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Why Value Pricing Is the Wrong Choice for Casual Dining Chains

For the past few years, fast casual has shown the only significant growth in the restaurant industry, even surviving a rough recession that hit all other segments--particularly the casual dining segment--particularly hard. As fast casual continues to steal market share, casual dining has worked hard to bring customers back, often by way of value pricing and promotions.

Datassential, your trusted source for the latest and upcoming developments in the restaurant industry, is tracking some intriguing progress at the casual dining level.

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Cuisine trends follow a trajectory that typically begins in the kitchens of fine dining establishments and often take years to mature. Lately, one particular trend--the embrace of global cuisine--is moving through segments at a fast speed, leaving many operators determined to stay ahead of the pack without alienating their customer base. In this edition of Foodbytes, Datassential will walk you through how operators embrace global cuisine--what's driving it forward and how it's playing out across all restaurant segments--to show which aspects of the trend are right for your restaurant menu, and how you can successfully introduce them to your customers.

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A number of exciting developments in the food-service industry have occurred in the past five years: the food-truck renaissance, the growing power of social media, customizable menus, an emphasis on health and wellness, and the continued popularity of locally sourced and produced ingredients. But with a new year upon us, it's time to consider what lies ahead—the developments on the horizon that are born of these past trends. Datassential, your go-to source for the latest opportunities and challenges shaping the industry, has compiled a list of ten trends to look out for in 2013.

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An Update on Morning Meal Trends

The breakfast segment has shown impressive gains within the restaurant industry over the past few years, with key breakfast trends continuing to move into new and exciting territories. Datassential, the company that always keeps you ahead of the pack when it comes to restaurant industry developments, has kept a close watch on breakfast's growth. After following that all-important morning meal across all restaurant segments, we've found that QSRs and Midscale eateries are taking an especially big bite out of the latest breakfast trends. Lately, they're offering...

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We've only passed the halfway mark of this year, yet there's already so much that's happened within the restaurant industry. Datassential, the company that keeps you tuned in to emerging and fast-growing food trends, has just released its 2012 data from its biggest database: MenuTrends U.S. Chains and Independents. The numbers are in, and it's clear that calorie-specific dishes and common, safe flavor choices don't hold as much weight as they once did. Instead, operators are subbing them out for an adoption of sophisticated and unique ingredients, fun experimentation with...

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9 Food Trends to Follow in 2012

In 2011, FoodBytes put you front and center to the most pioneering trends among eateries in the U.S., such as rooftop gardens, upscale barbecue, and the emergence of retro diners with modern menus. But with the year quickly coming to an end, Datassential upholds its leading-edge reputation by looking ahead to the coming year and the industry changes it will bring. The past few years have certainly ushered in a new, more eco-friendly and experimental era in the restaurant industry. With this edition of FoodBytes, we continue keeping you ahead of the game—and an invaluable resource to your clients—by predicting the trends that will impact how and what consumers eat in 2012.

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CRAFT BEER GOES BIG: with Beer-Infused Menus and Brew Pubs

In the past, beer often took a backseat to wine in terms of classy beverages. It was considered an afterthought on many restaurant menus, especially in the Fine Dining realm (if it was considered at all).

In Datassential's quest to keep you on the cutting edge of current and upcoming industry trends, we've found that beer is infiltrating the market in a myriad of ways. For example, the term "sommelier" can apply to both beer and wine aficionados nowadays.

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The Rise of Restaurant Gardens

When the Oxford American Dictionary chose "locavore" as its word of the year in 2007, it was just the beginning of things to come. The trend of eating locally and shopping seasonally exploded soon after, with consumers growing more aware of the impact that their food choices make. And just four years later, the local movement is as strong as ever--in fact, it's evolved to include actions that go beyond frequenting farmers markets and shopping green supermarkets.

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Upscale Barbecue: An Escalating Industry Trend

As few as five years ago, a term like "urban barbecue" might've brought to mind a city dweller grilling on a small balcony or near an open window. But these days, it's just another way to describe the surprising—and successful—reinvention of a classic cooking method. The down-home, minimalist nature of barbecue has taken a backseat to much more sophisticated fare. To the curious delight of many eaters out there, barbecue is going upscale.

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Retro Diners Get a Modern Makeover

First it was the burger. Then it was the sandwich. Now it seems that the diner—home of cushy booths, never-ending cups of joe, and tuna melts that haven't changed since 1957—is getting a modern, upscale makeover as well.

