Food Forecast

Social media, food trucks and nutrition are ahead for restaurants in 2011.

Pent-up demand and social media are expected to help restaurant industry sales reach a record $604 billion, and post positive growth in 2011 after a three-year period of negative real sales growth.

The nation’s 960,000 restaurants will continue to be strong contributors to the recovery of the nation’s economy. The industry’s total economic impact exceeds $1.7 trillion, and restaurants are the nation’s second-largest private sector employer with 12.8 million employees.

Consumers today spend 49 percent of their food budget in the restaurant community, compared to only 25 percent in 1955. The economic downturn has created a substantial pent-up demand for restaurant services. For example, more than 2 out of 5 consumers say they are not dining out or using takeout as often as they would like, which positions the restaurant industry for growth in 2011.

Facebook, mobile phone applications and online review sites have become part of many Americans’ everyday life. Social media savvy consumers (frequent users of at least one social media tool) are more active in the restaurant community. These individuals dine out more frequently than the general public: 92 percent eat a meal at a sit-down restaurant at least once a month (compared to 84 percent of all adults) and 87 percent purchase a meal or snack at a quick-service restaurant or carryout place at least once a month (versus 83 percent of all adults).

This demographic is also much more likely to use in-store technology, such as electronic ordering and payment systems at the table, self-service kiosks, online ordering and mobile phone applications for placing orders.

Restaurant operators are also picking up on this trend, and more than 8 out of 10 say social media will become a more important marketing tool in the future.

National Restaurant Association research also shows that local sourcing, sustainability and nutrition will top menu trends in 2011. Top trends in full-service restaurants include locally grown produce, locally produced meat and seafood, healthy kids’ meals, sustainable seafood and gluten-free/food allergy conscious cuisine. On quick-service menus, the top trends will be healthy options in kids’ meals, gluten-free items, spicy items, locally sourced produce and smoothies.

Reflecting these menu trends, 7 out of 10 consumers say they are trying to eat healthier when dining out now than they did two years ago. This trend is mirrored by restaurant operators, as two-thirds say their guests order more healthful items and pay more attention to the nutritional content of food than two years ago.

Another trend that will heat up this year is that of food trucks. Nearly half (47 percent) of consumers say they would be likely to patronize food trucks if their favorite restaurants operated them.


This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

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