning & Adapting

Posted in Consumer Trends, Restaurants

Restaurants are Getting Creative with Winter Dining Solutions

Winter Dining Solutions

As challenges continue to mount, restaurants now must look at planning for survival during a COVID winter.

Outdoor dining and take-out options have certainly helped slow the bleed for restaurants nationally, but traffic is still low. While some areas have introduced 50% indoor dining capacity rules, there are still areas (New York City, for example) where indoor dining is not permitted. Therefore, outdoor dining and take-out services remain the main, reliable sources of regular sales.

But, with a looming winter that could bring ice storms and snowfalls to outpace previous years on record (see Farmers’ Almanac Extended Forecast), restaurants are looking for creative solutions to keep guests comfortable, even when outside.

How Restaurants are Adapting to a COVID Winter

Infrastructure

Outdoor Dining COVID

The most obvious, and most expensive, changes happening are around infrastructure. Many restaurants are investing in outdoor awnings, standalone coverings, and/or private pods like igloos for outdoor seating.

Along with this comes the addition of outdoor heaters, both gas and electric, that will be arranged for the overall area and at individual tables. Additionally, many restaurants are adding shops or markets to their now semi-vacant indoor space to promote the purchase of house-made items. This includes not only pre-packaged foods but even raw ingredients in some cases.

Some restaurants have gone as far as investing in indoor air ionization systems to ensure the air inside is safe and virus free. While this might seem like an attractive solution for many, the price tag can be quite prohibitive ($10k+).

Luckily, the National Restaurant Association is currently lobbying congress for tax credits for businesses adding infrastructure enhancements to battle COVID transmission. This, however, may not see any results before winter begins, so best to not put all your eggs in that basket.

Seating Solutions

Winter Dining Solutions

Along with the infrastructure enhancements, many businesses are looking at the physical seating space for opportunities to add warmth. One popular idea has been to replace outdoor metal chairs and tables with items made from warmer materials, like wood and cloth.

To compliment these additions, there have been investments in restaurant branded blankets and shawls that can be used during service, then either purchased by the customer or laundered before next use.

Finally, to combat wind in outdoor areas, the addition of plants is an option. Adding greenery and shrubbery to an outdoor dining space can not only make it more inviting and create privacy between diners, it can also block some level of wind and precipitation.

Menu Solutions

Winter Food Solutions COVID

Another way to make customers feel warmer when dining in cold weather is to simply provide warmer food. Many restaurants are making dramatic menu changes to include foods that provide warmth, like stews, soups, curries, and chilies.

The other benefit of outfitting a menu with these items is that they are quick to execute. This means the customers time in contact with the cold is reduced.  This is an intentional move to ensure the diner doesn’t have to wait in the cold for too long before their cozy meal is delivered.

Finally, some more ambitious restaurants are carving out other paths to bring in sales including grocery delivery and event-based to go kits, like anniversary picnic baskets and date-night meal kits.

Let’s Bundle Up & Eat!

As restaurants continue to adapt to COVID, there’s no doubt innovative dining solutions will continue to increase. One thing is for sure, it’s going to take a series of small solutions, rather than a single big one, to keep restaurants cooking this winter.

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August 3rd, 2020

New Menu Items August 2020

Posted in Consumer Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants

August New Menu Items See Wings and Spice Rise

It’s the first week of the month and you know what that means: August New Menu Items! Please hold your applause. June and July saw a heavy dose of BBQ flavors, but as summer starts to dwindle, a shift in focus is apparent.

August is showing favorites in wing flavors, spicy options, and cheesy goodness. Sounds like customers are ready to throw that summer diet out the window and start get back to craveables. Grab a fork and let’s dig in…

August 2020 New Menu Items

Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar

New Menu Items August

Photo courtesy of Bostons.com.

The social favorite Boston’s is heating things up with some fun new menu options. They’ve just released Street Corn Nachos, which feature spicy queso smothered chips and a zesty street corn dip which is a fun new take on nachos. Additionally, you’ll now find Jamaican Jerk and Tandoori coated chicken wings on the menu.

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

August 2020 New Menu Items

Photo courtesy of Grimaldis.com.

Grimaldi’s doesn’t plan to miss out on the BBQ trend with their new BBQ chicken pizza. It features barbecue sauce, barbecue chicken, bacon, and red onion, baked and then topped with cilantro.

Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings

Wing Trends

Photo courtesy of chuckecheese.com.

