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What will drive restaurant traffic in 2014?

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

A few new reports paint a picture of the hot restaurant trends for next year, including one not-so-hot prediction that an increased focus on health could lead to fewer restaurant visits in 2014. The report from AlixPartners leads off with the good news — nine months into 2013, restaurant spending has returned to pre-recession levels, the number of restaurants in financial distress is at a record low and inflationary pressures on commodity prices have eased.

Consumers are continuing to focus on food quality when dining out, and that’s where the not-so-hot news comes in. Americans are expected to make fewer restaurant visits next year, but this time the reasons will have more to do with healthy eating than pinching pennies, the study says.  That doesn’t mean pocketbook issues are off the table entirely — consumers say they plan to spend less per visit, largely by taking advantage of promotions and deals, the survey says.

AlixPartners isn’t the only forecaster to come out with new predictions for the new year, and some of their findings shore up the conclusion that health concerns are likely to drive dining decisions next year. Baum + Whiteman’s 2014 trend forecast puts healthy dining at number eight on the list, saying investments in healthy eating concepts like Sweetgreen, Chipotle and Veggie Grill will pay off as they move from the niche to the mainstream. At the same time, white tablecloth eateries and high-profile chefs will feature menus with lighter fare and more vegetarian offerings.

“More than one factor propels this profound market change: the gluten rejecters, Paleo people, diabetics, weight challenged, vegetarians, vegans and two decades of hectoring by nutritionists, food Nazis, and perhaps the first lady,” the report says.

A couple more  statistics way down on the AlixPartners’ roster of reasons people give for staying away from restaurants may bode well for the future, at least if your restaurant is keeping the atmosphere friendly, fresh and fun. Only 4% of consumers say they don’t go to restaurants because they don’t like the atmosphere, about 2% stay away because of bad service and a mere .4% avoid eateries because they don’t enjoy the experience.

Even as they’re striving to eat healthier, people enjoy going to restaurants to try new things, which often includes experiences as much as the food. According to another item on Baum + Whiteman’s list, that fact may hold the key to boosting traffic.

Eateries around the world are making  experience more fun, the report says, from Ultraviolet in Shanghai where 10 guests per night get to dine in a private room where the lighting, temperature, smells and sounds transform with each course to The Pass in New York City where guests video chat on a big screen with the global growers and vintners who provided the ingredients for their dinner.

Also in line with the latest trends is the shift from identical mall food courts that feature the same chains to food halls that boast local and artisan fare. This trend, which has flourished in New York City in places like Mario Batali’s Eataly and the basement of The Plaza Hotel, is spreading to more cities, including Chicago, Cleveland and Anaheim.

Later this week, we’ll take a look at the ingredients, flavors and cuisine styles that are expected to inspire chefs and restaurant patrons next year.