MRM Research Roundup: Seasonal Hiring, Online Ordering and Feeding the Workplace

This edition of Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine's Research Roundup features news on summer restaurant employment, indecisiveness ordering, online ordering trends, and the world's best cities for food.

Eating and Drinking Place Summer Employment Forecast

According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual Eating and Drinking Place Summer Employment Forecast, restaurant operators will add 525,000 jobs for the summer season. This is the first time on record that demand has reached this level two summers in a row. 

“Restaurant jobs are particularly valuable because employees can learn a host of skills in a short time that are investments for both their business and everyday life,” said Michelle Korsmo, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “According to our survey, among adults who have worked in the industry, a majority (63 percent) think working in the industry is extremely or very beneficial for skill development. Additionally, 79 percent of adults agree working in the restaurant industry is valuable for professional development and that they still use those skills like teamwork, prioritization, communication, adaptability, and attention to detail.” 

The restaurant industry is the nation’s training ground. Sixty-three percent of adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives. One in 10 people currently work in foodservice, making it the nation’s second-largest private employer. 

Read the full Summer Employment Forecast, which includes a state-by-state forecast of summer jobs, here.  

Casual Dining Preferences

Market Force Information unveiled a survey on casual dining preferences across the United States highlighting shifting trends influenced by economic factors and evolving consumer tastes.

The research indicates that while over 60 percent of consumers prefer chain restaurants for steak and seafood, independent restaurants are more popular for Bar & Grill, Breakfast, and Asian themed dining, with 35-40 percent of patrons favoring independents for these cuisines. Pizza and Italian dining establishments see an almost equal split between chain and independent preference by consumers.

Economic shifts have significantly impacted consumer behavior, with 72.1 percent of diners noting that recent price increases have altered their spending habits, and 58.5 percent stating these hikes have changed their ordering decisions. To counteract this, diners are increasingly seeking out promotions, special offers, and better value for money as primary incentives.

In terms of loyalty, The Keg Steakhouse and Bar, HuHot Mongolian Grill, Texas Roadhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen top the Customer Loyalty Index, underscoring a strong consumer preference for steakhouse brands. Brand trust is best represented by Bonefish, Pizza Ranch, Carrabba's Italian Grill, First Watch, and Longhorns.

Despite high scores for friendly service, clean facilities, and menu variety, restaurant chains face challenges in delivering a differentiated experience, offering healthy food choices, and providing compelling promotions. The study identifies 4-5 clear opportunities for each brand to enhance the overall customer experience. There is a strong correlation found between satisfaction with the most recent visit and the likelihood of return visits and recommendations.

Additionally, the study provides insights into the performance of delivery service providers and the integration of technology such as tablets and QR codes in dining experiences.

Indecisive Diners

new study by US Foods revealed American diners are plagued by indecisiveness and 79 percent admittedly have a “difficult time” deciding what to order. 

The report revealed that while 83 percent review the menu ahead of time (of those, half, made their decision before arrival), Americans still spend an average of nine minutes perusing menus at restaurants. 

Among the highlights:

  • Three in four look up restaurant reviews before going out to eat, and 79 percent say reviews impact their decision whether to go to a restaurant
  • Nine in 10 say menu prices impact their food ordering decisions
  • 47 percent don't like when menus share nutritional information, 58 percent nutritional value does impact food ordering decisions
  • Americans willing to spend $44 on a meal for themselves when dining out, on average

The report revealed the Covid-19 move towards QR codes is met with mixed reactions. In fact, 1 in 6 saying they don’t know how to use them. A majority of diners (89 percent) prefer physical menus, and 51 percent say QR codes slow down the ordering process. 

Online Ordering Trends

DoorDash released its fourth annual 2024 Restaurant Online Ordering Trends Report. The report highlights shifting consumer dining expectations and routines, offering actionable insights for restaurants looking to reach more customers while also optimizing their operations and online offerings. 

