Popular Restaurant Trends Throughout the Years

Popular Restaurant Trends

How many times a day do you see blog articles pop up on social media titled “25 Most Embarrassing Food Clichés of (insert year here)”? And once your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you’ve clicked on these articles, you see a list teeming with negativity about food and restaurant trends from years gone by. While these articles can be entertaining, hindsight is always 20/20.

It’s safe to say that the restaurant industry has had plenty of changes occur from its inception, some of them better than others. “New” trends are difficult to come by in the restaurant industry, with many ideas being perfected over the years. But as restauranteurs, it’s necessary to look back on restaurant history to see what’s coming in the future.

The 1950’s

The 1950’s easily became the golden era for American restaurants. The Great Depression and war were a thing of the past and left the economy booming. This time of prosperity made it simple for other industries to flourish as well. Due to improvements in the nation’s highway system, the need for stops along interstates grew. With more and more travelers on the road, franchise restaurants became more in demand.

McDonald's in 1954

Photo from allday.com

Many of these franchised restaurants are still popular today. In 1954, the McDonald’s restaurant we know today was bought from the original McDonald brothers and transformed into franchise gold by Ray Kroc. McDonald’s was not the first fast food restaurant, but the assembly-line system was revolutionary for fast food restaurants to come. Kroc was able to turn this humble hot dog stand into a quick and efficient franchising opportunity. McDonald’s franchise model became a beacon of success for other restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dairy Queen, to follow in suit.

Highway System

Photo from nesbittrealty.com

With the highway system improvements also came advancements in the automotive industry. The 1950’s was filled with car culture; so why would restaurants be any different? While the first drive-in was opened along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in 1921, the 1950’s were the true heyday of drive-in diners. Serving up burgers and shakes, sometimes on skates, these diners became social hangouts for teens and families alike. The drive-in trend continued through the 1960’s and then declined with the increasing number of drive-through options in restaurants.

The 1960’s

Steak and Ale Menu

Photo from cravedfw.com

Although processed and junk food captured much of the baby boomers’ attention, it wasn’t the only trend happening in America at the time. Steak and Ale (casual dining) began offering a salad bar buffet to guests, keeping them occupied while waiting for their dinners. Soon enough, salad bars were popping up in steakhouses all over the country as a way to customize a guest’s appetizer.

Dining in the 60's

Photo from petermoruzzi.com

This decade was also defined by the meats served in restaurants. Most entrees at this time were focused around beef of some sort. Beef wellington, steak Diane, and Swedish meatballs were all popular beef dishes of 1960’s. In middle class restaurants, beef and lobster (or surf n’ turf) dinners were commonly seen on the menu.

Howard Johnson's

Photo from slate.com

At this point in history, there was an increasing emphasis on family time outside the home (vacations, a meal out, etc.). Popular restaurants of the time, Japanese steakhouse Benihana and Howard Johnson’s were often patronized by these families looking to spend quality time together and bond over dinner. In the 1960’s, dinner became more than just food and more focused on the emotions associated with it as a family.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s marked the beginning of environmentalism as the newest social cause, affecting the food and restaurant industry. Changing their tune from the 1960’s, customers wanted healthier options that were unprocessed and uncomplicated. This shift led to a rise in vegetarianism and health food stores.

At this point in time, there was a shift in gender roles. With a larger number of women in the workforce, restaurants were used as experiences with the family or a chance to get away from the preparations and cleaning up required of cooking at home. More casual-dining chains began spreading across the nation like the Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday, both opening their doors in 1972. For a quick bite, the 1970’s marked Subway’s start into franchising. Much like the fame of the McDonald’s assembly line from the 1950’s, the Subway assembly line was just as important for future restaurants in similar niches.

In finer dining, Le Cirque (New York City) opened its doors in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni and became a landmark in the city. One of the most infamous dishes to come out of Le Cirque was pasta primavera. This entrée soon became one of the most ordered items at restaurants across the country, its popularity spilling over into the 1980’s as well.

Le Cirque, New York City

Photo from insatiable-critic.com

The 1980’s

Innovation ran rampant in 1980’s restaurants. Chefs were taking creative license to create new combinations and dishes, making restaurants trendy and modern. While there were many traditionalists who argued against these new methods, it was certainly an exciting time to be in the restaurant business.

