Food Trends

On Trend: When a Restaurant is More Than a Restaurant

May 29, 2023

On Trend: When a Restaurant is More Than a Restaurant

Personal and social values are shaping consumer choices in dining out

Are you known for being the leading edge for new foods/flavors? Do you appeal to Gen Xers or Baby Boomers? Millennials? How about your social responsibility? And how about the population as a whole, shifting its expectations that where it spends its money reflects its values?

No matter which way you see your restaurant's profile, shifts in the social strata trends will influence what your customers want (and will seek from your competitors) and provide you ways to freshen up your menu, and hone your reputation. Here are a few ways restaurants can key into the trends that are not just shaping food expectations, but society as well.

Food trend: Young and old, consumers want personalization

In the movie, "When Harry Met Sally," Sally basically asks, after making a dizzying restaurant order, "Why can't I have it the way I want it?" So true of today's consumer! They want what they want, when they want it. An amazing 73% of diners want some level of personalization in their food choices.

  • 67% prefer build your own pizza
  • 75% prefer build your own burrito
  • 64% prefer build your own pasta dish

What sets apart these customizers from the pre-sets? There are benefits to both, depending on your customers' values:

Build your own devotees like everything included (69%), that it's made fresh on the spot (49%), that it's good for dietary restrictions (49%) and that it's made just for me, from scratch (31%). They don't mind waiting – 93% say they are willing to wait extra time for customized food and they don't mind paying extra either, as 68% say they are willing to pay extra for customized food.2

Pre-set folks have a different set of values. They like that pre-set means faster and more convenient (79%), and that the restaurant knows the best combos (62%). They are too indecisive to build their own (34%) and unsure of good combos (18%).

That's the current state of personalization, and you may already offer customization in some way, but where is this trend going? You probably don't offer these personalizations…yet:

  • Customized salad toppings (not just dressing)
  • Entrée side substitutions (think Pick 2 at Panera)
  • Customized portion size (beyond the 6- or 8-ounce steak)
  • Drink ingredient substitutions (can you make a sugar-free smoothie?)
  • Extra additions to drinks (proteins, flavorings, spices and herbs)

Of course, there are downsides to all this customization when it comes to your bottom line.

  • Increased wait time (which, customers say they don't mind, but….)
  • Increases cost of items (see first bullet!)
  • Concern over poor quality, with less ability to standardize the dish
  • Items are not always correctly personalized

Still, consumers are demanding greater opportunity to get what they want for the dollars spent on your food items.

Values trend: Social responsibility hits the restaurant segment

Being a part of your community is not new, as restaurants, small and large, chain and independent, have been proudly displaying plaques supporting the local softball team or fire house for decades. What is new, however, is a sense that businesses should do more, take on a role of greater social responsibility with transparency.

Take Pret a Manger, for example, a fast casual restaurant that features organic coffee and natural food, and sponsors The Pret Foundation. Pret workers gather up all the food left unsold at the end of each day and donate it, through The Pret Foundation, to the hungry, in partnership with local food banks and shelters. This mission is part of the 450-location restaurant's widely-known reputation for "Good food, doing good."

Younger consumers are huge supporters of these philanthropic causes, with 84% in support, compared to 76% of older generation.3

And here's where your opportunity comes in: 57% of consumers say they have not known a restaurant to support a social cause.4 And yet, when consumers do recognize a restaurant that aligns with their values, even when they think there might be better food elsewhere, 61% will purchase food from that restaurant anyway, and 24% of those will encourage others to as well.5

Incorporating your social values into your brand is a step you should consider carefully, for not everyone thinks restaurants should be loud and proud, exclaiming their social values:6

  • 34% of all but Baby Boomers think restaurants should at least make their social values well known
  • 30%, highest among the youngest consumers, think restaurants should donate to causes, but not make it known and keep a low profile
  • 36%, highest among Generation X (ages 37-53) and Baby Boomers, think restaurants should just stick to serving good food

Whatever you decide to do, be transparent, be authentic. Sadly, our research shows that 75% of consumers do not believe that large food companies' stated charitable efforts are trustworthy. And while this statement is not about restaurants, it does call to mind the need for sincere commitment.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Datassentials Report: Personal Values & Generations