It’s a new year, and this year, a new dawn. The economy is the strongest it’s been in several years, the restaurant business continues to grow and that means foodservice designers are much busier than before. While many associations and research outlets like to release their picks for top trends in food and drink each year, here’s a look at three trends to think about as you set out to build your business in the coming year.
1. Staffing and Collaboration
With the economy on track and foodservice business on the rise, “A lot of consultants are extremely busy right now with so much work,” says Wade Koehler, FCSI’s executive director.
Case in point: the National Restaurant Association predicts restaurant industry sales to reach a record high of more than $683.4 billion this year. And, the restaurant industry continues to remain the nation’s second-largest private sector employer with a workforce of 13.5 million.
“Most were very lean over the past few years and as a result, they might be hesitant to hire new employees,” Koehler says, but warns against this. “Staffing and collaboration with other consultants could be big in 2015.”
If you haven’t considered it before, this might be the year to think about potential partnerships with other foodservice professionals and industry friends, whether it’s an MAS-design consultant match-up, an equipment consultant for a manufacturer, or other collaboration that could lead to more business.
2. The New Wave of Waste Management
After years of industry initiatives the National Restaurant Association listed waste management as a top “trend” or hot button issue for 2015, the result of feedback from various chefs and food professionals around the country. In fact, the Association says 75 percent of operators track food waste at some level — an endorsement of the importance of data. Globally, the World Resources Institute is in the process of creating a global standard for reporting food waste and loss for data comparisons, according to Andrew Shakman, the food waste “guru” and co-founder/CEO of LeanPath Inc.
This is a turning point for the issue of food waste and waste management, which has always hovered in the backs of many minds over the past several years, but hasn’t reached the forefront with such urgency until now, it seems. And for good reason: according to the EPA, the per capita generation of waste in 2012 stood at 4.38 pounds per person per day, and a total waste generation of over 250 million tons.
Thanks to industry pressures, legislation and the growing popularity of sustainability, operators are beginning to put more emphasis on controlling the amount of waste they send to landfills through both reduction and diversion efforts. Shakman cites a few important issues coming down the pipe this year when it comes to managing waste.
“We’re seeing even more regulation against food waste in landfill waste streams,” Shakman says, noting that Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have adopted such legislation. California adopted this legislation last fall with Rhode Island next in line. Cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Austin are also moving forward with plans to regulate food waste sent to landfills. Just this month, New York banned Styrofoam products following the lead of San Francisco and Portland. “The bottom line for operators is that food waste soon won’t be something they can continue to put in the garbage in many parts of the U.S.,” he adds.
Also, rising food prices have placed pressure on operators to find efficiencies, especially in the area of waste management. “With falling oil prices there may be some reprieve on food prices, but the long-term structural outlook suggests high food prices are here to stay,” says Shakman. “Operators cannot continue to throw profits in the garbage, they must take action to get more efficient with food they buy.”
And food recovery continues to play an increasingly important role in waste management. “There are many efforts to recover edible food that would otherwise go to waste, including apps like Zero Percent and sites such as Cropmobster and the Food Recovery Network (FRN), which are all working to improve infrastructure and connectivity between donors and service organizations,” says Shakman. “There will be increasing pressure on operators to have a food recovery strategy in place for all edible food and not just hide behind broad liability concerns. The reality is that federal legislation protects operators who donate food in good faith and customers will increasingly be expecting this as part of responsibly stewarding a sustainable restaurant.”
3. Building Your Brand Identity
Celebrity chefs are all around us — just turn on the TV, read some trade mags, or scour the internet and social media. The glamorization of food and branding of food professionals has reached a new level of ubiquity. Foodservice professionals have two choices: ignore this flurry of activity and potentially miss out, or learn more and embrace new opportunities for expanded business and a more national and international presence and platform.
“It’s important to integrate all your various communication forms,” says Barb Rowan of Barb Rowan Design, a brand-building consultancy for professionals. That means developing a unique, recognizable logo, theme or look and then connecting that image through the design of your website, social media platforms, business cards and other business material. “You have a couple seconds to build trust and present a consistent image,” she adds.
Rowan has worked with a handful of restaurants and other professionals as of late who started with a less sophisticated website that might have cost less at the time, but who are looking to step up their game in an increasingly digital world. Websites are the first place people go to “check you out” and learn more about your offerings. “You want your company values and personality to match your communication platforms,” she says.
Beyond updating websites, optimizing them for mobile use remains ideal, and is extremely important for restaurants (something consultants can consult on). “Someone might check out a restaurant online using their desktop or laptop but then leave work and switch to their smartphone to find the place,” says Rowan. “You want them to easily be able to find the location, check the hours, menus, dietary preferences or other information. This is so important to Millennials especially who want to cut to the chase and get easy to read information fast.”
Consultants on top of this information not only improve their own brands but help them better consult their restaurant and foodservice business customers as well, Rowan says.