Despite the sluggish economy, the restaurant industry continues to be the cornerstone of a strong U.S. economy. According to the National Restaurant Association, the anticipated industry sales should top $604 Billion dollars in 2011 which is 3.6% up from 2010.
As far as an impact on the overall economy, U.S. restaurants employ nearly 13 million full-table and quick-service workers or one out of ten U.S. workers. If one was to include restaurant suppliers, marketing firms, media, and generally related providers the number of incomes impacted by restaurant sales balloons up to more than 20 million.
Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association President and CEO stated that, “It has been a very challenging time for our industry for the past two years, and while there are still challenges ahead, we are glad to report that the outlook is improving. With a total economic impact of more than $1.5 trillion, the restaurant industry is a strong player in the economic recovery and will continue to provide consumers with the choice and convenience they want. As the cornerstone of communities across the United States, restaurants will continue to be an essential part of our daily lives.”
Even though the economy and industry forecasts are positive, the vast majority of restaurants are struggling to stay alive. With the possible exception of New York City, the income gap can’t be filled with menu price increases. Customers are still watching their budgets and eating out is often the victim.
Two out of five patrons report that they have not been able to dine out as much as they normally would. Over 60% of U.S. Americans have adjusted their budgets to the sluggish economy and 24% of people say that they will spend less on restaurants than in 2010.
Over 90% of restaurants are small businesses with less than fifty employees. While the major chains have the advantage of big marketing and advertizing budgets, local restaurants have the advantage when it comes to the new food trends.
- Technology has evened the playing field. Regional and local restaurants can setup and manage social media to attract new customers. Imagine the potential of reaching a teen market that literally sleeps with their mobile phones or one personal review virally posted to their 300 closest friends. Cheap, yet priceless.
- Potential and existing customers expect online menus and now they want that menu on their mobile phones and tablets. The cost of building and maintaining websites and mobile apps is so small local restaurants can’t afford to go with them.
- Another big trend of 2011 is the growing momentum of the “Go Local” movement. It’s not about west coast or east coast; it’s about my town, my neighborhood, and my food. People are not only buying locally grown or raised food for home, but they are also looking for that local support in their restaurants.
- People have grown weary of processed foods and nutritionally void foods. They want whole ingredients and in-restaurant prepared meals.
- Customers are more likely to return to restaurants that expand and adapt their menus to include a wide variety of healthy and inexpensive meals.
- Comfort food is in. People want the food they grew up with and cherish. In these tight times, people want healthy comfort foods and local and regional restaurants are more adaptive and knowledgeable on local cuisine.
- In addition to local cuisine and down home comfort foods, customers are also looking for the exotic and unique. Flexible local menus are better able to provide the special culinary experience people need.
- Super hot trend: Mobile food service is taking off! Many restaurants are taking a clue from their catering “roach coach” counterparts and taking their restaurants to the customer.
- In 2010, the passing of health care reform forced many chains to disclose calorie counts on their menus. The road to nutritional transparency began with ingredient and nutritional labeling on processed foods, but now that trend is “tech-ing” up with the use of smartphones and other mobile devises to download, via menu barcodes, detailed information on the use and origins of food ingredients.
So what is the cutting edge of customer service? Hand held devices used to take orders that show up instantaneously in the kitchen and automatically track inventory. Some restaurants are going one step further by allowing the patrons to order their own food on their mobile devices and even paying the bill without waiting for the server.
It’s a great day for regional and local restaurants. Never before has so much market penetration been possible for the small business and the beauty of technology is that the independent or small chain restaurant can look just as advanced and hip as the big guys.