The Future Of Restaurants Is A Story

 In General

Restaurants, they’re everywhere!  There’s one on every corner, in every burgeoning neighborhood, in every trendy development.  There are many, 1 million according to the National Restaurant Association, and they have gained mass appeal.  Over the last 40 years the industry’s growth and sheer numbers have altered the face of the restaurant, shifting from one of novelty to one of ubiquity; their use by consumers ringing $700 billion dollars in annual sales. In short, restaurants have become as utilitarian as our cell phones or automobiles and there is no sign of this juggernaut slowing down.

So what is next for this Goliath?NRA Sales Chart

Restaurants rise to omnipresence has been deeply seated in the industry’s ability to produce ready to eat food on demand.  Convenience has been the backbone of this business and as consumer’s lifestyles change so will the means of convenience.  Dr. Seuss was on to something;

“Would you eat them in a house, would you eat them with a mouse…would you eat them in a box, would you eat them with a fox?”

Point being that today we really do want green eggs and ham anywhere and anytime.  More than that, we want them served in a place of our liking, somewhere that feels like us. Food trucks, food halls, high end restaurants, lounges, vending machines, drive thru’s, hipster coffee shops, grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, farmers markets all provide different types of food in custom settings.  They represent the beginnings of a trend that carves Goliath into smaller, more agile warriors.

This trend, segmenting the industry into hyper focused concepts that satisfy consumer angst for location, diet, speed of service, environment, quality of food, demographics, etc., will become widespread.  The restaurant industry, because of its enormous size and its universal acceptance within our society as a personalized source of food, will continue on a course of specialty and away from homogeny.  In the future of profitable restaurants, autonomy wins the day.

Focused concepts provide better story lines.  They’re unique and they carry a personal message to consumers who spend money in establishments that reflect their lifestyles.  Consumers are barraged with thousands of brand messages a day.  To stand out in the crowd, restaurants must have a compelling brand story line that sticks.  Operating without one would feel like carrying luggage up hill.

Take the National Restaurant Association’s Annual Industry Forecast.  For the last several years the NRA has listed the top 5 menu trends as follows; locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, environmental sustainability, healthful kids’ meals and natural ingredients/minimally processed foods.

The fact that this list hasn’t changed much should tell you that supply has not met demand and that there is a compelling story yet to be written. There is real opportunity in the delivery of healthier foods to the mass market, but companies keep cranking out processed products nobody really wants. Consumers buy the junk because in the past, convenience usually trumped nutrition.  Eventually, someone will segment the industry by writing a brand story that excites the consumer base, (make it cool), around the idea of healthy convenience.  “You Can Ride a Harley and Eat Kale!”

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