Pasqually’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s delivery brand, is stepping up their wing game with 2 great new flavors: Lemon Pepper and Chili Lime rubbed. For the adventurous diner, they will also toss the dry rub wings in buffalo sauce, it’s a mindblower. Along with the wings, they’ve released a Giant Cheesy Bread with mozzarella and Cheddar, served with savory marinara dipping sauce.

Taco Bell

New Menu Trends

Photo courtesy of Thrillist.com.

Our friends at Taco Bell are no strangers to innovation and this new item is sure to be a hit. Introducing the Grilled Cheese Burrito, featuring seasoned beef, three-cheese blend, crunchy red tortilla strips, chipotle sauce and reduced fat sour cream in a warm flour tortilla with a warm layer of cheese. Just, yum.

August is Looking Savory

With all these awesome new items, August is shaping up to be a pretty savory month. Hopefully, these trends help inspire you to try something new.

Cheers!

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June 1st, 2020

Food Trends During Coronavirus

Posted in Consumer Trends, Culinary Conferences, Food Trends

How Has COVID-19 Changed Food Trends?

Food Trends During Coronavirus

Food trends during the coronavirus pandemic have, as you might imagine, changed from what earlier predictions may have expected. Isolation and self-preparation of foods has left consumers yearning for comfort and portability over experimentation and presentation.

During a recent RCA PoweredUp session, Mike Kostyo of Datassential discussed this very topic. By monitoring menu and retail trends from over 100,00 national sources, he showcased what consumers are really craving during this time.

Let’s look at some of the top trends highlighted.

Coronavirus Food Trends

Plant-Based Foods

Plant Based Food Trends

2019 marked a major up-tick in plant-based food representation on menus nationally, going from 14% in 2018 to 56% in 2019. Meat sales from April 12 to May 9, 2020 were 28 percent higher than in the four weeks ending Jan. 18, 2020 according to data from Nielsen. Plant-based meat substitutes, had a jump of 35 percent in sales during the same period. The increase for uncooked products was more dramatic: 53 percent for the vegan products versus 34 percent for meat.

Environmental concerns among consumers are also a driver for this trend. In fact, 21% of consumers are interested in plant-based foods for the environmental impact alone. Generation Z is undoubtedly the leader in plant-based food interest, with 64% of Gen. Zs having tried it and 1 in 5 saying they love it. So, if your target audience is comprised of Gen. Z, you should be considering plant-based options on your menus ASAP!

Mexican Food

COVID-19 Food Trends

Whether it’s the bottomless chips and salsa, the energetic social nature of Mexican restaurants, or the ice-cold citrus margaritas, Mexican food leads the pack for the most craved foods during COVID-19.

The tough part with most Mexican foods is portability. The crispy, crunchy tacos and tostadas tend to lose their texture, smothered burritos get a bit soggy, and fajitas just don’t have quite the same flair without the sizzle platter.

Many Mexican restaurants have overcome these limitations by providing deconstructed to go kits, creative to-go packaging with moisture vents, and limited menus to ensure what they are selling travels well. As Mexican restaurants continue to learn how to overcome these limitations (to-go margaritas certainly help!), you can expect this trend to strengthen and cross into other platforms, like pizza and burgers.

Pizza

Pizza Popularity during COVID-19

Most experts expected pizza to be a top trend prior to coronavirus and it looks like they were right. Cravings for pizza have not decreased during the pandemic. In fact, according to QSR magazine, in March the pizza segment of restaurants showed the smallest losses (8%) but were already starting to level off again.

There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, pizza is still the most popular food in America. Additionally, pizza has high value, has been available to bake at home for years, and is essentially designed for delivery, so there was no consumer hurdle to get over when dine-in options closed.

Pizza companies have further increased interest in their products by offering plant-based options, family meal deals, and efficient contactless order and delivery methods.

BBQ

BBQ trends

BBQ, the classic backyard event, and the All-American outdoor activity. Couple that with the warm summer weather and nostalgia for simpler times and it’s no wonder BBQ ranks high on the current trends list. Like meatloaf and apple pie, BBQ is a classic American comfort food.

Restaurants can easily incorporate BBQ items on their menus. Brisket tacos, pulled-pork pizza, and short-rib sandwiches are all crave-worthy inclusions that consumers will love. Plus, BBQ is extremely portable and loses very little quality in transport.

So, get those smokers rolling, the people want ribs!

