Restaurant Consumer Trends for 2017 As Seen at NRA Show

Attending the National Restaurant Association’s NRA Show is exhilarating, overwhelming and inspiring all at the same time. It’s an ideal way to see restaurant trends for 2017 and beyond and here are a few I noted after attending sessions and talking with exhibitors. 

Healthy has Never Been So Trendy

Just by looking at the sheer size of the organic section at the show, coupled with new technologies to bake, cook and prepare foods in a healthier way, we can all agree that healthy has never been so “in.” Consumers are demanding better options with more plant-based menu items, or items with less meat and more veggies. Not only do they want to eat better, but they are also expecting healthier options for their children. I have to admit that I agree – kids do eat foods other than pizza, hot dogs, chicken tenders and burgers.

Maker Culture Meets the Food Industry

If you still wonder why Plated, Blue Apron and other such services are so successful, it has a lot to do with this maker movement that has taken over the younger generations. If they love to use their own hands to make furniture, toys, even houses, they definitely will also be into preparing their own meals. Applied to the restaurant industry, guests want to be more involved in the process, they want to be able to observe what’s happening so they can learn. They want to be in the kitchen to see the food they will be eating. And in some ways, we are linking it back to the trend about eating healthier food. They want to know where their food is coming from, if it looks fresh and if it was prepared in a healthy manner.

Everything to be House-Made

By now, you have clearly seen the overall healthier trend, and it’s time to take it one step further and make as many ingredients and items in house. House-made items such as charcuterie, condiments, pickles, and sausage ensure that they are not going to contain unnecessary chemicals, coloring and unwanted ingredients (think high fructose corn syrup) and as a result, will taste much better. Today’s consumers are craving those more natural options and will appreciate the effort restaurants make to offer them.

Better Ingredients Awareness

As direct consequences of the gluten-free, Whole30, HFCS ban and other crazes, consumers are becoming increasingly aware and more educated about the foods to eat and the foods to avoid. Beyond just asking for healthier options, they are also becoming more demanding in terms of quality, freshness and environment- and animal-friendly food. As a result, the demand for locally sourced vegetables and meats is picking up, as well as requests for more organic and pesticide-free ingredients.

Discovering Authentic Ethnic Food

Depending on which chef you are listening to, you will hear that the demand is for African spices, Middle-Eastern dishes or Asian food. To be honest, the demand seems to go all over the ethnic spectrum, but at the core, consumers want their food to be authentic and not fused with the local culture. A little trip to faraway countries from the comfort of their local eateries.

Crazy Desserts

Born out of boredom, we are seeing a vast array of crazy desserts. In sharp contrast with the overall healthy and more authentic trends, desserts are going beserk. From the freakish milkshakes, to questionable flavored donuts and Thai ice cream, guests want to experiment and discover off-the-wall desserts. Maybe it’s that – after being so reasonable eating plant-based, farm fresh dishes – they need to spice up their life a little?

So what does that mean for restaurant owners? First, while the ingredients will invariably be more expensive if you decide to follow those trends; guests understand and will be ready to spend more money on their meal. It may require some adjustment and research on your part, but it can become a new or increased source of revenue. Now, you “just” have to figure out how this will impact your food business.