Nouvelle Cuisine

Photo from caraandco.com

Nouvelle cuisine was popular especially in finer dining establishments. Chefs worked hard to create elaborate presentations with their dishes, using the plate as a canvas. Popular New York City restaurants like Odeon and Quilted Giraffe used this style quite fervently throughout the 1980’s. Championed by chef Michel Guerard and food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau, nouvelle cuisine allowed young chefs to be more artistic and not held to the restrictions of traditional French cooking.

Although this cooking style allowed chefs to be more creative in their practice, it ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1987. With the largest one-day drop of the Dow Jones in history, customers expected more out of their restaurant helpings than the smaller, artistic portions of the time.

Chef Paul Prudhomme

Photo from investors.com

Another popular trend in the 1980’s was Cajun cooking. While other American chefs looked to other countries to inspire their dishes, chef Paul Prudhomme looked to his Louisiana roots. Prudhomme used classic Louisiana ingredients like blackened beef, crawfish, and shrimp to create exciting menu items such as Chicken and Andouille Gumbo and Cajun Jambalaya. The blackening technique became very popular in the 1980’s, being used in fish and other meat entrees.

The 1990’s

Fusion cooking was on the rise in the 1990’s. A trend, fusion cooking is the combination of different cultural dishes to create something new. Laying the ground work for this new trend, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck served dishes that combined French and Asian influences for an interesting mixture. Items on Puck’s Chinois on Main menu included foie gras with pineapple and catfish with fried ginger.

Wolfgang Puck

Photo from minnpost.com

While these dishes could be highly creative and delicious (like this Thai-inspired pizza), some chefs took it a step too far and created “con-fusion” which were unexpected flavor hybrids that didn’t complement each other well. The “con-fusion” was a result of the chefs trying to jump on the bandwagon and allow their restaurant to have the next big thing, which doesn’t always coincide with a customer’s palate. It is very difficult to specifically label certain “con-fusion” recipes as a failure because taste is extremely subjective. But something tells us that a recipe for spicy Asian green beans with blue cheese isn’t going to be our new favorite food either.

Fusion Cooking

Photo from guyeatsfood.com

Many chefs are not a fan of the term “fusion cooking”, claiming negative connotations from the 1990’s. Even though it is still a popular cooking style in the modern world, the term fusion cooking is not normally used.

The 2000’s

At the turn of the century, America became much more conscientious about their foods. Consumers were more concerned about where their food came from, how it was processed, and what was in it. This kind of curiosity led to many consumer-driven changes that effected food suppliers, distributors, and restaurants.

Super Size Me documentary

Photo from netflixlife.com

One of the most revolutionary food documentaries to ever hit the small screen was Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, which premiered in 2004 to a shocked America. It was common knowledge at this point that fast food was not the ideal meal for a healthy diet, but this documentary took just how unhealthy fast food could be and made it a living nightmare. After this documentary, many fast food chains began to evaluate their menu offerings.

Fresh food

Many consumers demanded more health-conscious options from all of their eateries. Even big-box retailers like Walmart were starting to offer organic options to their customers. So why wouldn’t restaurants as well? More restaurants began creating and marking healthier choices on their menus while others provided more detailed information about where the food came from. This kind of communication with the customer makes them feel more in charge and able to make more educated decisions based on the information that is provided to them.

Because consumers were aimed to obtain healthier foods (for the most part) they frequented businesses like Subway, Jamba Juice, and casual dining establishments like Applebee’s and Olive Garden. Some of the most popular foods of this decade included sushi, bacon, super fruits (blueberries, acai berries), and cupcakes. Many restaurants assimilated these flavors as a part of their core offerings.

The 2010’s

While we are 60% of the way through the 2010’s, there are still prominent restaurant trends that will have sticking power throughout the remainder of this decade.

Chipotle Assembly Line

Photo from qz.com

Restaurants that offer assembly line-like service allow for customers to choose how they want their food prepared are huge right now. The customer is able to tailor their experience from station to station to have their food made exactly the way they want it. This customization ability can be seen in restaurants like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and even Starbucks.

Coffee craze

Speaking of Starbucks, the 2010’s are drink-crazed. Whether it is coffeehouses or microbreweries, the interest in mixology has skyrocketed. Many restaurants are not limited to regular or decaf coffee offerings anymore. Similarly, restaurants are also producing their own type of craft beer or wine. There is a certain fascination with making these concoctions because it is all about creativity, and is great for expanding your profit margins.

