How Top Trends Are Impacting Restaurants in 2017

On Friday, February 17, 2017, hundreds of restaurant workers across the country were fired.

No matter the restaurant industry trend, one thing is clear: how restaurateurs respond is imperative.

The day before was A Day Without Immigrants, a planned national protest designed to highlight the role of foreigners in America. Some restaurants responded by giving their employees the day off or closing shop altogether. Some responded by adding a special note about immigrant workers at the bottom of their customer receipts.

Some responded by firing the employees who missed their shifts.

The decision of how to respond to unprecedented situations like this one can be a complicated one. It includes elements like morals and values, political ideals, and profit margins. In today’s world, things are rapidly changing and the restaurant industry is affected by most of them because, since food is so culturally central, everything from politics to social norms intersects within its doors.

As any restaurateur knows, the challenges of owning and operating your own place are never ending, but 2017 seems to be particularly rife with moments like this. While it’s traditional to look forward (or back) in January to see what the industry has in store, let’s take a look at this point in the year at some of the top restaurant industry trends.

Minimum Wage

The push to raise the minimum wage has popped up across the country. While plenty of workers and industries will naturally be affected by the change, restaurants are particularly concerned. Many restaurants have to pay at the minimum wage level because profit margins are slim —the National Restaurant Association puts them between four and six percent, according to the LA Times.  While one side argues that raising the minimum wage is a social justice necessity, as a Forbes article explains, one of the main criticisms of the wage increase is that it drives up a company’s cost in tandem—both of which are valid.

There’s also a debate within the debate regarding whether or not tipped workers should even be included in the wage increase. Accordingly to a recently conducted survey on this topic, 73 percent of respondents said their take home pay – wages and tips – has not increased since wages went up; and 24% of wait staff report that the minimum wage increases negatively impacts tips

Heading into 2017, 21 states committed to putting minimum wage increases into effect, and currently, the minimum wage has increased in 20 states or cities.


Andy Puzder, the previous CEO of CKE Restaurants, told CNBC that if he was still in the restaurant game, his biggest challenge would be determining “how you adjust to the different way people are purchasing things.” And he’s right on the money—in the past few years, nearly everything has gone digital. The days of cash and checks are long gone, but cards are slowly losing ground as well as restaurant POS systems and other digital forms of payment slowly take over. While it might seem like a simple technology update is the cure, all restaurateurs know its always more complicated than that.


From sanctuary restaurants to national protests, immigration and the issues that surround it have a deep effect on the restaurant industry. It’s not hard to understand why—a Pew Research study ranks food manufacturing as the industry with the fourth highest percentage of immigrants. An Eater piece on the effects of A Day Without Immigrants notes, “it’s no secret that immigrant labor is the backbone of the American restaurant industry… 28 percent of dishwashers and nearly 20 percent of cooks working in U.S. restaurants are undocumented immigrants.”

While legislature and court cases continue to move back and forth through our legal processes, 2017 has showed that immigration is going to be a key issue in the future and it’s clear how restaurants are particularly affected.


There was extensive coverage on how the Affordable Care Act would impact the restaurant industry, and now we’re in the midst of (potential) looming healthcare changes again. Healthcare in the restaurant industry has always been a tricky subject—as LA Weekly explains, it’s a path often “fraught with confusion and exasperation,” but in 2017 it’s even more so as the industry, along with the rest of the country, waits to see what will come of healthcare in the new administration.

No matter the restaurant industry trend, one thing is clear: how restaurateurs respond is imperative.