Here’s what restaurant experts say will be the biggest limited-service trends this year. Tech runs wild: Tech is where it’s at for the fast-food and fast-casual sectors, says Gary Stibel, founder of New England Consulting Group. He says this will affect everything from ordering to pick-up to delivery. And curbside pick-up will explode in 2017 as improvements are made.
Delivery on steroids: 2017 will be the year it explodes into hyperspace, says restaurant consultant Michael Whiteman, president of Baum + Whiteman. As dozens of food delivery specialists take shape in an app- and tech-driven world, the delivery revolution will “uberize” the limited-service industry, he says.
Bowled over by bowls: To call 2017 the year of the bowl would not necessarily be an overstatement, says Melissa Abbott, vice president of culinary insights at The Hartman Group. Some bowls will be loaded with salad. Others will be filled with grains and veggies. And some will be protein-infused.
These new offerings are sure to appeal to Fast Food Lovers. The latest AudienceSCAN survey revealed 5% of Americans eat fast food five or more times per week.
Hybrid eats: Look for an explosion of hybrid menu items in 2017, including these unusual mash-ups: bulgogi hamburgers, pastrami-stuffed bao, Mexican ramen, congee with Polish sausage, sushi burritos, and hummus “in every flavor but pork belly.”
Workers matter too: 2017 will be the year that animal-rights issues play second fiddle to growing consumer concerns over how restaurant employees are treated, Abbott says. “It’s a new millennial mindset that asks: How are the people treated who work for this chain?” she says.
Limited-service restaurants can let Fast Food Lovers know how they treat their workers in TV commercials. The AudienceSCAN study reported 49% of Fast Food Lovers took action after seeing TV ads in the past 30 days.
Veggies go viral: Vegetables will extend their domination of the dinner plate in 2017, shoving animal protein to the edge or sometimes off the plate altogether, Whiteman says.
Pop-ups explode: In-N-Out Burger tested a pop-up restaurant in London in September that caused a frenzy—particularly after it ran out of food. Pop-ups will become more common state-side, says Stephen Dutton, consumer foodservice associate at Euromonitor. “It’s all about offering an exclusive, limited-time-only experience,” he says.
A new and exciting pop-up is likely to appeal to the hardcore eater. According to AudienceSCAN data, 12.4% of Americans eat fast food 3 to 4 times a week.
Breakfast becomes brunch: The very texture of breakfast is being transformed, Whiteman says. He says the morning meal used to be populated with “smooth and soothing” foods like scrambled eggs and oatmeal, but has since become full of “aggressive” meals like fried chicken, chorizo, and coarse whole-grain cereal. For example, Jack in the Box launched “Brunchfast” with an assortment of heavier items; Starbucks spiced up its breakfast sandwiches and is testing weekend quiche and French toast; and Einstein’s launched a green chile bagel with eggs, avocado, chorizo, pepper, and jalapeño salsa.
Suppliers become competitors: Uncomfortable as it sounds, this may become relatively common in 2017, Whiteman says. Kellogg’s, after all, opened a cereal restaurant in the heart of Times Square last year. If it succeeds, there could be more.