Is Your Menu Adapting?

We hope so. Check out previous blogs to see what other trends we’ve seen and how restaurants nationally are responding. Chime in below with your thoughts on what’s trending how to attract customers. We love your feedback.

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May 4th, 2020

April 2020 New Menu Items

Posted in Consumer Trends, New Foods and Flavors

April 2020 New Menu Items

April 2020 New Menu Items: Triple Pepperoni Pizza, Family Meals, & More

The April 2020 New Menu Items sing a similar tune as March, with family meals coming strong. They also hit on bold flavors as we move into summer and celebrate Cinco de Mayo. While Coronavirus may be stifling in-restaurant dining, it can’t dampen the creativity and ingenuity of restaurateurs.

So, let’s take a look at what some of our national favorites launched this last month.

April 2020 New Menu Items

 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen

April 2020 New Menu Items

Photo courtesy of texasborderbusiness.com

Cheddar’s doubles down on its Family Meal offerings with a hearty bundle of craveables, each meant to serve a family of four. Choose from Chicken Tenders, Cheeseburgers, Lemon-Pepper Chicken, or House-Smoked Baby Back Ribs paired with two family-sized sides. Dinner just got a whole lot easier.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

New Menu Items April 2020

Photo courtesy of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop (Waxahachie) FaceBook.

Fuzzy’s is getting on the Family Meal train with their Taco Family Meal. It includes a choice of two meats, two sides, chips, queso, salsa, tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded Cheddar cheese, cilantro, feta, garlic sauce and hot sauce. $35.00 for a regular meal serving 4-6 people or $50 for 6-8 people. Great for those larger families and just in time for Cinco de Mayo.

Jet’s Pizza

New Menu Items

Photo courtesy of prnewswire.com

Michigan’s cult favorite Jet’s Pizza also has its eye on Cinco de Mayo with the release of their new Mexican Pizza. More than just a taco pizza, this fiesta starter is packed with chorizo, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, black olives, diced tomatoes and spicy jalapeno peppers.

Nathan’s Famous

Nathan's Famous

Photo courtesy of restaurantnews.com

Partnering with Franklin Junction, Nathan’s Famous has launched family meals made just for delivery. These include a hot Dog Meal, a Hand-Dipped Chicken Meal, and a Hot Honey Chicken meal. All include fries and soft drinks, and a couple even come with their famous apple pies!

Papa Murphy’s

Pepperoni Pizza Trends

Photo courtesy of chewboom.com

The “Take’n Bake” specialists at Papa Murphy’s seem to know what people want, which is pepperoni. So how do they give it to them? With the Triple Pepp Pizza featuring three types of pepperoni: Giant, regular, and mini-cup. It’s a pepperoni party!

Yard House

April 2020 New Menu Items

Photo courtesy of yardhouse.com

Our friends over at Yard House heard about the family meal craze and decided to go all in with six (six!) different family options. These include a Mac & Cheese Meal, Pizza, Salad, and Wings Meal, a Chicken Meal, a Steak or Salmon Meal, a 20/30 count Bone-In or Boneless Chicken Wings Meal (Buffalo, Korean, ancho barbecue or whiskey black pepper), a quart of soup, and/or a full-size Creme Brulee Cheesecake or Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise. Any one of those is a comfort food feast!

Blaze Pizza & 1000 Degrees Pizza

Menu Trends 2020

Photo courtesy of blazepizza.com

Both quick service pizza giants saw the opportunity for at home pizza kits and ran with it. The kits come with dough or crusts, sauces, toppings, and even dusting flour so you can take the freshly baked pizza experience home with you.

Velvet Taco

April 2020 Menu Trends

Photo courtesy of velvettaco.com

Our final addition to the list comes from the taco geniuses over at Velvet Taco. You won’t want to miss out on their new Green Chile Pork Taco. Made with Tomatillo corn stewed pork, avocado, roasted poblano strips, mayonnaise crema, queso fresco, pickled Fresno chiles, buttered basmati cilantro rice, salsa verde and micro cilantro all wrapped up in a fresh corn tortilla. It’s a guaranteed hit!

Adios por Ahora

And happy Cinco de Mayo to all! Be sure to stay on trend and keep your guests coming back for more with fresh ideas and unique takes on classics. Hopefully, we’ll see you in one of our upcoming New Menu Items posts.

Cheers!

