What Restaurant Dining Will Look Like in 2017

The relentless demand of today’s consumers to customize their everyday experiences has revolutionized preconceived notions of service in industries as diverse as accommodation (Airbnb), transportation (Uber), and fashion (Indochino, Warby Parker).

Similarly, they are rejecting traditional definitions of restaurant experiences that fail to align with their lifestyles, and are migrating to alternative dining experiences that provide convenience, value, authenticity, trusted food quality, exceptional hospitality, and a demonstrated commitment to the community. And they continue to demonstrate a willingness to pay for it.

Customized home entertainment is helping to foster demand for new food and dining options

The growth of personalized home entertainment such as AppleTV, Netflix, YouTube, and other subscription channels has had a significant impact on expectations for out-of-home food services. Consumers are exposed to new cuisines, celebrity chefs, and highly entertaining food preparation competitions such as The Chew, Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef America.

At the same time, they have been exposed to a proliferation of documentaries such as “Supersize Me” and “Food Inc.” that have raised awareness of, and have built demand for, better food choices, and ethical and sustainable farming methods.

The growth of transparency in fast casual restaurants

The resulting demand for better quality food with clean ingredients, raised responsibly, will continue to stimulate growth for smaller, alternative, fast-casual chains. This is especially true for those focused on building local communities of consumers interested in making better food choices in aid of personal and family health, and the health of their community.

REAL certification (based on LEED standards) is a recent development by US Healthful Foods Council to guide consumers to healthy, transparent and sustainable food choices for restaurants, and is applied to chains such as Taziki’s Mediterranean Café and Mixt Greens.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, owned and operated by Chipotle, is REAL certified and seeks to provide fast casual dining with the cleanest ingredients possible, and menus that vary based on seasonal product availability. Although ShopHouse strives to meet its brand aspirations in food quality, it is quick to inform consumers when the products it uses cannot be guaranteed to be completely GMO free. This transparency is appreciated by its consumers, as is its slow growth that allows it to experiment in developing an authentic spicy Asian cuisine that is new to American palettes.

Channel agnosticism: Changing ideas in going out for dinner

Whether working late at the office with colleagues, or picnicking in the park with family, consumers will reward brands that can provide great meals when and where they are needed. Gourmet food trucks and pop-up restaurants continue to meet specific out-of-home meal needs, from concerts to weddings, with high-quality restaurant options and their ability to adapt quickly to customer needs, and changing seasonal and local food supply.

The out-of-home food or restaurant experience is no longer “the main event” but part of a larger entertainment experience, as seen with the Cineplex VIP Cinemas we have designed in Canada, and major sports and entertainment venues, where local cuisine, wine and craft beers enhance the brand.

Retail stores are becoming the new restaurants

Perhaps the best example of channel agnosticism is seen in the growing phenomenon of the “groceraunt” trend in which, finally, grocers are promoting in-store dining as a way to enhance the grocery buying process (for both shoppers and retailers). Forbes reports “NPD’s food-service market research found that in-store dining and take-out prepared foods from grocers has grown 30 percent over the past eight years, accounting for $10 billion of consumer spending in 2015.”

Whole Foods Market (shown above) has long provided strong regional and neighborhood dining options, including self-serve meal and salad bars, and easy take-out meal kits, all with a clearly communicated focus on local, organic and natural foods.

According to the Forbes article, Oppenheimer estimates that “365 by Whole Foods could capture 20 percent to 30 percent of its market share from traditional restaurants.”

For the hordes of busy families struggling to keep their children fed and happy, is IKEA a furniture store with restaurants or a restaurant with furniture?

Kroger’s Mariano’s Fresh Market in Chicago is a prime example of how a grocery store can redefine the experience in providing convenient hot and cold buffet tables and branded zones like Squeez’d Fresh Juice, Vero Coffee and Oki Sushi. Comfortable seating areas serve as a neighborhood restaurant in all day parts. No longer content with selling low margin commodity items, Mariano’s is pushing to create meaningful dining experiences.

Another great example is the new Inspire Model by Loblaws in Toronto that provides great communal dining zones, especially in parts of the city that are crying out for authentic food experiences. Offering authentic Italian pizza, sandwiches, fresh salad, and Asian cuisine in specialty sections branded under the recently acquired T&T Supermarket.

Rapidly expanding Eataly is an example of a successful brand where it is hard to distinguish whether it is a grocery store with great eat-in dining spots, or a memorable European-style dining experience with take-away groceries.

Even IKEA has provided Swedish-themed, in-store and take-away dining options for home décor shoppers for decades. For the hordes of busy families struggling to keep their children fed and happy, is IKEA a furniture store with restaurants or a restaurant with furniture?

Consumers are continuing to define what restaurant dining in 2017 will look like by their choices. The demand for high-quality food options, great service, flexible menus, great staff, and authentic community connections has never been higher. Foodservice providers, whether in food trucks or grocery stores, who can best meet these insistent consumer needs will win.

What do you think restaurant dining will look like in 2017? How is your foodservice organization working to meet future customer needs? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe to receive the latest Shikatani Lacroix insights in your inbox.