8 Restaurant Trends for 2012

A few days ago, we watched the ball drop.  Toasts were shared.  Resolutions were set into place.  And 2012 is now officially upon us.  Is your restaurant ready for what the new year will bring?  I’ve put together a list of restaurant trends for 2012 that I hope will get you thinking and help you reach all your new year hopes and dreams.

1. When it comes to design, less is more. We are just a bunch of minimalists.  Don’t let the few pat racks in the world that they make TV shows about influence the way you design your restaurant.  If you have shelves of dusty knick-knacks, it’s time to reinvent your image.  Anything you put into your restaurant design needs to celebrate your theme and brand; if it doesn’t, it should go.  Be picky when you choose your color scheme, artwork, lighting, and overall look of your restaurant.  If you are sports bar, then sports memorabilia is OK.  But if you are a modern, American family dining establishment, retro Hummels on a shelf probably aren’t doing anything for you.  Today’s consumers want to see shiny, germ-free, clean, and clutter-free surfaces.  The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of money or a complete overhaul to accomplish this design task.  Not sure what to do with empty shelves?  Why not turn them into functional space by storing wine bottles, dessert glasses, or pretty pieces of fruit or veggies?
–>We also recommend some contemporary tables, chairs, or barstools!  In keeping with the less is more idea, how about an aluminum table and base set, our simple cross back metal restaurant chair, and/or the new Z stainless steel bar stool.

2. Nutrition is important. While not everyone who goes out to eat cares about the number of calories they are over-indulging in, the fact remains – some people do care.  And that number is growing.  Balance your menu with the “I’ve been good all week, so I deserve to stuff my face” items with the “I want to keep my jeans buttoned on the ride home” items.  Make it easy for smart eaters to find your healthy menu items, and be sure to make all the label-readers happy by listing out nutrition/caloric information by those menu items.  It’s good practice to be transparent, and your health-conscience consumers will feel at ease knowing exactly what they are putting in their mouths.  A growing trend is also creating more healthy side options for children.  Don’t just give them chips or fries; offer their choice of a salad, vegetable, or fruit.  Don’t forget to list the kind of milk you serve (is it skim or whole?), and be sure to choose juices with low sugar content.  If your kids’ menu is filled with fried finger foods, consider adding some healthier options or creating smaller portions of your regular, adult menu items, like many restaurants do for senior citizens. As long as you don’t expect the children dining at your restaurant to eat liver and onions, you should be able to make both child and parent happy by finding that intersection of nutritious and delicious.

3. Minimize your desserts.  Think about the dessert shooters at Applebee’s or the collection of mini desserts at PF Chang’s.  Everyone loves a burst of sweetness at the end of the meal, but if you’ve already served them an appetizer, salad, and main course, they are probably close to skipping dessert.  If you can offer them a small but satisfying treat, you are more likely to make that up-sale, and they are less likely to feel guilty about ordering dessert.  It might not be so much about nutrition for your “I’m so full, I don’t know if I can walk to the car” guests, but creating a few mini-sized desserts on your menu will pay off for you in the long run.

4. Buy local. When possible, buy local produce, fresh ingredients, and otherwise support local business by using local vendors for your purchases.  Then, don’t forget to tell your customers that the tomato on their sandwich was grown at Farmer Bob’s down the street, that the buffalo-turned-bison-burger was raised on the outskirts of town, and that you support the local fishing industry.  Consumers love to feel good about frequenting a business that cares about the same things (and people) that they do.  So if you are supporting other local commerce, they feel as if everyone is doing their part to boost the local economy and help their neighbors out.  You many consider adding a local or regional section to your menu, as well, and feature foods that are staples in your neck of the woods.  For example, where I come from, it’s not uncommon to see ox roast, pepperoni balls, Lake Erie perch, or Pittsburgh-style slaw sandwiches on a restaurant’s menu.

5. But when it comes to menu, don’t be afraid to go global. While consumers, who are still shell-shocked from the recession, are not going to want to take a lot of risks in 2012, offering some exotic-but-not-too-exotic menu choices to show off your global culinary expertise will help you compete with your fellow restauranteurs.  But don’t go too daring.  Just add a little Asian or Indian influence in your cooking, or try some borderline unique ingredients, such as coconut, pistachio, or mango.

6. Cook, don’t just heat. Chain restaurants, especially, are notorious for ‘heating’, ‘unfreezing’, and ‘scooping’ their pre-packaged meals (sent from a faraway headquarters) onto their guests’ plates.  Adding just a few homemade items, made-to-order menu choices, or house favorites can go a long way with meeting consumer expectations.  As cooks and foodies alike get more savvy, bringing more of the prep and cooking in-house will prove to be a wise choice this coming year and into the future. Empowering your kitchen staff and training them to make some of your signature dishes can prove to be a successful HR strategy, too.

7. Promote sustainability. Have you gone green?  Do you use recycled paper for your menus?  Can you grow your own herbs for cooking at your establishment?  Are your light bulbs and appliances all energy-saving products?   This is a trend that we will continue to see grow in 2012, so being able to not only market your restaurant as such but to reap the economic advantages of being sustainable will be beneficial for your own business’s growth and prospering.
–>Looking for some furniture that shows off your sustainable values?  I recommend our poly lumber tables, made 100% of recycled materials, which are good for indoor or outdoor use!

8. Listen to your customers more/better. In the age of social media, customer reviews, online surveys, and let’s face it – a lot of chatter about where people go, how they spend their money, and what they expect, it’s crucial that every business owner or marketer listen and respond in the form of improvement and action.  You may even want to jump on the bandwagon of giving discounts to customers who complete surveys, start your own restaurant Facebook page, offer a social deal of the day, or start tweeting your restaurant news and events.  Whether you want to join the online conversation or not, you should at least listen in when people are talking about you.  Be prepared; you may hear some complaints.  Don’t let that discourage you, anger you, or turn you away from those conversations.  Instead, use your customers’ advice to create a better product, atmosphere, and well-liked restaurant.  More than ever, it’s easy to collect customer feedback, so take advantage of those channels and listen closely!  Savvy marketers, like mega pizza makers at Domino’s, can take hard-heard truths and turn them around into positive marketing…and better pizza!

Facing 2012 head on by making a few adjustments to keep up with these restaurant trends is a great new year’s resolution for any restaurant, whether you are a casual family diner, formal fine dining restaurant, or small cafe.

Your friends at East Coast Chair & Barstool wish you a very happy new year!

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