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March 16th, 2020

Go Bold with Asian Flavored Snacks

Posted in Consumer Trends, New Foods and Flavors

Asian Flavored Snacks Continue to Captivate

Asian Flavored Snacks

Photo courtesy of spoonuniversity.com

Asian flavored snacks continue to drive sales and excitement in the snack market. As 2019 proved, certain trends are not letting go anytime soon. Two of these trends are snacking and Asian flavors, so it’s stands to reason they make a perfect pair.

Americans are steering the snack market away from sweet and salty standards and towards the more complex, fermented, and umami-packed flavors commonly found in Asian cuisines. A great way to exemplify this is by checking out the surge in snack products around Asian flavors.

Gochujang

Asian Flavored Snacks

Photo courtesy of surfandsunshine.com

It seems there’s no getting around our friend gochujang. It’s continuing to pop up nationally on pizzas, tacos, and even breakfast sandwiches. And now, no shocker, it’s all over the snack food aisle.

Whole Food’s 365 Brand launched a gochujang flavored Kettle Chip as an LTO to much applause. It’s been so popular, in fact, that they’ve continued to stock it beyond the LTO period. Annie Chun’s also makes the list with their Baked Seaweed Crisps with gochujang seasoning.

Sahale Snacks mixes things up in their Korean BBQ Almond Mix, made with savory gochujang glaze, pineapples, and sesame. The biggest surprise comes from StarKist. They released a Spicy Korean flavored tuna fish snack pouch as a part of their “Bold Flavors” lineup. This high protein snack is packed with protein and zesty flavor.

Curry Flavored Snacks

Curry Chocolate

Photo courtesy of taquitos.net

The newcomer to the flavor game is curry. Whether it be Indian, Thai, red, green, spicy, or mild, there are a variety of curry flavors and styles bouncing around the snack scene.

Kettle Brand Chips leads the way with their ultra-craveable Red Curry chips. Also on trend is Pringles, who released a Malaysian Red Curry Rice Fusion chip. Haven’t had that yet, sounds great! You can also get a little crazy with World Market Indian Sweet Curry Milk Chocolate bars.

Finally, Sarah’s Snacks launched a coconut curry nut mix featuring a savory blend of cashews, chickpeas, and sweet currants toasted with warm Indian spices.

Thai Chili

Asian flavored snacks

Photo courtesy of theshelbyreport.com

Our final entry in this category is the Thai Chile. It can be found in variations from mild to hot, sweet to savory, but all with that signature aromatic Thai flavor.

You can find Thai Chili flavored snacks most commonly in potato chip form from Lay’s, Pringles, and even Doritos with their Thai Pepper Chicken chips. Kettle also lands on this list with their Sweet Chili Garlic chips.

Blue Diamond features a bold lineup also, one of the flavors being Thai Sweet Chili Roasted almonds. And, along with their spot on the gochujang side, StarKist also features a Thai Chili Style tuna fish snack pouch. Even Quaker has launched a Sweet & Spicy Thai Chili Rice Crisp snack.

I’d say Thai Chili is currently winning the popularity battle.

Snack Time

So, go find some of the cool flavors and see just how great Asian flavored snacks can be. They’re on trend and supremely popular right now, so don’t miss out!

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February 3rd, 2020

All Hail the Gastropub

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Gastro-Pub

2020 Looks to be the Year of the Gastropub

Gastropub

On a previous blog we discussed the Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts in America, one of which being the gastropub (or brewpub). Here we are now in 2020, and it looks as if gastropubs are still on track to be one of, if not the, fastest growing concepts.

While this is all well and good, I really wanted to know why America has such a fascination with the gastropub. Sure, they offer food and drink, much like most bars and restaurants. They also promote hearty socialization and interaction, but that’s not uncommon in the F&B industry either. So why do we love them so much? The answer, I believe, lies in the menu.

The Best Gastropubs in the U.S.

Recently, USA Today released its list of the Reader’s Choice 10 Best Brewpubs in the U.S. These brewpubs span the country from San Diego to Maine, and Chicago to Colorado. What this gives us is a terrific cross-section of guests voting on what are essentially their favorite foods.

So, I thought it would be prudent to review the menus from all these award-winning gastropubs and see what they have in common (aside from beer). The answer? Quite a bit.

Trends

Gastropub food

All the brewpubs that made the 10 Best list are covering multiple food trends, many of which we’ve covered right here on our blog. From smoke & BBQ, to decadent poutines, and a ubiquitous inclusion of Asian flavors and flatbreads. The trends drive the menus, which in turn bring the guests.

