The Australian eating out market is dynamic, competitive and continually evolving. It is vital for restaurant leaders to stay abreast of trends and changes in order to stay ahead.
By Jeremy Ryland
Back in August, I wrote about a few of the current trends affecting our industry with a few brief tips on how to stay in front. Here are a few more trends…
Customers are going back to basics. As the economy tightens, people prefer “comfort food” and simple, good-for-you foods that they recall from the past. Cauliflower and macaroni cheese are enjoying a revival. And people are eating healthier. Even the big chain restaurants are offering healthier options - the McDonald's apple pie has just had a modern makeover: it is now baked not fried and contains less sugar. Perceived healthier cuisines like Japanese are now more popular. Gluten-free is now a requirement, not just a fad – although the number of people who actually need a gluten-free diet is much smaller than those who claim to need it. And other diets such as paleo, low-carb and “green in the middle” continue to grow.
More and more venues are now offering vegetarian and vegan options on their menus, such as quinoa, chai and nut-free. Most guests like some vegetarian meals and more and more people have some form of dietary issue, either perceived or real.
The owner of Smith & Daughters, a vegan restaurant in Fitzroy, states that one in nine people or about 12 per cent, claim to be vegetarian. That means 12 per cent of your customers will not eat 90 per cent of what is on most menus. Moreover, the majority of meat eaters also like good vegetarian food – and it is obviously a healthy option as well. And to top it off, Smith & Daughters claim their COS is 18 per cent and they have no grease trap fees!
In my previous article on trends, I noted that 'informal dining out' – fast casual – is growing. There is also an increase in snacking, multiple meals and share plates, especially amongst the younger generations. Millennials and iGeners have a short attention span and struggle to sit down long enough to eat. They need one hand free as they swipe and tap their iPhone and other devices, so handheld and snack foods will take over from the traditional “main course” offerings. On top of this, 35 per cent of people below 25 years have trouble using a knife and fork; they were brought up on pizza, burgers, sausage rolls and sushi. Hence the number of top chefs setting up fast food: Daniel Wilson’s Huxtaburger, Warren Turbull’s Chu Burger, Neil Perry’s Burger Project, George Calombaris’ Jimmy Grants and many others.
The short attention span and the fact that particularly iGeners communicate with icons rather than text means that pictures will become more important. The old photographic menus at Chinese restaurants and Sizzler will come back into fashion!
The new generation loves to gather in “tribes” so share plates are also important. But the need for anonymity, “hiding in the herd”, is growing. Solo diners and people using their iPhones require booths and private places to communicate. And solo dining is increasing.
Until recently, dining out in restaurants alone in Australia was relatively rare. Solo diners were travelling salespeople, overseas business travellers or food critics. Today, more and more diners are eating alone – and it is important that restaurants cater for this growing market. The Dimmi booking group estimate that solo reservations have risen 27 per cent this year alone. Today’s solo diners are interested in the food and often have the time to indulge themselves, so don’t hurry them out. They may bring a book and their smartphone but they also want to enjoy the experience.
We live in an ever-changing world and the marketplace is evolving. I’ll review some more trends in future Leaders Newsletters.