The report surveyed more than 1,500 U.S.-based consumers of varying backgrounds and found:                                                        

Consumers rely on online ordering to enjoy the best of their neighborhoods, with DoorDash seeing a 21 percent year-over-year increase in orders placed on the platform in Q1 2024. In March 2024, 70 percent of respondents reported ordering food delivery in the past month; 86 percent of diners surveyed say they order from third-party delivery apps like DoorDash at least twice per month.

Routine and convenience go hand-in-hand. Many DoorDash users are creatures of habit, ordering food most often on Friday and Saturday evenings after a long work week. While some consumers stick to their usuals and weekly schedules, nearly three-quarters turn to third-party delivery for last-minute needs; men (80 percent) are more likely than women (64 percent) to report a recent, urgent order and 2x more likely to order last-minute food delivery multiple times in a week.

Consumers crave more for less. Menu selection (55 percent) and menu pricing (50 percent) are the top motivators for consumers when choosing a new restaurant to order from. 67 percent of DoorDash users ordered from a new store in Q1 2024 and the survey revealed how many of these customers might have discovered these new restaurants.

#FoodTok and friends promote neighborhood discovery. Younger consumers are likely to find their next meal while scrolling their For You Page, with 30 percent of Gen Z respondents saying they use TikTok for inspiration to find new restaurants and 29 percent turning to Instagram. Although TikTok is gaining popularity as a restaurant discovery tool, Instagram remains the most popular social media platform overall for finding new restaurants.

Let them eat… in bed? Consumers like to cozy up with their orders, as 52 percent report eating their delivery food at home on the couch and, in the case of 21 percent of Gen Zers, in bed. Additionally, most consumers (63 percent) prefer to skip the dishes and eat from the original takeout container but some (more than half of Baby Boomers) still use their own dishes and utensils.

Feeding the Workplace

ezCater revealed findings from its second annual “Feeding the Workplace” report during its Catering Growth Forum at the 2024 Food On Demand Conference. Grounded in ezCater order data and survey insights from over 2,800 different food for work stakeholders, the report looks at the state of food in the workplace and how restaurant operators can capitalize on this growing opportunity.

Today, food for work is expanding beyond traditional business catering, and more companies are using restaurants as a cafeteria alternative. In fact, the number of survey respondents reporting they order for daily and weekly recurring meals has increased 32 percent year-over-year. They also reported interest in additional workplace offerings such as restaurant pop-ups, food trucks, grab-and-go, and special events.

Additional key takeaways from this year's report include:

Food for work is a lucrative marketing channel: Nearly half (47 percent) of employees surveyed have ordered from or visited a restaurant after first trying it through an employer-provided meal. The average ezCater order serves 23 people and provides restaurants with valuable brand exposure.

Delivery tracking and mobile ordering are a growing priority for orderers: 90 percent of orderers are more likely to order from a restaurant that offers delivery tracking updates. Compared to a year ago, 67 percent more orderers are using mobile devices to place orders.

Choice is paramount for employees: 71 percent of employees surveyed prefer to select meals themselves when their employer provides food for work, and 64 percent prefer individually packaged meals.

Sustainable packaging is a differentiator: 43 percent of orderers prefer sustainable food packaging. What’s more, 37 percent of workplaces have made sustainable packaging a company requirement. Similarly, 28 percent of companies have requirements around food waste reduction.

More broadly, catering is a strong revenue driver for restaurants. According to the operators surveyed, 97 percent expect their revenue from catering to grow in 2024 compared to 2023, and 74 percent anticipate over 20 percent growth. 

From January 22, 2024, to February 2, 2024, ezCater surveyed more than 2,800 restaurant operators, corporate catering orderers, and employees, on the state of food for work. Proprietary ezCater data was also gathered over 17 years from millions of transactions across more than 100,000 restaurants and caterers.

Gift Card Gauge

According to the Carat from Fiserv Q2 2024 Gift Card Gauge, consumers are chowing down on the rising popularity of gift card loyalty programs, especially when it comes to provisions like groceries and food. It’s a trend that continues to surge in recent years as 74 percent of consumers have taken advantage of a gift card loyalty incentive, and 71 percent have downloaded a merchant app to manage loyalty rewards, gift cards and more.

