5. Underground Dining
We first called this out as “Clandestine Dining” in our 2009 Food Trends, but it’s worth a fresh look because of the ways in which social media has changed the game. Where once underground dining was independent supper clubs and hidden experiences, it has become social media-enabled and more recognized.
The L.A. underground dining scene is powered by Instagram, giving backyard chefs a platform for engagement and promotion. Trudy’s Underground BBQ, run out of a backyard by real estate agent Burt Backman, sells Texas-style BBQ in nondescript take-out containers. Fans direct message him on Instagram to place orders and set up pick-up times. Social media has become the gateway for underground dining, even to the point of allowing people to set up unlicensed pop-ups.
6. Generational Influencers on Food
Restaurant groups and owners know that it’s not one-size-fits-all. All generations want something beyond senior menus and kids’ plates. Millennials and Gen Z bear close watching as they each influence food in different ways, with unique eating patterns—and we may see marketers catch on to that.
Gen Z, for example, is considered one of the most ethnically diverse generations to grow up in the U.S. This means we should expect interest in ethnic flavors to increase. This generation’s familiarity and skill with technology have reinforced their demand for transparency and brevity—opting for clean menus and mobile-first service whenever possible.
Gen Z is the group to watch. David Portalatin, Vice President and Industry Advisor Food Sector at The NPD Group, Inc., says, “The more I study trends in retailing, foodservice and eating patterns, the more I become convinced that the macro themes emerging in consumption behavior are generationally driven. Generation Z is emerging as an influential force behind trends such as digital ordering, authenticity of food, the redefinition of meal composition, and experiential consumerism.”
Of course, Millennials’ impact on the food industry cannot be overstated, and Juliana Goodwin, a food writer who served on our panel, told us, “Millennials are remolding the food industry. The group’s impact has been tremendous in food manufacturing, farming, alcohol, dining options, and its footprint is on many of the these top ten trends.”
The Millennial generation’s demand for responsible, clean food has reshaped the processes by which food is packaged, resulting in frozen being considered the new fresh. The popularity and refinement of plant-based foods are due in part to Millennials as well, originating from their desire for clean, less confusing foods and a fear of contamination, combined with escalating prices for traditional proteins.
Demand for memorable experiences has caused them to embrace wine—a more sippable, social drink—or shun alcohol altogether in favor of mocktails that won’t dilute an experience. Millennials have made snacking a daypart, and more. Is it time to explore those habits in our trends analysis?
7. Do Restaurants Have a Lifespan
We’ve been thinking about this in the context of why Casual Dine is suffering, but it came together when we read this quote in The New York Times from Bobby Flay, who is closing Bar Americain: “Like Broadway shows, restaurants have their runs,” Flay said. “We’ve had a good run. But there’s no secret that it’s exorbitant to build and run a restaurant today.”
Demand for unique culinary experiences has led to operators and chefs to rethink the lifespan of restaurants, with the new opinion being that it’s ok for restaurants to have an expiration date—and it’s necessary for chefs to continue to grow and explore new foods if they want to be successful.
In the context of the Casual Dining segment, it may be the genre can no longer compete either as a unique experience or with interesting menu options. Legacy casual dining is being left behind by brands that can better adapt to the shifting spectrum of consumer needs for more interesting and culturally relevant menu options, as well as cleaner menus.
The Casual Dining segment is beginning to shift its business model to slimmed-down menus, and a focus on doing fewer things and doing them well, in order to distinguish themselves from the pack. It’s no longer about adding more to appear relevant. For example, Chili’s recently cut 40 percent of its menu in order to focus on what it considers flagship menu items—burgers, fajitas and ribs.
Food Channel contributing chef Beth Wray told us, “There is an endless supply of resources from recipe websites, to how-to and cooking-technique videos on YouTube, to inspiring short-form video clips featuring hands and ingredients only. All these things inspire food lovers to not just partake in good food, but to learn how to make it themselves. This means more people are eating at home, and inviting friends to join them.
With any craze also comes an explosion of businesses and people trying to make something out of it—and in this case, that means more restaurants opened by people who love food and feel they have a specific specialty of food to offer (cupcake shops, coffee trailers, pizza joints); but, as basic economics teaches us, when your supply is greater than your demand, suppliers lose.“