The chef-driven style and flavor impartiality of these establishments showcase a unique ability to change with, and even drive, food trends. Customers of gastropubs tend to be willing to take more risks, try new foods, and be curious about things they haven’t had before. If that wasn’t their nature, they wouldn’t be going to a place brewing their own unique, small-batch brewed beers.

Bold Flavors

So, we see up-to-date trends represented with unapologetic bounty in gastropubs, but as we know, that doesn’t matter if the food is bland or dull. That’s the next common trait for these eateries: big, bold flavors.

Across the menus you’ll find items like Gastropub TrendsFresno chili sauce, beer-based BBQ sauces, bulgogi, gochujang, smoked buffalo, and Nashville hot sauce. These come in a variety of applications such as flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, wraps, wings, fries, vegetables, and others.

The point is this, brewpubs are using powerful flavors, often by way of sauces, to deliver unique and captivating dishes to their guests. It seems to be working, otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about this steady rise in popularity.

Personally, I’m dying to try the beer-brined house-smoked wings slathered in beer BBQ sauce at 18th Street Brewery.

Kids Menus

Gastropub food

Image courtesy of ptaourchildren.org

Yes, I know this seems out of left field, but actually, I think it’s quite telling. While gastropubs may be craft beer-driven, they’re also positioning themselves as family-focused eateries.

This recognition of the younger crowd certainly allows more flexibility for patrons. The destruction of the brewpub’s “bar” stigma means they have become acceptable for family-dining. This opens access to a broader demographic of parents with children to patronize the gastropub without needing a babysitter.

Also, these kids’ menus are not just afterthoughts. They are well-thought out with familiar items like grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken tenders, and quesadillas, but elevated with items like pulled pork, brioche buns, and house-made mustard. Even kids are getting a it more experimental these days, but let’s hold off on the heirloom tomato aspic for now.

Gastropubs, the New Home of Innovation

There’s no doubt in my mind gastropubs will continue to rise in popularity over 2020. Their creativity, trend-focused execution, and welcoming atmosphere make them a perfect venue for guests of all ages and backgrounds.

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January 20th, 2020

2019 Food Trends: A Review

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Product Innovation

Use the 2019 Food Trends to Anticipate the Future

2019 Food Trends

We had a lot of fun monitoring the 2019 food trends. Everything from AI technology to Aji Amarillo hit the scene this last year, and boy was it a fun ride.

But now that we’re heading into 2020, it’s a good idea to look back on some of the past trends to see how they may influence this year. So, let’s do a quick review and discuss what we can expect in the new year.

2019 Food Trends

Smoke & BBQ

2019 Food Trends BBQ

Smoke flavors and BBQ dominated lots of national restaurant menus in 2019. From smoky brisket sandwiches to wood smoked and grilled chicken wings, the influence was widespread.

I expect to see the concept of chile-based and uniquely flavored BBQ sauces (like chocolate and mustard) continue to grow, along with Asian inspired BBQ sauces using chili-pastes and fermented flavors.

But also keep a look out for new types of smoke or smoked items other than meat. For example, maple smoked carrots, or mulberry smoked fish with rich BBQ glaze. Proteins aren’t the only items made better with smoke, and there’s no doubt diners are going to notice.

Chiles

We have just scratched the surface on what we can do with flavorful chiles. Fried, grilled, smoked, dried, we’re trying all of the methods to produce new flavors and extraordinary tasting experiences.

Flavorful Chiles

But while we’ve seen a big trend in extremely hot foods (i.e. Nashville Hot Chicken, and Carolina Reapers), the trend of chiles for flavor, more than heat, has been creeping up.

Expect to see more sauces and builds made using unique chiles, not necessarily for heat, but for flavor. Chiltepin chiles offer bold smoky notes, and their heat can be moderated by removing stems and seeds. The Costeno Rojo chile is quite nutty while Urfa Biber chiles provide and tobacco-like flavor that is sure to be new to most palates.

Meat Alternatives

Meat alternatives were huge in 2019. Brands like Impossible and Beyond Meat made an indelible mark in restaurants, food service, and retail, with dozens of competitors biting at their heels.

With this trend came a wave of thoughtfulness when it comes to food, not just in the ethics of its development, but the actual impact it has on our environment.

