Consumer Demand for Ways to Fit Quality Meals Into Hectic Schedules Shape Restaurant Trends in 2008, According to National Restaurant Association

Restaurant menu, lifestyle trends revealed in Association’s 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast

(Washington, D.C.)  Research released today by the National Restaurant Association shows that Americans today are hungry for new experiences, easy-access solutions and variety, and this will be reflected in restaurant services and on menus in the coming year. The nation’s 945,000 restaurants will provide diners a wider variety than ever of menu choices and flavors, technology solutions, and takeout and delivery options to fit into their lifestyle, according to the Association’s 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

“Dining out is not reserved for special occasions anymore, but plays an essential role in how we live our lives every day,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the Association. “Consumers want help to fit quality meals into their busy schedules, and require a lot of variety when doing so. They expect restaurants to make available a variety of healthful options and exciting flavors on menus, and they want to place their orders quickly and easily whether dining in the restaurant, enjoying at home, or eating-on-the-go. In addition, restaurant-goers want to be in control of their experiences – from customizing menu items to fit their preferred tastes and diets, to using self-activated ordering and payment systems – to get the most out of each restaurant occasion.”

Food and Beverage Trends
American consumers are more sophisticated and adventurous than ever, seeking out new and exotic flavors on menus. Restaurants are the most common point of trial of new food and drinks and seven out of 10 people say restaurants provide flavor and taste sensations that can’t be easily duplicated at home, and it is no surprise that the hottest menu trends are influenced by this. The Association surveyed more than 1,000 American Culinary Federation members – all professional chefs – and found that small plates/tapas/mezze and bite-size desserts are topping the list of trends. Other hot food trends include alternative-source ingredients (locally grown produce, organics, sustainable seafood, grass-fed and free-range items) and ethnic cuisines, flavors and ingredients.

When it comes to beverage trends, specialty alcohol is trendy – both as an ingredient in cooking and on the drink menu. Craft beer, energy-drink cocktails, martinis/flavored martinis, mojitos, artisan liquors, organic wine and specialty beer are all among the top 20 hot items in the chef survey. Among non-alcohol beverages, flavored/enhanced water leads over espresso/specialty coffee.

In quickservice restaurants, wraps/pitas/tortillas are at the top of the list of foods gaining popularity, and entrée salads, chicken sandwiches and breakfast sandwiches also are on the rise. On the beverage menu, energy drinks and espresso/specialty coffees topped the list of popular items.

Consumer Trends
Eating Healthy: With increased consumer emphasis on health, restaurants are responding to trends with nutritious options and variety in portion sizes. More than three-quarters of American adults (76 percent) say they are trying to eat more healthfully in restaurants now than they did two years ago, and close to the same percentage of teenagers (ages 12-17) say they try to eat nutritiously when dining out (73 percent). Eighty-seven percent of adults also say there are more healthy options available at tableservice restaurants than there were two years ago, and 83 percent say the same about quickservice establishments.

Going Green: Another larger societal trend is becoming a factor in restaurants as well – going green. So far, the majority of environmental efforts in restaurant are taking place in the kitchen through water- and energy-saving equipment, but these efforts are also moving into other areas with low-energy light-bulbs, supplies and packaging made of recycled or alternative materials, and waterless urinals. A smaller proportion of restaurants are taking its eco-commitment to menus as well, with organics, and sustainable seafood and meats, however current supply of these products is limited. Consumers are definitely paying attention, as more than six out of 10 (62 percent) say they are likely to choose a restaurant based on how environmentally friendly it is.

Food To Go: From curbside to cyberspace, operators are also delivering more choice to their customers when it comes to takeout, curbside pickup, drive-thru, catering and delivery options, and guests welcome these options. For example, 47 percent of adults say they would use curbside takeout if offered by their favorite tableservice restaurant, and 54 percent say they would use delivery if offered.

Ordering Options: Also a growing consumer trend is interest in more options to place orders, including online, by fax or via cell phone. In restaurant dining rooms, self-ordering and payment systems draw consumer attention. While only a small percentage of restaurants currently offer it, 44 percent of consumers say they would be likely to use an electronic ordering system at their table if offered and 53 percent would utilize electronic payment systems at the table. In quickservice restaurants, 57 percent of consumers who have not used a self-serve ordering terminal say they would if it was offered.

As American adults buy a meal or a snack from a restaurant 5.8 times per week on average, and spend 48 percent of their food budget on food away from home ($1,078 per person annually), restaurants will continually keep their finger on the pulse of consumer trends. Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach a record $558 billion in 2008-a 4.4 percent increase over 2007 sales. The nation’s 945,000 restaurant-and-foodservice outlets will employ 13.1 million individuals, and add two million new career and employment opportunities in the next decade. The industry is heading into 2008 as an economic powerhouse and an essential part of Americans’ lifestyle in every sense of the word.

For more information about the National Restaurant Association’s 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast, visit www.restaurant.org/forecast.