At times in our business, it can be a challenge to “stay in the moment”.  Especially, in late summer, when our thinking needs to turn to 2018 and what we should Stop/Start/Continue.  I was fortunate to attend two thought-provoking conferences in July and August: Winsight/Technomic’s Restaurant Trends & Directions in Chicago, as well as The Flavor Experience in Newport Beach. Here are my key takeaways: hopefully they will serve as thought-starters/stimulus for your annual planning.

I heard about a lot of TRENDS that are taking place – but it caused me to think – which ones should you focus on in your planning?  Which TRENDS are worthy of consideration, and which ones are TRAPS – not relevant for your brand.  Every brand has a unique set of factors to consider.  So, as you read below, think about your own brand:  Is this topic a TREND or a TRAP?

➡️ “Health” This was covered at both conferences – which means if you are not working on this….do so at your own risk! There’s good and bad news here:

BAD NEWS– 50% of 18-34 year olds have evolved their definition of “healthy” over the past year (Source: Technomic)

GOOD NEWS- brands have a variety of avenues they can use to address this issue.  Clean labels, “Free-From” Foods (e.g. Antibiotics), Grass-fed, Organic — all of these help consumers to achieve their overall goal of Balance.

Consumers always have and always will want to have that option to indulge; today’s consumer wants more knowledge so they can make better decisions. Simply put, transparency is important tThe Flavor Experienceoday.

The Flavor Experience actually showed this progression of the meaning of Healthy — from 1.0 in the 80’s to 3.0 today – where food actually DOES something POSITIVE for my health.

Where is your brand today on this continuum?

➡️  Snacking – One of the ways consumers are trying to achieve “balance” is by eating more often. Menu Guru Nancy Kruse presented these stats at NRA.

Snacking Stats

This has been going on for quite a while – remember Small Plates??  Yard House has a “Snack” section kicking off their menu.  Au Bon Pain has “Petit Plates” and healthy-on-the-run “Bon To Go Boxes”.  Others are offering more than one portion size.  All of these are addressing consumers’ desire for choice.

➡️  Consumer – I was struck by Technomic’s estimates on Millennials having kids:

Today                       40%

By 2026                  80%

With this in mind, Families with Kids is going a huge opportunity over the next ten years!

But lest you be “trapped” into focusing too much on Millennials, NPD Group recently published that Baby Boomers (remember them?) still represent the largest restaurant spending group at 29%.  The Forgotten Generation, Gen X (born 1965-80) represents 22% of restaurant dollars, only 2 points less than Millennials.  Millennials are forecast to be the largest spenders by 2020.

➡️  Flavor / Food & Beverage – This is the “wheelhouse” of The Flavor Experience, and they do this so well every year. Flavor’s partner is Flavor & the Menu magazine which published their 2017 Top 10 Trends with “significant menu potential”

Jack Li of Datassential shared an intriguing graph at Flavor, illustrating their research on “motivation to try something new” by generation set. What generation do you fall under and do you agree? I personally love how this showcases the differences between generations and how each approaches menu selection and perhaps, life in general.

Dataessential Generational Scale

For a brand, this puts pressure on all of us to meet consumer expectations if we want to attract younger customers.  Here are a few Flavor trend highlights that I believe will affect the mainstream:

  • Vegetable Centricity – this trend is going on 3 years and continues to grow. Menus at major brands like Hard Rock Café and California Pizza Kitchen now feature items where Vegetable is the Star!
  • Mashing Indian into the Mainstream – many of us have been waiting on Indian to take flight, but so far this has not happened ( Biju’s Little Curry Shop). Chef Jerry Ludwig showeMasala Lamp Chopd how Indian flavors are showing up in NY, LA, Chicago in more familiar dishes such as wings, shepherd’s pie, fries and burgers.
  • Hummus Beyond Chickpeas – chefs are reinventing this popular dish with things like: roasted cauliflower, pumpkin, celery root and charred rutabaga.
  • Global Handhelds – especially Eastern Mediterranean (Falafel and Doner Kabobs). The rapid growth of falafel-centric The Halal Guys is proof-positive here.
  • Southern Cuisine continues to be on fire with new chefs reimagining “southern” with mash-ups, upscale/ downscale, and seasonal dishes
  • Whiskeys and Rose Wine (yes, Rose!) continue to be hot, as are Red Wine Blends


➡️  New Concepts – Winsight/Technomic’s Peter Romeo and Heather Lalley shared a few concepts that might not be on your radar. All are differentiated, with proven leadership and financial backing, tech savvy, in a vibrant sector with off premise innovation.

New Concepts

I also visited Hash Hash A Go Go in Chicago, a 10-unit concept who takes the claim for “twisted farm food.” Check out my tour of this unique concept found here.

These are just a few of the MANY factors going on in today’s restaurant industry…but where should your particular brand focus? While a TREND might be “hot,” you want to be sure it’s right for your brand and doesn’t become a misguided TRAP where you may lose focus on your guest, core values, or overall concept! If I can help you sort through the TRENDS vs TRAPS for your business, call or text me at 303-885-3467.  And, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook @growthpartnersllc!


For nearly fifteen years, Growth Partners, LLC has provided outsourced Chief Marketing Officer consulting to restaurant companies. I am a fresh set of eyes for current CMOs, as well as an Interim or Part-Time CMO for concepts looking to grow their businesses and brands. Learn more at