As reported by Datassential MenuTrends, the database that puts you at the forefront of industry trends, a standard coffee or tuna melt isn't always such a simple order anymore. Chefs all over the country are giving classic comfort food the grass-fed, artisan treatment and are starting to reshape how consumers think of diner culture.

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MTD FoodTrucks

Gourmet food trucks continue to pop-up across the country. A trend that started in just a handful of cities has now spread to a much wider map driven by ambitious, independent chefs embracing this low-cost approach and showcasing their talents.

For consumers, food trucks offer an exciting opportunity to try new things. Growth in this segment is fueled largely by consumers who are enthusiastically venturing beyond their typical gastronomic comfort zone.

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Interest in Snacks Skyrockets

Increasing consumer traffic has long been a top priority for operators, so creating new eating occasions is one critical component of driving that growth. In the recent past, many operators looked to the addition of breakfast as a way to increase visitation and customer spending. In addition to breakfast, the next area where competition is heating up is PM SNACKS (either between lunch and dinner or after dinner). The snack wars are currently underway.

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Fast and Upper Casual Segments

The restaurant industry is not as easy to classify as a few years ago. Newer segments of the industry are expanding and changing the landscape. Two areas to watch are the well-documented FAST CASUAL and the newer defined UPPER CASUAL. As diners have become choosier as to which restaurants they frequent, these segments are growing in popularity. MenuTrends DIRECT tracks both of these segments and can provide insight into what differentiates these operators from the rest of the industry.

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Fine Dining Report Card

Despite consumers tightening their belts and reigning in their spending, their desire for new and innovative food items does not show signs of decline. As mainstream consumers are growing less and less likely to be spending big money at fine dining establishments, they are looking for trends to move faster and expecting their favorite casual, quick service, and midscale restaurants to keep up.

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Street Food Goes Upscale

Customers constantly looking for the next culinary craze are running into a stumbling block…the economy. Instead of going without, they are turning to gourmet versions of street food and trendy new food trucks to satisfy their desire for gourmet food without traditional gourmet prices. Operators have taken note and have cut out the formality of the black tie waiter and cloth napkin environment in exchange for restaurants on wheels and twitter accounts.

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Peppered Menus

With a broad appeal across ethnicities and age groups, spicy is a sought after flavor on menus and operators are responding by adding heat. Spicy foods are being added across the menu from appetizers with a smoky chipotle aioli to entrees rubbed with ancho to desserts topped with a spicy red wine reduction.

Jalapeno and Chipotle are the favored peppers being menued. According to Datassential's MenuTrends DIRECT, one-third of restaurants menu jalapeno and about half that number menu chipotle.

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The Silver Lining of Shrinking Menus

For years restaurants have been constantly expanding the size of their menus as a means to capitalize on the latest food trends while simultaneously building appeal with a broader cross-section of customers. In 2005, the average menu featured 105 items (excluding alcoholic beverages); by 2008, this number had grown to 125 items, an increase of nearly 20%.

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Gluten-Free Foods!

While trends such as "all-natural," "sliders," and "value items" have dominated recent headlines, there is another foodservice movement that is growing quietly, but aggressively – backed by less publicity, yet expanding just as rapidly.

Gluten-free foods are offered as a solution to the estimated 2.5 million Americans afflicted with Celiac disease, which prohibits the consumption of foods that contain gluten, a protein found in such grains as wheat, barley and rye.

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The Competition For Best Value Heats Up

Last year, we saw a resurgence of the combo meal at QSR and the rise of numerous new and retooled value menus. As we continue to weather the economic storm in 2009, the emphasis on discounting has now penetrated all segments and become a cornerstone of doing business whether you operate a corner diner or a high-end Gastropub. Getting a good deal is quickly becoming every bit as trendy as discovering the latest culinary indulgence.

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Comforting Foods For Trying Times

The economic recession continues to dominate the front pages. Inspired by a combination of financial practicality and much-needed emotional support, simple and hearty foods are seeing a resurgence in popularity and are being deemed the 'it' foods for our economically challenged times. The story of the day has become comfort food.

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LTO Trend Report 2008

Each month, Datassential's MenuTrends INSIDER offers a look at the rapidly evolving trends in the restaurant industry, tracking new product offerings and limited time promotions rolled out at major chains. The following overview touches on many of the major trends that occurred in 2008 and in many cases, the trends that are still current and impacting menu and consumer choices.

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The Burger Renaissance

The burger renaissance has arrived. Over the past decade, restaurants have taken the burger to extraordinary new heights; traditional builds are giving way to progressive ingredients, such as premium beef, specialty cheeses, artisan breads, and distinctive toppings and are proliferating rapidly across all foodservice channels.

