Melissa Vigue Melissa Vigue

There have never been more options for dining out — or in — than there are today. From food trucks and food halls to meal prep kits, delivery services and in-retail dining experiences, the array of options is vast, sometimes overwhelming. For traditional restaurant brands looking to not only retain but increase share of stomach, the competition is fierce.

It’s not just about getting butts in seats. Today’s eater is faced with several decisions daily as busy schedules dictate a hybrid approach to meals, not exclusively eating out but not all home-cooked either. A recent study by Restaurant Business Online revealed that only 46 percent of respondents’ revenue came from dining in, with more than a third coming from takeout.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '17 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar.'17 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

In either case, just like any other purchase decision they’re making, consumers are looking for the best their money can buy, making marketing and brilliant customer experience even more important.

Here are five trends that restaurant marketers shouldn’t ignore this year.

Waste not, want not

Consumers have never been more aware of social issues and are increasingly making decisions based on the social responsibility of the brands with which they choose to engage. The USDA estimates food waste in the United States at between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply.

Not surprisingly, this is a hot topic in the food industry, and consumers are looking at how their food service suppliers, be they retail or hospitality, are addressing the issue through food donations, upcycling and more. Smart marketers will be sure to address their efforts when communicating with the industry and their customers.

Technology as an enabler

This one is not new, but it continues to be a critical part of the dining experience both in-restaurant/retail and at home. Can’t order online or via an app for delivery? In this case, many of us will move on to another dining option that allows us to do, whether through a restaurant’s own online platform, or more often, through a platform like Seamless or UberEats.

In addition, we continue to see the further integration of physical and digital interactions through iPad ordering/payment and the ever-present smart phone (Instagram, anyone?). Each of these offers additional marketing and engagement tools such as the ability to upsell through storytelling and post-dine interactions via social media.

From an operations perspective, technology can also create scale for a proprietor. For example, Zume Pizza, a startup in Mountain View, California, uses robots to increase the speed at which they can make and deliver pizzas. And while we are not suggesting every restaurant go to this extent to deliver a fast and fresh meal, automation of something as simple as coffee or payment can improve the customer and employee experience.

Experience is king

The desire for an engaging, brand-authentic and personalized experience cannot be underestimated. Ensuring that every touchpoint on your consumers’ path to purchase is impactful is essential.

Brands must ensure that their website is mobile-friendly and that they build a relationship with customers through social media. Furthermore, the ability to personalize service and ordering options can really set a brand apart. Being greeted by name for a reservation is a simple, yet critical first step.

Creating a branded dining experience within retail (think Ikea, Bass Pro Shops) is a whole other level, but one that offers that experiential element consumers are craving.

Whether offering the ability to customize portion size or the opportunity to order highly sought after wines by the glass using technology like Coravin, brands should be looking to create a unique, customizable and ownable experience for their guests.

Data-driven interaction

From large chains to single proprietors, each has access to data in some form. Whether careful analysis of millions of dining experiences or anecdotal evidence that a regular orders a burger every Tuesday night, data can be a formidable weapon for operators and marketers alike.

On a one-to-one scale, data can arm a server with the information they need to upsell for a special occasion (Happy birthday, Bob!). Similarly, it can provide a marketer with the ability to strategically target relevant messaging using social media to drive consideration for that day or evening.

Based on what they know about a market through data analysis, restaurateurs are launching virtual restaurants which are basically commercial kitchens delivering high-end breakfast and lunch to the local workforce. Smart move. How will it affect local restaurants’ lunch business and marketing plan?

Each of these trends has clear implications for restaurant owners and marketers considering how to allocate their budgets and where to prioritize programming, promotions and outreach.


Melissa Vigue is a Senior Director at Peppercomm.