When it comes to purchasing restaurant-quality meals, consumers increasingly feel the need for speed. Operators should too, says a new report from market research and data firm Mintel, suggesting that restaurants that don’t provide it, perhaps via delivery, are leaving money on the table.

“There is a burgeoning demand for speed and delivery, and foodservice operators would do well to set in motion operational adjustments in order to meet consumer expectations,” Mintel says in its “Foodservice Trends 2016” report. “Otherwise, they risk losing business and potentially alienating customers.”

What’s the hurry? Mintel’s says the core issue is that customers continue to crave restaurant-caliber meals, but often prefer to eat them outside of traditional mealtimes and dayparts. The result is a phenomenon it dubs “Anywhere and Anytime,” one of five major trends Mintel highlights in its report.

The big threat to restaurants here is that ready-made prepared food is also available from many retail outlets. These stores once saw their niche as being in the home meal replacement business. They still do, Mintel notes, but HMR has morphed into RMR—restaurant meal replacement.

Operators can fight back by embracing delivery, which provides an element of quality and convenience retail food outlets can’t match. if you haven’t yet done so, you may want to get your restaurant’s delivery program into high gear, pronto.

“Between improved delivery ordering apps and enterprising delivery businesses backed by trend-watching venture capitalists, delivery is something all restaurants must and will grapple with in the year ahead,” Mintel predicts. “In 2016, with willpower and technology already in place for consumers to order their food anywhere, anytime and anyway they want, expect competition to heat up in many segments including delivery. It is the foodservice operator’s job to aid the ease of ordering with quality and value front and center.”
The report identifies four additional trends.

Messaging over Marketing. Mintel says operators should pay extra attention to the menu language they use to describe their offerings. The fastest-growing areas include nutritional claims (up 18 percent over the last four years), geographical claims (up 16 percent) and ethical claims (up 11 percent). Given mandates to provide calorie counts on menus, additional information that suggests “healthy” is the message your menu wants to send. It’s a chance to position your restaurant brand that every operator should  take.

“The handwriting is on the wall—or menu as the case may be: discern a resounding message, source the corresponding ingredients and make the claim. Considering the industry overall, there are minimal or no claims listed on the menu. As more and more consumers prefer descriptive menu items, the more likely they will be to try them, carving out a huge opportunity for brands in the coming year.” Of note: millennials are attracted to menu items whose descriptions offer “the harmony of nutritional, geographical and ethical claims.”

Extreme Living. Seem like your customers’ ordering patterns are all over the map?They definitely are, says Mintel, but it’s wrong to assume these inconsistencies mean your patrons are undecided about what they want to eat and drink. Instead, recognize that consumers now find balance by going to dining extremes. Operators will do well by appealing to both ends of the spectrum.

“To bridge the multi-faceted desires of consumers, operators have to risk appearing as incongruous as their customers and present a menu dichotomy,” Mintel’s experts suggest. “As consumer complexity becomes more and more nuanced, with preference shifting by the time of day, the day of the week and even the season, catering to all facets of the dining experience will take precedence in 2016. As evident by all-day breakfast menus, the future is for operators who give consumers more options—healthy or otherwise—and the ability to customize in order to bridge the gap between extremes.”

Unpredictable Proteins. Many consumers remain enamored of high-protein diets, and those who aren’t still want a lot of protein in their restaurant meal. That used to mean an abundance of meat items on menus, but doesn’t so much anymore. Taking meat’s place: alternative proteins derived from non-animal sources. However, many of the same customers who will order a vegetarian or vegan item still love meat.

“Going forward, look for consumers to focus on protein for both health and indulgence, while allowing their mood to guide their decision—whether ‘better’ or ‘bad’ for them,” write the experts.

New Bar Stars. Go ahead if you’re thinking about expanding your restaurant’s beverage offerings, alcoholic and nonalcoholic alike. That goes double if you concoct or customize beverages in-house.

“It is apparent that consumers crave variety, as well as more and better-for-you options across all beverage types,” the report declares. “In 2016, we’ll see brands, operators, baristas and bartenders step up their game to meet the ever-expanding realm of consumer’s needs that speak to their lifestyles and sensibilities.”

The full Mintel Foodservice Trends 2016 report—it’s 26 pages—can be downloaded here.

Contact Bob Krummert: bob.krummert@penton.com