Part of maintaining a successful restaurant operation requires keeping up with ever-changing trends that are driving the market. Just like in any industry, what is working today may change tomorrow, so staying on top of what consumers want is always a challenge.
To complicate things, a lot of the trends that restaurant chains are expected to keep up with begin with smaller, one-location type operations, and are difficult to scale up. An example of the three most important new trends that small restaurants are establishing are localization, social responsibility and transparency. When it comes to these trends, large restaurant chains are often left hamstrung by the sheer scale of their operations but can still find ways to implement these popular practices into their business.
The “farm-to-table” concept in the restaurant business isn’t new, but it’s gaining popularity by leaps and bounds. Consumers like knowing that their food is fresh and free of pesticides, hormones, and additives.
For a one-location restaurant, this is an easy enough concept to follow because their purchasing is done on a small scale. Large restaurant operations can still purchase locally, but it’s often difficult to meet the same price points. Produce that is only grown in certain parts of the country, as well as purchasing options for meat and other essential ingredients, limit options for wide-spread restaurant chains.
Purchasing aside, restaurants can have a positive impact on the local economy by recycling food waste as compost to local growers and other locally-based recycling opportunities. Even if your locations in Arizona buy lettuce from farms in Texas, there are still ways that your Arizona locations can have a positive impact on local farms through a diverse, custom-tailored recycling plan. With a composting program, you’re not only diverting waste from a landfill – you’re helping support local growers, even if you’re not purchasing from them.
No matter the industry, social responsibility is more important to consumers now than it has ever been. People want to know that companies not only take care of their employees, but also take care of the people in the communities in which they are based. Social responsibility has so many facets that some companies struggle to find ways to be involved with the people around them. The larger the business, the tougher it can be to make a connection to local communities. The restaurant business is no exception.
The most direct approach to social responsibility for any restaurant operation is a reduction in food waste. Food waste is an epidemic in the US, and consumers are extremely aware of it. Food waste recycling programs are becoming more and more popular to show social responsibility among restaurants. Taking steps to reduce food waste is the first and most impactful practice a restaurant can adopt to become more socially responsible.
Food donation programs are another amazing way for restaurants to be directly impactful to their local communities, and consumers see that. In addition to making sure your food donation program is efficient and handled correctly. Many large restaurant operations are afraid of the liability issues associated with food donation, but one simply needs to partner with a company that understands the laws that protect donators from any liability associated with food donation programs. Doing the right thing shouldn’t open you to the potential for a lawsuit, and as long as food is handled properly, you’ll always be protected.
Localization and Social Responsibility are both great concepts on paper, but if you can’t prove to your consumers that your restaurant is doing the right thing – the social backlash can be even worse than not doing anything at all. “Greenwashing” has become a bad word in any business model and claiming to do something environmentally or socially impactful without follow-through can lead to a negative PR nightmare. For that reason, your recycling programs should always track the amount of material recycled so that you can confidently share your environmental responsibility goals with your customers.
Imagine a nice cardstock tent on each table of your restaurants that features exactly how many meals you’ve donated to a homeless shelter, or how many pounds of waste have been diverted from landfills through recycling programs. Consumers love that specific examples of impact, and you’re building in loyalty simply by doing the right thing.
Staying ahead of the curve on changing trends gives your brand a smaller, local feel and builds in appeal to pickier consumers. Not all of these trends may be easy to adapt to, but they can all give your business an advantage over you competitors.
In the end, these are three current trends that aren’t likely to fade away in the coming years, and if anything, will grow more toward standard practices as regulations shift more toward curbing food waste. These trends are also three examples of an opportunity to do the right thing for the environment that will also build your brand in a more sustainable, eco-conscious light.