Mintel made predictions on menu and operations trends:
- Since consumers are more interested in where food comes from, restaurants will focus on American regionalism. Among geographic claims on restaurant menus, however, "New York-style" showed up the most last year, followed by "Texas." For the first time, "Philly-style" surpassed "New England" in menu mentions.
- Menu labeling will lead more operators to offer "double-sided menus," offering something for everyone in terms of both nutrition and price. Customization will continue to drive consumer satisfaction, as guests are offered more opportunity to control their selections. The barbell approach to pricing will morph into a more consumer-focused tiered pricing approach, Mintel said.
- With an emphasis on fresh, unprocessed food, restaurants will offer and promote more "handmade-just-for-you" items.
- As restaurant chains grow globally, they will also develop more expertise in international flavors and methods, allowing for the import of ideas. McDonald's Chicken McBites came from Australia, for example, and both McDonald's and KFC are using self-serve kiosks in Europe. KFC is also offering espresso and Lavazza brand coffee in the United Kingdom.
- Steak and Caesar salad remain the top menu offerings, and they are still growing in popularity. Among burgers, cheeseburgers are climbing; sushi is losing ground to salmon; and quick-service operators are enhancing their breakfast sandwich lineups.
- What do customers want? About half of respondents said they'd like to see lower prices, and 29 percent want smaller portions, followed closely by the 28 percent who want more healthful menu options. The descriptors "fresh" and "made from scratch" were also of interest to the majority of restaurant goers, but the term "artisan" does not resonate. Only 28 percent said they were interested in the latter.
Sales growth in the foodservice industry will increase 2.8 percent this year to $416.4 billion, with limited-service restaurants leading the charge, Mintel said.
Adjusting for inflation, the increase will be nearer to 1.5 percent.
This year, limited-service restaurants are expected to see sales rise 4.1 percent to $219.1 billion, or a 2.8 percent inflation-adjusted increase.
Full-service restaurant sales are expected to increase 1.5 percent -- or an inflation-adjusted 0.2 percent -- bringing that segment to $197.2 billion, Mintel said.
In 2011, the overall foodservice industry grew 1.4 percent to $404.9 billion, or a decline of 0.2 percent when adjusting for inflation.
Limited-service segment sales rose 3.4 percent last year, or 1.8 percent with inflation. Full-service restaurants saw sales decline last year 0.7 percent, or a decline of 2.2 percent with inflation.
Although the economy remains challenging, the report noted improving unemployment trends, as well as increased disposable personal income levels and a more optimistic consumer sentiment.
And although menu-labeling laws are expected to come into play for restaurants in 2012, many chains have already developed more healthful options that aim to appeal to increasingly health conscious consumers, the report found.
Mintel surveys indicate that 41 percent of restaurant goers said menu labeling would not impact how they dine out, while 33 percent said they will order menu items that are more healthful overall and have fewer calories.
Looking at January, a survey by Mintel found that 65 percent of respondents who visited a restaurant that month said they plan to spend the same amount at restaurants in 2012 as they did last year.
About 12 percent said they plan to spend more, while 23 percent said they plan to spend less.
Still, 63 percent of respondents said it's too expensive for them to dine out regularly.
Of the 12 percent who said they will spend more, 59 percent said they would spend more at casual dining restaurants, followed closely, at 57 percent, by family dining.
Source: Nation's Restaurant News, 03/13/12