What’s Hot In 2018 For Restaurants

As the New Year dawns, Restaurant Marketing Labs explores the top five hottest trends restaurants across the nation may soon adopt—if they haven’t already.

What’s Hot In 2018 For Restaurants

Welcome to Year of the Dog! It’s a New Year, and there’s lots to talk about regarding restaurant trends for the upcoming months. Whether you’re interested in learning more about the takeout app explosion, or whether activated charcoal in your lemonade is a good idea, our roundup of the top five emerging trends will give all restaurant owners and managers a good idea of what their patrons might expect on their plates, or in their bellies, as the year unfolds. Without further adieu, here are our top five picks for 2018:

No. 1) Restaurants redesigned for takeout and delivery experiences

Fortune Magazine noted last year; restaurants are continuing to revamp and rethink their business strategy as tech becomes what might be coined as a necessary evil in the dining world. App-loving Gen-Xers and Millennials are drivers of the craze, while companies such as Amazon Fresh, GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24 and Door Dash are a direct response to the ‘heat-me-up’ movement. This has encouraged many brick-and-mortar restaurants to set up separate food-prep lines, designate areas within the restaurant for pick-up and delivery, as well as create special parking for delivery drivers.


This new digital take-out delivery experience is making restaurant owners and operators more creative with how they not only design restaurant spaces, but how they package meals for takeout and how they manage the logistics and customer service for delivery-only diners.


“Last year, restaurants crossed a digital milestone,” says Jon Kell of Fortune Magazine online. “The percentage of orders booked online or using a smartphone or tablet app—now 6.6% of the total—exceeded the quantity placed verbally over the telephone (5%). Indeed, at a time when in-person visits to restaurants—human beings actually sitting at a table to break bread—are declining, electronic orders have been a boon to the industry. They’ve tripled over the past five years.”


The biggest indication this trend is going to maintain its momentum into 2018 was Amazon’s acquisition last fall of Whole Foods Market. The acquisition is a turning point for consumers who want high-quality produce and all-natural foods which are affordable, making the joke of coining Whole Foods, “whole paycheck,” go by the wayside.


The message was driven home when Whole Foods noted in a recent press release, “As a down payment on that vision, Whole Foods Market will offer lower prices starting Monday on a selection of best-selling grocery staples across its stores, with more to come.” In addition, the press release also noted, “Amazon and Whole Foods Market technology teams will begin to integrate Amazon Prime into the Whole Foods Market point-of-sale system, and when this work is complete, Prime members will receive special savings and in-store benefits.” This makes the return on your Amazon Prime Membership even more lucrative for deal-seekers as foodies too can now also cash-in on the new “faster” food era.


No. 2) Fine-Casual: Redefining what it means to enjoy high-end food in a fast-paced world

Tech-friendly restaurateurs are partially responsible for implementing this fast-foodie trend, defined as Fine-Casual—but how did fine-casual get kick-started to begin with?


According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “Chipotle, Panera, Shake Shack and the like didn’t create the demand for affordable, freshly prepared and high-quality meals delivered at breakneck speed. ‘Dual-income families, people having less time, people eating away from home more than ever’ all inspired the movement, says Brett Schulman, chief executive officer of Cava, the fast-casual based in Washington. People were ‘also demanding higher quality as well as better nutrition profiles.’”


This combination of factors—economic, socio-economic and tech-adoption—makes the notion of “fast food” less about just getting food quickly: Now consumers want fresh, healthy cuisine delivered at their doorstep looking like it was plated for in-house dining and ready to eat from packaging that doesn’t look-and-feel like a drive-thru. This all due to the economics of homes where there are two people working and not enough time in the day to cook daily meals. Hence: Fast-Casual was born.


Foodies are loving the trend, and it’s inspiring even the Food Truck revolution to evolve into more brick-n-mortar locales offering roadside pop-ups in urban business areas of large, hip cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the trend is becoming more of a local standby versus a new concept.


“Shake Shack’s approach in particular—sourcing high-quality natural ingredients, cooking food to order, and placing a major emphasis on the happiness of its customers and employees–is driving real change in the marketplace,” says Rob Bruner of Fast Company.

No. 3) Veggie-forward cuisine allows colorful, in-season produce to take center-plate

Across the restaurant industry—from fast-casual to fine dining and everything in between—veggies are making a big splash. Not only does fresh produce make Instagram-worthy posts with its colorful appearance on diner’s stark white plates, but as we all know, veggies are just good for us.


Dan Meyers, Editor for The Daily Meal, writes, “Big portions of meat are out; vegetables are in. Meatless ‘fast food’ chains like By Chloe, Amy’s Drive-Thru, and Plant Power Fast Food are ramping up expansion plans; meat-free burgers like Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger are showing up on more-and-more restaurant menus; and better technology is making nut milks and other vegan nut-derived products tastier and easier to produce. Diners are also ordering more vegetables than in the past.”


Nation’s Restaurant News touts more of the same as they explained in its 2018 food and beverage trend predictions piece late last year, noting the healthy food movement is growing stronger with consumers wanting amazing, healthy food becoming more of the norm. Even fast-food chains are hip to the shift in consumer eating behaviors by now offering calories on menus, more ‘lite’ food options for the discerning eater, and as editor of Well & Good denotes, “Chick-fil-A’s shocking replacement of its coleslaw with kale salad this month is just one example” of this notion set into motion.


As aforementioned, Impossible Burger is making a big debut in many restaurants across the nation. The Impossible Burger is interesting as it focuses on using plant-based ingredients, including heme, to give meat-lovers a way to ease out of their daily meat consumption habit. Eater NY reports the Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods has, “found a home for its ‘bleeding’ veggie burger, which is made from wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and heme — the indispensable molecule that makes meat taste like meat.”