In urban areas where rent is astronomical and constantly changing, the newest restaurant trend isn’t to become a physical building; it’s to have a food truck. This trend has roots starting in Los Angeles with Kogi BBQ truck and chef Roy Choi. With the help of Twitter and the combination of Korean and Mexican cuisine, the Kogi BBQ truck became a success that inspired restauranteurs to take an alternative route for restaurant ownership.

If you’re looking to create something new in your restaurant, it is always helpful to look to the past for inspiration to create your future. These popular trends from the 1950’s all the way to today have their time and place in history. The restaurant industry has a cyclical nature; trends are bound to find their way around again. While the subject matter of the trends may not be your restaurant’s cup of tea, at the very least, you can get a theme night out of it!

What are some trends (modern or older) your restaurant has tried? Let us know in the comments below!

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How to Increase Summer Traffic in Your Restaurant or Bar

patio

Days get longer, the sun gets stronger, and everyone is taking vacation days. After Memorial Day Weekend comes and goes, summer is here in full force. This can mean more traffic, different clientele, and new struggles for your business. But no need to stress, there is more opportunity to summer than what meets the eye.
This transition to a new season is an easy way for you as a restaurant or bar owner to include fun activities into the calendar. Summer is a great time to differentiate your business and show off your niche!
Here are some tips to start sprinkling a little summer sunshine (and beat your competitors to the punch).

1) Know Your Audience
Market to your audience smarter, not harder. It is essential to know who you are trying to draw in. Is it all out-of-towners that flock to you during this time or is it your regular crowd shuffling in? By doing a little research, you will have a better idea of interests that attracts this group. If summer also means tourist season where you are, be ready for traffic increases. Train the staff on this shift as well, explain the importance of making sure each guest has a memorable experience (in a good way). Understand what you have to offer and who you will be offering it to.

OutdoorSpace

2) Spatial Awareness
If you are the type of establishment lucky enough to have an outdoor area, it’s time to break out the patio furniture. The end of May is a great benchmark to start having outside seating available to guests, but it all depends on your climate. Not only does it allow guests to enjoy a nice breeze, it helps with overflow seating as well! Just make sure your furniture is up to par before you stick it outside in the inevitable summer storms.

3) A Dash of Summer
Got a fierce strawberry spinach salad you’ve been dying to put on the menu? What about a frozen drink that your bartender came up with by just throwing a mix together? Take advantage of what’s now in-season to put on your menu and come up with summer specials. This is a great way to show off food or drinks that are too expensive to routinely feature. Highlighting these items will present more of an opportunity to be noticed by your patrons, and therefore, ordered. Take it one step farther and get some feedback from these specials. Finding what works may lead to a new staple for your regular menu!

Music

4) Turn It Up Some
While you’re taking the advice of tip #2, use your outdoor area to host live music. Whether it’s a singer-songwriter, DJ, or local band, find an entertainer that fits your genre. Bringing an artist in is a great way to publicize all the extras your establishment has to offer and it might even turn into a tradition. This type of event may also bring people to your restaurant or bar that wouldn’t typically visit. You may be introducing them to their new favorite haunt!

5) Fiesta Like There’s No Manana
There are quite a few holidays that fall within the summer months; so why not celebrate them? Between Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, or just the fact that it is summer, you’ll be able to find a celebration that you can throw a party for in your restaurant or bar. Decorate, have themed entrees or drinks, sponsor a contest- the opportunities are endless! If your budget only allows for one of these types of celebration, no worries, just make it work for your restaurant or bar! Go all out without abandoning the main focus of your establishment or bankrupting your business.

Now that you have some tips to expand your summer plans, the key takeaway is to entertain your clients. Take this chance to have old customers remember why they consistently pick your establishment and invite new ones into an exciting environment to make memories. Variety is the spice of life; the same goes for your summer business when the seasons change.
Does your restaurant or bar have any summer traditions or any advice for starting them? Let us know in the comments below, we love to hear feedback from our readers! Check us out on Pinterest for more inspiration.

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Top Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Food Waste in a Garbage Can - Image Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

There is a growing concern in our country that those in the restaurant industry need to know about: food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the food supply, which is about 133 billion pounds of food per year. That is a lot of food! With this abundance of food waste, the negative impacts are becoming greater. We are seeing nutritious food that could help feed families in need being sent to landfills. As these landfills continue to fill up, methane is being generated, a known contributor to climate changes and global warming. In addition, the resources that are being used to produce, process, transport, prepare, store, and dispose of wasted food, are ones that could be used towards other uses that would have a greater benefit on our society. As these impacts add up, our country is noticing how big this problem truly is.

