Restaurants still winning with customers by modifying their menus

The beginning of the year can be a stressful time for restaurant owners - not because they're extra busy with customers, but just the opposite. It's New Year's resolution season, and one of the more common goals among Americans with each passing year is to eat out less and to prepare their own meals more. They do this to get in better shape physically and to save money.

But if history is any guide, restaurateurs shouldn't be too worried their food supply chain will get backlogged, as takeout is something Americans seek out on a regular basis, according to the results of a recent poll.

Among individuals who self-profess to eating at restaurants routinely - defined as once a month at a minimum - nearly 70 percent order food between three and four times per month. That's the equivalent of between 36 and 50 times in the typical year. The findings derive from Technomic's 2018 Takeout and Off-Premise Consumer Trend Report, which queried approximately 1,450 consumers throughout the U.S.
"One of the reasons why more Americans are having their food made to order is its simplicity."

One of the reasons why more Americans are having their food made to order - in spite of their intentions to do less - is its simplicity. In addition to restaurants offering delivery, several third-parties specialize in delivery service, such as GrubHub, Foodler, Uber Eats and DoorDash.

Bret Yonke, Technomic manager of consumer insights, said the convenience era has never been more apparent."Among those who have increased their usage of takeout since 2016, ease of use with regards to mobile apps and websites is increasingly cited as a driving force behind this," Yonke explained.

This trend would seem to run counter to the aims many Americans hope to accomplish when the year begins anew. According to the Better Sleep Council, four of the five most popular resolutions include establishing an exercise regimen, maintaining fitness, losing weight and spending less money.

Restaurants more health conscious 

Perhaps in light of this, restaurants are modifying their menus by including options that are more in line with their guests' nutritional goals. For example, instead of including French fries with each sandwich or hamburger, eateries also make salads available at no additional charge or for a few dollars extra. They also have dressings on the side, as salads already coated in them can make otherwise healthy dishes calorie-laden. Fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald's and Wendy's, have been doing this as well for many years, which has allowed them to adapt and maintain their positions as leading quick serve chains. Restaurateurs are also more receptive to food sensitivities, such as peanuts or gluten intolerances, specifying which items are free of these potential allergens on the menu.
"Of the top five industries in the eyes of consumers, three of them are food related."
Adaptability and listening to their customer base has allowed restaurants to remain very highly rated among the American public. In a recent Gallup poll, 58 percent of respondents had a positive view of the restaurant sector, behind only the computer industry at 60 percent. In fact, of the top five industries in the eyes of consumers, three of them are food related, the others being farming and agriculture (56 percent) and grocery (53 percent).

Eateries' increased focus on more nutritious menu items isn't a flash in the pan, either. In the National Restaurant Association's "What's Hot for 2019" culinary survey, plant-based proteins, locally sourced meats and seafood and veggie-carb substitutes - such as zucchini spirals and riced cauliflower - are among the dishes chefs expect to offer more of in the new year because customers are requesting them.

Keeping accurate inventory more important than ever

The only problem with guests being more health conscious is shelf life. Farm fresh produce and local meats are popular because they're nutrient dense but also because they're usually void of synthetic chemicals, such as dyes and preservatives. This makes it even more important for owners to keep track of their food supply chain, maintaining accurate inventory data to help reduce spoilage, waste and operational expenses.

By being mindful of their customers' expectations and consumer trends, restaurants can maintain their strong positions in the eyes of the public. For now, they appear to be hitting all the right notes.
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