Restaurants may be facing the toughest New Year in recent memory, but opportunities are still present for operators that know how to focus their efforts where it really counts—on the consumer. The coming year will see even more of a “buyer’s market” than 2008, making it especially essential for restaurants to recognize and respond to consumer preferences.

In particular, food industry consulting and research firm Technomic sees these five trends as looming large in 2009:

1. Experimentation and innovation will flower.

An upside of operators’ struggles will be innovations resulting from experimentation with new menu items, delivery services, price/bundling schemes and unit designs (including smaller, more efficient footprints).

2. Ethnic flavors continue to star.

As one of the most significant ways that operators can signal differentiation, expect to see more regional ethnic cuisine with flavors specific to a certain country or area, such as regional Italian entrees, Jalisco-style Mexican fare, and Korean or Vietnamese instead of just “Asian.”

3. “Local” is the magic word.

In response to growing consumer interest in all things local, restaurants will make greater use of local food sourcing and regionalized menu offerings. This trend will also generate stronger consumer support for local restaurant operators.

4. Goldilocks serving sizes: big, little, and just right.

Expect more small-plate, prix-fixe and bar menus, in addition to more family-style entrées that can feed two or more. Operators will also zero in on large-order catering, particularly for business events.

5. Kids’ menus will be up-scaled and expanded.

Restaurants are moving their kids’ menus beyond the mac-and-cheese comfort zone with items that reflect their signatures—for instance, a crab cake on the children’s menu of a seafood restaurant—along with more specialty beverages and smoothies.

Breakfast, Desserts, News