When bleeding veggie burgers become a hot menu option, it’s clear we are seeing a bigger movement than merely consumers wanting to eat more healthily. Nexus Media News aptly explains, “Beyond its culinary appeal, the Impossible Burger holds hope for the planet. Beef is huge source of pollution. Cows [release] heat-trapping methane and nitrous oxide, two extremely potent greenhouse gases. Globally, they expel more greenhouse gases than every country except China and the United States.”


Eating vegetables is becoming a political and economic crusade, moving beyond merely the eating healthy movement. Impossible Foods sheds light on this issue with the creation of a looks-like-meat-but-it’s-not product, and makes its branding more about how its ‘bleeding veggie burger’ is not only better for you but it’s better for the planet. With more and more restaurants offering veggie-forward entrees due to demand, food industry mavens continue to report that this trend is more than just a blip and will become a mainstay as time and technology ebb forward.


No. 4) Creative use of food waste and the art of upcycling scraps

Food innovation is obviously a huge emerging trend, and we’ve covered that in our last few points, but the creative use of food waste is a trend that’s truly on the fringes. In fact, The Specialty Food Association (SFA) Trendspotter Panel has named “Upcycled Products” as a hot trend in 2018.


“As consumers become more aware of how much food is wasted in the U.S.,” the SFA writes,  “Upcycled products made of ingredients and scraps that would have otherwise been discarded, will hold bigger appeal. We’re already seeing pressed juice made from imperfect fruit, chips made from fruit pulp, and snack bars made from spent grain from the beer-making process [read more about ReGrained energy bars here]. Expect more to hit the market in the coming year.”


National Geographic (NatGeo) focuses heavily on the issue of food waste in a section of its site coined, The Plate. Here, numerous renowned food experts write exclusively on the issue the USA has on wasting perfectly good food. In this new era of innovation, food producers, restaurant owners and produce retailers are beginning to work together to solve this issue.


“Across the globe, there are efforts large (the new Rockefeller Foundation initiative) and small (communities that have enlisted cab drivers to transport restaurant excess to the hungry) designed to tackle different facets of this problem,” writes April Fehling of NatGeo’s The Plate.


What are some ways folks are buying-in, and how can your restaurant take heed? Using leftover rinds, veggie stumps, marred fruit, and the like—and turning it into a juice blend for cocktails or mocktails, or even a side-dish mash, are all ways restaurants can not only save money, but impress their patrons and help solve the issue of food waste.


No. 5) Medicinal, probiotic and gut-friendly options abound

Turmeric, kefir, pre- and probiotics, aloe and flaxseed are just a few of the ingredients that consumers will begin noticing creeping into not only their morning cup of O.J. (see Uncle Matt’s Tumeric-Infused Orange Juice here), but also showcased as highlighted ingredients on their local restaurant menus. Often coined “lower-intensity, gut-friendly” menu items, many chefs are taking note that Americans are truly believers in the notion probiotics are good for your gut-health.


CNN reported, “By 2012, the use of probiotics had skyrocketed in popularity in the US, with nearly 3 million more adults using probiotics or prebiotics than in 2007, when only about 865,000 adults used such supplements. Among American adults, probiotics ranked as the third most commonly used dietary supplement behind fish oil, and glucosamine and chondroitin, according to a 2015 National Health Statistics Report.” So, as the popularity of probiotics rises, the food industry has slowly responded with a medicinal food crusade.


One “medicinal” ingredient becoming increasingly popular is activated charcoal. “Activated charcoal,” Eater reports, “has made its way into coconut ash ice cream, detoxifying lemonades, pizza crusts, and boozy cocktails that are as black as your cold, dark soul.” As part of the medicinal food trend, this particular ingredient truly got its start in hospitals where it has long been used as a detox to prevent poisonous toxins from taking a grip on someone’s life. It’s the porous nature of charcoal in-and-of-itself that makes it so effective at absorbing such toxins, but should we be eating it on a daily basis for health reasons-wise is the real question.


Eunice Liu of Discover Magazine has questioned the use of activated charcoal in foods, and she cites research that suggests it may not be wise to overdo consuming it:


“Despite its use as a casual food supplement, there is actually no scientific evidence that activated charcoal can enhance the purported detoxifying properties of a green juice. Does eating and drinking charcoal for weight loss, anti-aging effects, or lowering cholesterol? Unlikely. Activated charcoal is not absorbed into the blood stream, so it can only bind to molecules directly within the gastrointestinal tract – unless you’re drinking charcoal juice immediately after you’ve ingested some poison, drinking charcoal juice may not actually improve your health. Still, while bottles of charcoal juices seem harmless enough, remember that activated charcoal can actually bind to vitamins and minerals too, so it might make the nutrient-rich veggie-packed juices a bit less effective than intended.”


This is perhaps one of the most important things for food-minded people to remember: research surrounding probiotics and medicinal foods is rather scarce and inconclusive. It’s always best to consult your physician when taking high doses of supplements, whether in pill-form, or in your salad, during dinner. Chefs may tackle this trend with nimble hands, or would be smart to, as one may not want to be loading prepped meals with added supplements that exceed the normal nutrition of a given food.


In Closing:


Obviously, 2018 has a lot going on in terms of restaurant food and beverage trends, as well as overall trends that affect the way restaurants are defined. Paving the way for food’s future is product innovation, technology and new ideas on what it means to eat healthy—but most importantly, we cannot forget how economics and socio-economics also affects the industry as a whole. At Restaurant Marketing Labs, we’re continuously researching and vetting new ideas and trends, such as these, in the industry to help our clients across the nation. If any of these trends seem to hit home with your business model, we can help you achieve success in this new era of hyper-modernism and create a marketing strategy that focuses on helping you keep up and get ahead.

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