Below are insights from the survey, highlighting the latest trends surrounding gift cards, loyalty programs and merchant apps.

Consumers are hungry for food-related gift card incentives

Since inflation and interest rates continue to impact consumer spending, many shoppers are prioritizing incentives connected to necessities over entertainment. Food-related businesses rank the highest among shoppers, with 58 percent citing “grocery” as their favorite type of business for gift card loyalty incentive perks, followed by restaurants at 42 percent.

However, there is one demographic that favors another industry over food-related incentives: Consumers aged 30-44 are the only group to favor entertainment over restaurant gift card loyalty programs.

Consumers adopt merchant apps for convenience and savings

Of the many benefits merchant apps offer, 69 percent of consumers say their favorite benefit is the opportunity for increased savings. Similarly, 62 percent of consumers download merchant apps because they provide more opportunities to earn rewards

Digital wallets are a popular way to store gift cards digitally; 60 percent of consumers say these wallets make gift cards easier to use, 55 percent say they provide more convenience and 44 percent say they enhance security

Loyalty incentives drive consumer decisions

80 percent of consumers say they have decided at least once where to shop based on gift card loyalty incentives, with 16 percent indicating they “always” factor in these incentives. Incentives consumers most value include the conversion of loyalty points into gift cards (56 percent), bonus points on gift card spend (54 percent), and gift card reload bonuses within an app (46 percent).

Consumers want a balance between personalization and privacy

While 67 percent of consumers are willing to share personal information with a brand in order to earn incentives, they do have limits: Over half of consumers have distanced themselves from a brand they felt was too invasive

  • 62 percent have been driven away by too many notifications on their mobile phone
  • 58 percent are driven away by excessive reminders/recommendations
  • 57 percent said the app wanted access to too much data on their device

World's Best Cities for Food

 Time Out has released its first ever ranking of the World’s Best Cities for Food according to locals, with Naples taking the crown as the world’s food capital. 

To compile the list, Time Out – the global brand that inspires and enables people to experience the best of the city – surveyed thousands of people around the world about food in their city. Each city was ranked on how locals rated the quality and affordability of their food scene, and they were also asked about their favourite restaurants, must-try specialities and best-value dishes. Time Out editors included only the highest-scoring city for each country to ensure the list reflects culinary cities globally. 

Naples is a city with a diverse cuisine that celebrates simplicity, where land, sea and history meet. The city is, after all, the birthplace of pizza – you’ll find iterations of this staple dish all over the city – but offers so much more when it comes to culinary experiences. Locals named pizza a portafoglio the city’s best-value food, a grab-and-go folded slice that costs around €1 a pop. It’s not just pizza that Neapolitans love; there are also piping hot plates of pasta alla genovese, Neapolitan ragù or the sugar rush from ricotta-filled sfogliatella or rum-soaked babà. Unsurprisingly however, locals named pizza margherita – invented in Naples according to legend – as the city’s must-eat dish.

Next on the list is Johannesburg, South Africa. While Cape Town might steal the limelight for its international cuisine (and the newly openedTime Out Market Cape Town on the V&A Waterfront is testament to the outstanding culinary talents in the Mother City), it’s time to also put a spotlight on Jo’burg as a worthy rival for the title of South Africa’s food capital, a city where you can eat your way across the continent from Ethiopian cafes to Nigerian and West African restaurants. The city’s traditional South African delicacies, like the Sowetan kota sandwich,bunny chow and mala mogodu got the locals’ vote as the best dishes to try in the city.

Completing the top three is Lima, which is not only the culinary capital of Peru, but of the whole of South America. Locals said that citrusyceviche, lomo saltado (Peruvian beef stir fry) and tangy pisco sours were all highlights – but they named the simple, hearty arroz con pollo(chicken and rice) the city’s most affordable dish. 