In response to this problem, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030. What does this mean for restaurants? It’s time to take action to reduce food waste! Not just for the sake of the national goal of reduction, but also for your own sake of saving your business the increasing amounts of money that is being spent on food that just goes to waste. Here are some tips that you can implement is your restaurant to combat this growing concern.

Track Your Food Waste

The first step to controlling food waste is to figure out how much food you’re actually wasting.  If you’re unsure of how much food waste your restaurant produces, institute a process to track your food waste for a week. Ask all staff to document what percentage or amount of food that they throw away before it hits the trash. With this data, make a plan to minimize that waste with the considerations below.

 Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge is a program that the USDA and the EPA launched in June of 2013. This program challenges “entities across the food chain”, restaurants included, to join efforts to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. By joining, entities demonstrate their commitment to take action to reduce food waste for free. You are just asked to document ways that your restaurant will reduce food waste in the next year and follow through on that list.   To join the Food Waste Challenge, click here.

Proper storage

When storing foods, we all know how important temperature control is. Best practices for temperature control are twofold: frequent checking and documentation of your cooler and freezer thermometers in addition to making sure they are at the required temperatures. Coolers should remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for proper storage and freezers should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, not all foods need to be put in the cooler or freezer. For those items that do not, storage considerations should involve standard food containers and food packaging wrap. The more proper you are about storage, the longer it will last, and the less you will have to throw away.

Labeling paired with a “first in, first out” policy

Labeling is a key part to food storage. Not only because your staff needs to know what each container or box holds, but also so they know which foods to use first. Using the “first in, first out” policy means that you are storing newer products behind the older ones, therefore using the older products in the front first. Monitoring your staff is the key to this policy because even if you train them to pull down the older products first, it is likely that it will be tempting for them to grab a newer or fresher product in the back.

Portion control

The portions you serve to your customers are in direct correlation to your food waste. Plates full of food are often destined for the trash can because it’s just too much to eat. Consider offering smaller portions of your foods and make sure that the portions remain consistent.  We suggest that you have your staff measure each portion that they make and serve. Not only will this help with waste, but it will also help to reduce your food costs. In addition, consider adding half-portions of meals already on your menu at a lower price in order to avoid the excess food landing in the trash.

Smart purchasing

Since over-purchasing of perishable items is a big problem when it comes to food waste, it’s important to buy smart. Smart buying encompasses taking regular counts of your inventory, inspecting foods upon arrival with the non-acceptance of items that are spoiled, and consistency with inventory tracking. Add to this the fact that you should only buy what you need. Use your inventory tracking system to identify trends in purchasing. Once those trends are identified, you can let them lead the way to successful ordering that keeps money in your register.

Other general tips

In addition to the tips listed above, please find below some other general tips that might help you in reducing food waste.

  • If you find you have perishable items that will be soon to spoil, add menu items that include that item into your daily or weekly specials
  • Institute creative ways to re-use food like turning bread into croutons or using vegetables and meats in soups
  • Encourage employees to take home foods that you will only end up throwing away at the end of the day or night
  • Donate food that you will not use to families in need. There are federal laws that encourage food donation and offer tax deductions as well as protection from liability if a donation causes illness or injury. Many organizations exist that collect and distribute food donations to those who need it. For a listing of laws in place or organizations to donate to, click here.
  • Always offer take home containers to your customers for any foods that might still be on their plate. Offer containers that are microwave safe and re-usable to encourage an easy heat up and less waste.
  • Use refillable bottles, dishes, or containers for condiments instead of the single packs. Set these items on each table so that customers use only what they need.   If you are using the single packs, avoid putting them out where customers can grab them. They will likely grab more than what they need and throw away the unused packs in the trash.
  • Reduce the amount of bread and rolls that are offered before each meal and/or reduce the size of appetizers that you offer. These foods tend to fill customers up thus contributing to the possibility of having more food left over from the main dish.
  • Purchase a commercial vacuum sealer to keep your foods as fresh as possible for as long as possible

Regardless of the steps you decide to implement, taking action against food waste is an important part of creating a solution to this growing problem. Simple steps in the regular routine and daily processes within your restaurant will serve a huge benefit to your wallet as well as have a positive impact on society and the environment. That’s what you call a “win, win” situation.

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!