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Consumer-Focused Trends for 2012

Restaurateurs are widely anticipating what’s in and what’s out in 2012. After we have featured leading restaurant consultant Andrew Freeman’s Food and Drinks Trend for the year 2012 two weeks ago, let’s now hear consumer-focused trends for next year from the restaurant industry’s foremost market research firm, Technomic.

According to Mary Chapman, Technomic’s director of product innovation, there will be seven up-and-coming trends that would be vital in outlining the country’s restaurant marketing approach next year—variations of our typical favorites, the use of rustic ingredients, the increase of local food usage, social networking, restaurant transparency, restaurants developing their own reward system and restaurant flexibility.

Variations Of Customers’ Usual Favorites

Despite consumers’ caution in trying new things in today’s economy, they love to try new flavors that are integrated into their favorite comfort foods. “Some Americans consider tacos as a comfort food, that’s why twists on the item became a hit, such as Kogi’s Korean Tacos from Los Angeles,” said Chapman. “We can also site Bourbon Steak’s lobster corn dogs as examples, as well as the emergence of better burgers.”

Rustic Ingredients Prepared Home-style

The cost of food commodities may rise, but we can take heart, as labor costs did not. This permits restaurants to prepare tasty in-house dishes using simple ingredients—creating elegant fares out of unsophisticated ingredients like grains, beans, produce and cheaper meat cuts that just need more preparation time. Technomic cited Gott’s Roadside’s fried green tomato sandwich as one great example of home-style food offered to restaurant diners.

Going Local, Local, Local

The eat local campaign will continue to thrive as manufacturers, growers, operators and distributors of local produce press on in creating a safer, more efficient and more transparent supply chain. “They’re more into building an efficient food-chain process than just merely for restaurant purposes,” said Chapman.

Social Networks Continue To Lead The Scene

Consumers trust their peers and friends more than they trust professional marketers, as they review restaurants on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. “They even find time to post reviews on broader platforms like Open Table and Yelp, and post photos on Flicker,” said Chapman. “Chefs and restaurant operators themselves get into conversations with their diners, as they interact with them on these social media sites.”

More Restaurant Info Transparency

Consumers continue to expect transparency from restaurants –local sourcing ways, calorie counts on menus in superior café menu covers, labor practices, allergens, along with many others. Technomic says 80% of women and 66% of men thinks that restaurants are accountable and have a responsibility to disclose to customers basic information about their food and menu items.

Restaurants Developing Their Own Reward System

In an attempt to capture their market’s passion for daily deals, restaurants do it on their own by creating imaginative discounting programs to reward their repeat patrons. Efforts like complimentary desserts, welcome drinks and other surprise offerings on top of what’s being offered in the restaurant’s menus in elegant café menu covers hope to recognize repeat customers and increase loyalty. Developing their own rewards system is a much better option rather than giving out discounts on daily deals just to drive traffic to the location.

Flexible and Adaptable Formats

Restaurants adjust to changing times and become more accommodating to their customers’ changing lifestyles—they now cater to new round-the-clock day parts, with some operating as fast-casual during daytime and switch gears to become full-service during night time. Some convert their kitchens during slow times to function as catering commissaries. “Operations now revolve around the consumers’ schedules,” Chapman said.