The restaurant and hospitality industry is constantly evolving. We’re tuned in to food trends: Some things, like bite-sized desserts, were a fleeting fad; while others, like locally-sourced and organic foods, seem to be here to stay.
Today, we’re talking the most prevalent trends in restaurant concepts and environments, and how they’ll fare in the future.
The Rise of the “Social” Restaurant
Big chains have given way to independent restaurants in terms of popularity, so it makes sense that the latest hotspots promise a hangout haven for the Millennial crowd in addition to food and drink offerings.
The main trend we’re seeing is a rise in the inclusion of the word “social” to promote a fun and engaging atmosphere. Two such places are Pinewood Social in Nashville, and Punch Bowl Social, which is popping up across the country from Austin to Cleveland. The former bills itself as providing ‘New American cuisine, cocktails & bowling in an industrial-chic space,’ while the latter boasts ‘delectable collection of unequalled music, food, games, and beverages for you to enjoy as you’re being yourself.’
The recession is largely responsible for halting unbridled spending, especially amongst the younger crowd. These days, as more and more young people are choosing to stay home and cook their dinners, people want an experience in addition to paying for the privilege of dining out.
This environment appeals to young adults with some cash to spare who are looking for a slightly elevated experience from their not-so-distant college days. With Punch Bowl Social set to open 10 new locations by 2019, the popularity of the “social restaurant movement” cannot be denied.
Embracing Open Floor Plans with Open Arms
Another trend in no short supply is the open floor plan. Shows like Chef’s Table on Netflix have propelled the popularity of chef’s tables in restaurants, and thus, the merging of kitchen and dining areas.
Open floor plans appeal to customers in many ways. First, they evoke the familiar feeling of a big family dinner. Second, diners like being close to the action - and when the kitchen and dining area merge, you’re always part of the action! Finally, customers are increasingly health-conscious. With an open floor plan, customers can see the food being prepared and take part in the customization of their meal (a win-win).
Personal Space, Please
Dining out involves give and take, and some restaurant-goers are no longer willing to sacrifice certain things - like personal space.
Have you ever dined in a highly-populated city like NYC or D.C.? If so, you’ve probably been to an establishment with banquette seating. A space-saver for many restaurants, it allows them to squeeze more patrons in (after all, more patrons = more profits!)
But at what cost? Such close-proximity seating can lead to a negative dining experience as diners move in and out of their seating arrangements, invade others’ personal space, and feel like bulls in a china shop as they struggle not to knock someone else’s dinner off their tiny table on the way to the bathroom.
A Zagat survey from 2015 found that crowds ranked just behind service, noise, and prices as the chief complaint among restaurant-goers. Although there’s no industry standard for distance between tables, the recommended distance is 16 inches (about the length of two pencils).
If the goal is to turnover tables quickly, then side-by-side or banquette seating might be an advantage: these diners tend to linger for less time than their 4-top counterparts. Another thing to consider is the customer base: younger people may not mind as much being wedged into these tight spaces, while older folks who may be hard of hearing might be harsher critics.
Summer Food Trucks Hit the Streets
This summer, NYC burger joint Black Tap will serve milkshakes from a food truck called Crazy Shakes, using social media such as Instagram to promote the location of their truck.
Mister Dips is also capitalizing on this trends, serving up burgers, fries, and soft-serve ice cream from an airstream trailer outside the William Vale hotel in Williamsburg.
This is a shift from a time when some establishments, like Big Gay Ice Cream in NYC, started as a food truck and eventually moved in to a brick-and-mortar space. Today, more and more restaurants are capitalizing on the food truck trend to help boost sales in the summer.
The Bottom Line
If the food isn’t good, nothing matters - but once that’s locked down, it’s crucial to consider environmental movements. In the end, today’s customer wants to pay for an experience. Let them have it!