2019 Food Trends: Restaurant Greenhouses

Come 2020 expect to see a big push for “eco-friendly’ foods, and even eco-themed diners, serving sustainable menus. Beyond meat alternatives, this concept will focus on developing entire menus out of low-impact foods and hyper-local (i.e. grown in-store) produce. It’s a unique idea that has the potential of being one of the biggest trends of 2020.

Alright 2020, We’re Ready for You!

And we can’t wait to see what unpredictable trends are in store for us. Be sure to stay tuned to find out what’s next in food and flavors.

Cheers!

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October 21st, 2019

The New Fall Flavors

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Trends

There’s More than Pumpkin Spice for Fall Flavors

Fall Flavors

Let’s be honest, when you think of Fall flavors most likely the first thing that pops into your head is pumpkin spice. It’s OK though, it’s not your fault. We’ve been conditioned for years now by cafes and restaurants to equate the arrival of Fall with the arrival of pumpkin spice.

But that won’t be forever. In fact, last year showed a 2% dip in the market for introductions of pumpkin spice flavored items. And while that still leaves the flavor on 17% of menus nationally, it shows the pumpkin might be withering a bit.

So, with that in mind let’s look at 3 flavors that could upset the appl-er-pumpkin spice cart.

Maple

Fall Flavors Dark Maple Syrup

This should not be a shocker. Maple flavor is delicious and all over the place. Often combined with other flavors like maple pecan, maple butter, or maple chile, the rich and flavorful syrup is a great vehicle for innovation.

What’s new, however, is our general perception of what “good” maple syrup is. Previously, Grade A Amber Maple Syrup has dominated the market. But with a change in the grading system allowing darker, more richly flavored syrups to also be classified as Grade A, I expect to see a push in that direction.

The true beauty of richer maple syrups is that their complexity will lead to new flavorful creations. Things like black maple BBQ sauce, dark maple chile glazed wings, and smoky maple bacon have opportunities to shine.

Molasses

Fall Flavors Molasses BBQ

Photo courtesy of iwillnoteatoysters.com.com

A pantry staple for decades, molasses is resurfacing thanks to an inclined perception of its complex, bitter (see below) flavors. Blackstrap Molasses is becoming a common quality callout on menus. It’s deep, rich, umami-ful flavor is perfect for BBQ sauces, meat glazes, stews, chilies, stir-fry, kebabs, and much more.

Molasses-based sauces offer a depth of flavor and richness that can’t be easily replicated. They’re a great way to elevate a line of menu items without adding a lot of new ingredients.

Char

No, not the fish. Yes, the burnt stuff.

Fall Flavors Char

Bitter flavors continue to be all the rage among diners. Burnt caramel, charred vegetables, fire roasted tomatoes and peppers, you name it. Even bitter drinks continue to grow in popularity. IPAs, Black IPAs, rich German dunkels, and schwarzbiers are all finding homes on menus around the country.

And Fall meshes perfectly with charred flavors. Think of all the BBQing, grilling, open-fire cooking, roasting, and such that’s going on. Combine these with a blackstrap molasses BBQ sauce and you might be on the way to re-shaping the future of fall flavors. Sorry pumpkin…

Time to Fall Forward

Let’s rethink the flavors that come with Fall and move forward into complex, new creations that leave the pumpkins behind (unless you want to char one). Do any other flavors come to mind when you think of fall? Apple cider maybe? Let us know in the comments below.

Cheers!

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September 23rd, 2019

America’s Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends

Which Are America’s Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts?

Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts

With the rapidly changing food landscape, it can be very difficult to become one of America’s fastest growing restaurant concepts. But, someone (or, some type) must hold the mantle.

And while it’s good to know who’s growing, for those of us monitoring trends, it’s better to know why. What are the driving flavors? What makes it special? Why now? So, let’s dive in and see if we can get some answers.

America’s Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts

Coffee & Tea Cafes

Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts

These are by far the fastest growing concepts. Enabling them to do this is their flexibility and constant innovation. From cold brew to nitro, and nitro to CBD all within a matter of months at times.

Their adaptability to popular trends, and let’s face it, undeterred support from Millennials and Gen Xers, helps to ensure their continued growth.

Hawaiian Concepts

Hawaiian Food

Thanks almost entirely to poke bowls, Hawaiian restaurant concepts have blossomed across the nation. Some estimates predict that over the next 4 years poke will increase in popularity another 47%.