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Make It Premium!

Why are some burgers nine dollars, while others cost just five bucks? What makes one entrée salad priced 50% higher than another? Just what is it that enables certain dishes to command higher prices?

This edition of Food Bytes explores Premium Menu Pricing and how to best support it.

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Velocity: Foods That Sell!

Just what does it mean for a food to be "popular?" For foodservice, popularity has traditionally been defined in one of two ways:

  • Availability - how often a food is offered on menus.
  • Consumption - how often people order that food.

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Limited Time Offerings

Limited time offerings, or "LTOs," are a great marketing tool to lure in adventurous new customers and keep regulars coming back for even more visits. Increasingly, major restaurant chains are utilizing LTOs not only to boost traffic, but also to test the boundaries of the public's increasingly daring palette.

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The Origins Of A Trend

Datassential's recent Consumer Tastes Study helps answer the question of what first drives demand for a trend and the results are rather convincing. When asked which is more important in shaping their food tastes / preferences, consumers chose restaurants over retail by about a 2-to-1 margin (65% vs. 35%).

Additionally, when asked where they first got their exposure to several innovative food items / flavors, consumers most often selected restaurants.

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Breakfast: Morning, Noon & Night!

This month, we take a closer look at the breakfast phenomenon, and how operators are "scrambling" to stake their claim in this growing market.

More Choices & A Deeper Focus. As reported by Datassential's MenuTrends DIRECT™, breakfast density (the average number of breakfast items offered at restaurants) has increased in every segment.

Average number of items per breakfast menu (2 year change %):
  • QSR – 15.8 items (+ 6.2%)
  • Midscale - 33.7 items (+ 4.1%)
  • Casual Dining – 22.8 items (+ 2.2%)
  • Fine Dining – 27.7 items (+ 12.9%)
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Get Predictive

Our MenuTrends DIRECT™ database of nearly 6,000 menus enables us to develop the Menu Adoption Cycle (MAC), a predictive model that tracks each trend's "boom" period. It's an incredibly versatile and effective tool for evaluating the growth potential of trends, and is the focus of this month's FoodBytes™.

Know the Cycle.The MAC transforms menu data into a leading indicator, enabling you to take a more informed and proactive approach to marketing and product development. With the MAC, you can see not only where a trend has been, but also forecast how far it can grow.

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Celebrate Your Independents!

Why do national chains and independent restaurants offer such different foods?

Consider this:

  • National account menus are designed to appeal to a broad consumer audience; regional chains and independent restaurants, on the other hand, can target a narrower customer base with more specific tastes.
  • While independents can add new menu items with little fuss, product development cycles for chain restaurants are much longer.
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That Latin American Kick!

The Mexican Model. Historically, US restaurants have adopted ethnic influences primarily through specific flavors and ingredients, rather than whole items. It is more common, for example, to find Mexican ingredients than Mexican dishes at America's varied menu restaurants. In fact, while 24% of US menus offer a Mexican entrée (tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc.), nearly twice as many (44%) feature a Mexican-inspired entrée (one with jalapeno, chipotle, guacamole, or other Mexican flavors).

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That Natural Feeling!

Locally speaking. While organic foods have received the bulk of the press, locally-sourced products – from meats and seafood to vegetables and cheeses – are actually far more prevalent in foodservice (Datassential's Natural Profits™ study reveals that nearly 50% of operators purchase locally-sourced products, compared to 33% who buy organic items).

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Name Your Food!

Mama's Southern Fried Chicken. Grandma Lilly's Smoked Pork Chops. Aunt Irma's Banana and Pecan Beignets. With just a little extra descriptive oomph, these mouthwatering menu selections do a much better job at tempting the taste buds than their generically-described counterparts. After all, what would you rather have: plain old pork chops or those smoked by Grandma Lilly herself?

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Innovation is Everywhere!

What's new on menus? Looking to push the envelope, top chains today are setting the pace for innovation with exciting flavors, exotic ingredients, and dishes that are just now entering the mainstream.

So what are these new dishes? Center-of-plate entrees lead the list, accounting for 18% of LTO and new items over ...

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The Forecast is Healthy!

Tracking and following trends is an important aspect of marketing. Being positioned at the right time with the right products/menu items is instrumental in keeping and gaining share in the marketplace.

Right now, most foodservice professionals have their eyes on how to add healthy items to their menus. Most operators...

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