Technomic’s Top 5 Insights From the Top 500 Restaurants

It's looking a little treacherous out there for the independent. The restaurant industry as a whole has slowed down this year and competition is expected to only get more fierce. What can we learn from the top 500 restaurant businesses?

Leading data analysis group for the restaurant industry Technomic spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s centennial event May 20. The talk was called "Winning at the Restaurant Business: Insights from the Top 500" and offered key insights in the industry. 

In their data-driven lecture, speakers Patrick Noone and Joe Pawlak revealed some of the biggest trends seen today in foodservice. Here are the top five trends in no particular order. 

1. Off-Premise Dining

More and more people are eating at home for a variety of reasons. Today our lives are busier and we relish in our time spent at home. With the advent of on-demand home entertainment like Netflix, we can now have date nights right from our couch. Just pick up your smartphone and have dinner come to you. Furthermore, a rise in 3rd party delivery services is facilitating this trend.

2. Experiences in Restaurants

“Consumers have never had more choice,” says Patrick Noone. Restaurants are no longer solely vying for who has the best food and customer service, but who can produce the most memorable experience. As restaurants alter their formulas to become places of entertainment, games are on the rise including escape rooms, darts and even ax throwing in combination with dining. 

3. Chicken. Just Chicken.

Protein today is highly sought after and chicken chains are doing better than ever. Chick-fil-A currently ranks as the fastest growing of the top 5 LSR (Limited Service Restaurant) chains at a 13.5% growth when compared to their previous year’s sales. Among the other top 5's, Starbucks grew 8.3%, Taco Bell 5.8%, McDonald's 2.4% and Subway -3.6%. 

4. Health Food, Not Diet Food

Whereas consumers used to look for low calorie, low fat or low sugar, consumers are looking less for diet food and more for health food. Avocados, nuts and coconut milk are high in fat, but they are considered to be healthy when seen from a whole food perspective. Fruit juices may be high in sugar, but consumers also consider their other properties like antioxidants and vitamins.  

5. Tech Is Going Bonkers

Watch out little guys because the big chains are investing in automated technology. McDonald’s has just announced its acquisition of Dynamic Yield which will use AI to help customers decide what to order. The app takes into consideration what the customer has ordered in the past, what can be made most readily at the store given how busy it is and even what the weather is like. During trials the results have been impressive. What’s more fast than your decision being made for you?

To conclude the talk, the speakers explained that the food industry is getting to be a real jungle there. As humans are getting busier, there is an even stronger reliance on foodservice and more need for automation. As the big guys roll out sophisticated tech, will the rest of the industry be left throwing axes?