That means that this food trend is here to stay. And with a constant push for fresh, healthy food, it’s a logical fit.

Brewpubs/Gastropubs/Wine Bars

Wine Bars on the Rise

The increasing popularity in craft beers, local distilleries, smart menu curation, and innovative cocktails have driven these concepts into the forefront. The experimental nature of these establishments makes them fertile ground for unique food menus as well. Patrons know they’re headed for a unique experience and these concepts hate to disappoint.

Scandinavian Food

Fastest Growing Restaurant Concepts

No, really. A love for fermented and foraged foods has created a massive interest in Scandinavian cuisine. When you couple that with the re-launch of Noma, it makes sense that people are interested.

Expect to see Swedish, Icelandic, and Finnish restaurants and pop-ups hit your neighborhood soon, if they haven’t already.

Out with the Old, In with the New

As in all things, when new ideas rise, others must fall. In this case, the rise of these restaurant concepts has led to the stalling of others, such as: Bars & Grills, British concepts, and Swiss/Fondue concepts.

While it’s unfortunate, it is the nature of the business. We look forward to following the trends to see what else the people will be clamoring for. Until then…

Cheers!

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August 26th, 2019

AI Technology Driving Efficiency in Fast Food

Posted in Consumer Trends, Restaurants, Technology

AI Technology shows strength in fast food testing

AI Technology in Restaurants

Photo courtesy of nrn.com

AI technology has been a conversation starter for some time now. In most cases, it’s in the format of “someday,” or “won’t it be crazy when…?”

Well it looks like that “when” is now. With impressive advances in AI technology over the last couple of years, companies have begun testing in different markets. One of the most popular platforms to test AI technology is currently in fast food restaurants.

Let’s look at how AI is changing the way we interact with food.

AI Technology in Food Service

As of now, four major players in the fast food arena (McDonald’s, Good Times, Chipotle, and Sonic) are either testing or in the process of implementing AI technology into their restaurants. But it’s not in the format one might expect.

AI Technology Fast Food

Photo courtesy of nrn.com

Instead of using the tech for cooking, packaging, or other labor-based skills, it’s being utilized in so-called “soft-skills,” specifically order taking. This use is why this type of AI is dubbed “conversational AI.”

How is Conversational AI Being Used?

Good Times is focusing on using this technology in drive through windows. Its system, lovingly named “Holly,” has shown to be very adept at her job. In the six months of her operation, Holly has reduced customer wait time by seven seconds and her intuitive up-selling has shown a measurable increase in check averages.

AI Technology

Photo courtesy of hospitalitytech.com

Chipotle has found success with their intuitive telephone ordering technology while Sonic begins testing on their drive through system this year. McDonald’s, however, is showing an aggressive push with a slightly different tech. By the end of this year they will have increased the implementation of their AI driven interactive menu boards from 700 to 8,000 restaurants nationwide. The biggest difference in their system is that the boards are not voice operated, but intuitive based on the customers choices.

What’s the Benefit of AI Technology?

The push for AI is coming from the operators’ need to:

  1. Decrease labor turnover
  2. Increase speed of service
  3. Increase accuracy
  4. Allow employees to focus on food quality

By letting AI systems take over ordering and basic customer service functions, employees are freed up to focus on food quality and speed of service. As of now the companies claim that the tech will not replace human employees, instead, it will help them do their jobs better.

There are some additional benefits of AI. It does not get tired, or angry, or sick. Its accuracy is nearly flawless, and is always “friendly,” even when being yelled at.

Limitations

AI in Fast Food

Photo courtesy of engadget.com

At this point some kinks are still being worked out. It’s incredibly important that the technology can actually understand the customer. Therefore, the speech detection portion of the software is absolutely crucial. Regional dialects and accents can add other variables. The adaptive learning portion of the program is essential in overcoming these limitations.

Fail safes have been implemented to help in some of these categories. For example, at any point during a conversation a customer can ask Holly to speak with a “human” or “employee.” However, in the time of its activity only ~1% of customers have chosen to do so. This shows not only Holly’s effectiveness, but also the adaptability of Good Time’s customers to changing technology.

Hello Future World!

It’s official, the future is here. Conversational AI now holds real estate in our pockets, homes, and restaurants. It’s safe to say that the only direction is forward when it comes to AI tech., so we’d better be ready for the changes. What an exciting time to be alive!

Cheers!

 

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