What is in this article?:
- Novel flavor profiles, snacks and artisan drinks lead 2013 restaurant trends
- 3. Everyone still wants to be Chipotle
- 6. Be careful what you promise
- 9. Breads and greens
What’s on the radar for 2013?
3. Everyone still wants to be Chipotle
We’re seeing fast-casual service models applied to pizza, fish, chicken, Greek, noodles, Asian (Chipotle’s own ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen), hot dogs and tacos. Want to know where it all began? Get yourself to a San Francisco taqueria.
Because fast-casual concepts seem fresh and new, they’re entry points to sample new ethnic cuisines, especially for millennials. Customizable sushi, Indian-inflected wraps, and a banh mi version of Subway would be examples.
Look for more established brands to jump into the market. Red Robin is playing with the fast-casual Burger Works; Pizza Inn spawned Pie 5; JR’s Burger Grill descended from Johnny Rocket’s; a second Deckers and a second Blaze Modern BBQ are cobranded with White Castle buildings and mature brands like Denny’s, Sbarro, Shoney’s and IHOP are experimenting.
Everyone understands the system: Interactive service with food made in front of you; customizable upscale options; bolder flavors; distinctive, contemporary décor; prices about half-again as much as fast food and slightly slower service in exchange for better quality.
But the system alone isn’t enough. Fast-casual concepts need to represent values as well as value. What should consumers know about your food? What do you mean by “transparency?” Where does your bacon come from? What’s your position on sustainability, on recycling, carbon footprint, food miles, genetic modification, gay marriage?
4. Fast food strikes back; more “dumbbell-ing”
At the bottom of the price chain, fast-feeders aren’t taking robust fast-casual competition with a grain of salt. Menu boards are sprouting higher-priced options. Burger chains, smitten by the “gourmet” boom, are adding higher-priced items while maintaining their 99-cent or $1 leaders. Watch for gilded burgers (guacamole, pineapple, mushrooms, crispy onions, but don’t look for goat cheese), pepped-up sauces, ethnic touches, lots of fancier buns and a bit more customization. The dangers: Fast feeders might be edging into fast-casual average checks without delivering a fast-casual experience, and too much trading up leaves a hole at the bottom of the market for someone to fill.
Minis have expanded. If fits your car’s cup-holder, if you can eat it with one hand — or better yet, two fingers — or if you can dip it, then it’s being tested in chains’ R&D kitchens. We’re seeing sausage bites, cake pops, chicken dippers, rolled sandwiches, teeny cinnamon buns, mini shakes and more. Dashboard dining has turned into all-day snacking, a boon to quick-service operators. Expect more fast-casual concepts to add drive-through windows to capture some of this business.)
Image-building is critical to consumer acceptance for upscale items. So language is changing. Domino’s pan pizza is “hand made” (take that, Pizza Hut!). Arby’s wants you to think that in-store meat slicing means the food is “fresh.” “Real” (as in real fruit) will be an overused word.
Taco Bell’s Chipotle-like menu graft-on rang a bell, so look for similar imitation among other fast feeders. Interesting factoid: At Jack in Box more than one in six checks is over $7, while $3 or less accounts for slightly less than one in four checks … so you can see the attraction of going while keeping bargain prices, too. It’s called “dumbbell-ing” the menu.
5. The snackification of the U.S.
We’re eating less at every meal, but more than making up for it with endless snacking. And our collectively expanding waistlines prove it. Snacks account for one in five “eating occasions.” Multiple snacks now qualify as a fourth meal. Even the traditional three are degenerating into nibbles and bits.
Snacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Glorified miniburgers, wraps with exotic fillings, upscale dips and the like are building off-hours bar traffic. Lots more minis are showing up at fast food chains, adding impulse revenue to between-meal shoulder.