Restaurant Review: Understand These Trends for Success in 2017

While overall restaurant sales in the U.S. grew 5 percent to $782.7 billion last year, that didn’t stop some industry prognosticators from predicting an impending “restaurant recession.”

Some companies struggled to compete with lower grocer prices that prompted more stay-at-home meals, according to Fortune magazine. Others blamed stalled wages, boosted living costs and uncertainty about the country’s political future.

That said, some forecasters remain somewhat optimistic about 2017 revenues, forecasting a 3.5 percent sales boost at full-service restaurants and traffic growth of about 1 percent at quick-service chains.

"We believe sickly sales trends could regain health throughout 2017," advises analyst Brian Bittner in a January CNBC story. "While we will pay close attention to gas prices ... we are cautiously optimistic, as the industry laps very soft 2016 comps armed with improving consumer metrics.”

One key to improving last year’s sales may be staying on top of key trends for 2017. As such, here’s a partial list, compiled from online sources, of directions restaurants are likely to take this year.

Getting on board with technology

  • More investment in restaurant CRM systems that can build and optimize customer databases for highly targeted marketing strategies. “For the rest, they are left as price takers, relying on someone else with a customer database to do the marketing for them and pass through whatever revenue they see fit,” advises an article on
  • More strategic use of social media to target groups beyond just millennials. Right now only 8 percent of small restaurants post weekly to Facebook and only 2 percent run Facebook ads, reports Marketing4Restaurants. But the portion of marketing spend devoted to social media is expected to hit 25 percent by 2021. 
  • More use of iPhone and Droid apps as marketing tools.
  • More use of blogging and microblogging as marketing tools. “Restaurants that blog, sharing their journey, their recipes, and their upcoming events, are building a valuable customer base,” advises Allie Tetreault of restaurant software firm Toast. “Subscribers to your blog will get an email any time you publish, and that's a great way to stay on your customers' minds.”
  • More video production as a marketing tool, with distribution on YouTube, Vimeo and other key sites. “Video is no longer an ‘up-and-coming’ marketing tactic — it's here, and it's a powerful way to communicate your brand's story, explain your value proposition and build relationships with your customers and prospects,” writes Lindsay Kolowich of software vendor HubSpot. The site points to research showing 90 percent of viewers find product videos helpful in making a buying decision.
  • The possible debut of drones and self-driving cars for food deliveries.
  • More small-restaurant leveraging of first-party data for marketing, menu engineering and design, customer research and demographic profiling. For example, reports Marketing4Restaurants, some are using Facebook to crowdsource menu ideas or test virtual products, using analytics tools like those offered by GoodData to gauge marketing campaign effectiveness.
  • The possible use of more robots to boost production, save money and/or enhance customer experience. One example: The robot bartenders now featured on Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line. 
  • More restaurant consolidations in general, facilitated by tools like Confluence, Slack, Zoom and IP Cameras that allow for efficiencies in multirestaurant management. “The next generation of restaurant owners are using tools more often used by application developers to communicate and plan their work,” notes Marketing4Restaurants. 

 Zeroing in on your customer

  • More brands and menus catering to the country’s growing Hispanic population.
  • More experimentation in serving customers at different times of the day (aka dayparts). Breakfast remains one of the fastest-growing (but toughest) segments.
  • More catering by restaurants, aided by online and social media marketing campaigns.
  • More offering of restaurant-branded products online and at grocery retailers.
  • More multichannel marketing of restaurants at every consumer touch point.
  • Increased demand in the fast casual restaurant segment, spurring more eateries to strive for faster service, boxed lunch offerings, quick-lunch menus, etc.
  • More delivery services, more online ordering for delivery services, and more consolidations of food and transportation companies to address demand for deliveries.
  • More delivery-only establishments established by restaurateurs wishing to avoid front-of-house expenses.

Upping your marketing strategy

  • More marketing surrounding food sources, food health benefits, social responsibility, recycling and sustainability.
  • More focus on packaging that stands out from the crowd.
  • More focus on hyper-local marketing to audiences within three miles of a given restaurant. Methods might include using/promoting local ingredients; highlighting menu items with a local spin; co-marketing with local businesses; offering promotions to local sports teams, etc.
  • Greater market segmentation, causing competition in every niche; examples include eateries focusing on the vegan, family-specific, gluten-free, grown-local and delivery markets. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a generic cuisine-based restaurant without also focusing on a number of niches that can drive revenue,” notes Marketing4Restaurants.
  • Some questionable-quality restaurants outlasting good-quality restaurants due to better marketing.

Keeping informed about what’s going on in your industry may be the best possible defense in the increasingly competitive restaurant business.

“The best thing to do is reflect on how you addressed the challenges of 2016,” advises Donald Burns of Toast. “Whether or not you're happy with the way you handled these challenges, you can always take things up another notch. Complacency in your current state leads to mediocrity, and mediocrity is the cause of slow death in a restaurant.”

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