  • Naples, Italy
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Lima, Peru
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Beijing, China
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Mumbai, India
  • Dubai, UAE
  • Portland, USA
  • Liverpool, UK
  • Medellín, Colombia
  • Seville, Spain
  • Porto, Portugal
  • Marrakech, Morocco
  • Lyon, France
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Osaka, Japan
  • Copenhagen, Denmar

Foodservice Packaging State of the Industry

In the 2024 State of the Industry Report released by the Foodservice Packaging Institute, industry findings demonstrate a market rebounding from recent economic insecurity and cautious optimism, despite the ongoing challenges posed by inflation and economic uncertainties. The annual survey, which assesses the perspectives of manufacturers, suppliers and operators, uncovered that only 34 percent of respondents experienced growth in volume, with more than 50 percent seeing a decline.

However, in a turn toward optimism, nearly 60 percent of the industry stakeholders anticipate expansion in volume, and a promising 77 percent expect profits to either grow or hold steady in 2024. This positive outlook is further supported by foodservice operators, who reported increased sales and a hopeful stance for the coming year.

The 25th State of the Industry Report also highlighted a shift toward stabilization within the market, with nearly 40 percent of North American manufacturers moving forward with corporate expansion plans, a slight increase from the previous year. Expansion efforts are primarily focused on enlarging current facilities, with less than 40 percent considering new plants or mergers and acquisitions.

Findings identify chain quick-service and fast-casual restaurants as primary areas for market expansion, attributed to consumer preferences for convenience. This trend extends to grocery and convenience stores, which are increasingly offering more foodservice options.

Despite optimism, the industry faces ongoing challenges, including government legislation, lack of qualified labor, and concerns about the public perception of packaging as “waste.” The survey identifies these, alongside recovery/end-of-life options for packaging and margin compression, as critical areas needing attention.

Industrial Chocolate Market

The global industrial chocolate market is expected to exhibit promising growth opportunities because of the rising awareness about the health advantages of consuming high-quality chocolates. As per Fact.MR, a provider of market research and competitive intelligence, sales of industrial chocolate are projected to reach a market valuation of US$ 97 billion by the end of 2033, increasing at a CAGR of 4.5 percent over the next ten years. 

Global demand for sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free, and organic chocolates has been steadily rising in recent years because of the increasing preference for healthier and more sustainable food options. Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to chocolate as a means of boosting their mood and reducing stress levels.

The belief among consumers in the excellence of single-origin and bean-based chocolates over bar chocolates has resulted in increased investments by industry players to manufacture such products. Additionally, the growing preference for the bean-to-bar approach is driving the demand for premium and specialty chocolate products. Furthermore, the trend of single-origin cocoa is fueling innovation and the creation of new products.

Some health experts claim that moderate consumption of cocoa can increase levels of serotonin, which can work as an antidepressant to calm the human brain. Furthermore, cocoa is also responsible for the release of endorphins in the human body, which can quickly improve mood.

Thus, the growing prevalence of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, can promote the demand for industrial chocolate-based products. Consumption of chocolate can reduce the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. The inclusion of chocolates in regular diets can help avoid reliance on medication and mitigate health issues.

Sales of chocolates are estimated to increase through 2033 due to their ability to induce happiness and relax the mind. Increasing awareness regarding preventative healthcare is expected to create profitable prospects for industry participants.

The global industrial chocolate market is also expected to be influenced by the growing awareness of the health benefits associated with consuming dark chocolate.

Moderate consumption of dark chocolate can also improve brain function and lower blood pressure, owing to the presence of crucial minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Last but not least, the implementation of eye-catching packaging solutions and the advancement of chocolate-based products to premium status to attract consumers’ attention are projected to create profitable opportunities for industrial chocolate suppliers.

Key takeaways:

  • The industrial chocolate market is predicted to advance at a CAGR of 4.5 percent from 2023 to 2033. 
  • Sales of single-origin chocolates are estimated to reach US$ 62.4 billion in 2023.
  •  Demand for industrial chocolate is projected to reach US$ 97 billion by 2033.