Written by Jenny Simmons, Director of Marketing at Compeat
With the NRA’s 100th anniversary celebration show in the books, it’s almost hard to fathom just how much the restaurant industry has evolved in the past decade, let alone the past century. With robot servers, high-tech gadgetry and creative/alternative cuisine options, it makes you wonder what the early NRA pioneers would think about where we are today.
This year at NRA, we saw innovation manifest in a number of unique approaches to traditional cuisine and service options as the industry strives to satisfy customers’ changing desires. Here are some of our favorite, and most intriguing, takeaways from the industry’s most important four days of the year.
Cheese is having a moment
It seemed everywhere you turned at NRA, there was a giant wheel of cheese inviting you to take a sample. Perhaps as a sort of pushback against the healthy/clean eating trends, restaurants are now incorporating cheese into their dining experience, such as serving pasta tossed in a huge block of parmesan at the tableside. The surge in “cheese culture” is also showing up in cheeseboard and charcuterie offerings, paired with wine, as either an appetizer or a main course. But one thing is clear: the cheese needs to wow! Giant blocks, exotic varieties, rare finds…the cheese you choose must make a statement to create a unique and memorable experience.
On the other hand: Alternatives to dairy are growing
Whether for ethical or dietary reasons, or simply just for a change of pace, consumers are flocking to non-dairy alternatives to their favorite traditionally milk-based foods. Of course, soy and almond milk are nothing new, and coconut milk-based products are growing quickly in popularity, ranging from beverages and smoothies to yogurt. Chobani’s plant-based yogurt and drinks made a big splash at the NRA, marketed primarily for vegan consumers. Other brands are beginning to also offer oat milk varieties, which is a great alternative for those who don’t do soy, for example, or are looking for a different nutritional profile.
Demand for delivery challenges restaurateurs
Consumers increasingly want the convenience of having their favorite restaurant food delivered straight to their couch. This is great news for restaurants, who can increase sales without the constraints of square footage and at very little added personnel costs. However, consumers also expect restaurant quality—which is extremely difficult to achieve with takeout. Even third-party vendors like DoorDash and UberEats haven’t quite solved the problem because the quality expectations are on the restaurant, yet they have no control over the delivery timeframe. The market opportunity is huge for delivery, and whether it’s new packaging technology, recipe tweaks or transportation solutions, restaurants that can solve the delivery challenge can win big.
Where’s the beef?
I can say with nearly 100% certainty that when Wendy’s developed their iconic “Where’s the beef?” campaign, they had absolutely no idea that non-beef burgers would ever be a thing. But these vegan, meatless substitutes are gaining traction, as evidenced by the gigantic presence of Impossible Burger at NRA. Lauded for their more sustainable, environmentally friendly and humane production, meat substitutes definitely fill a void for a niche audience, and restauranteurs should make it a priority to offer these options. But, I don’t think we’ll see non-meat burgers take over the world anytime soon.
Cold brew coffee is still hot
Especially for the summertime lunch crowd, cold brew coffee remains a huge hit and we saw so many vendors offering their unique take in what seemed like a million different flavors and varieties. Much like the craft beer movement, having a variety of cold brew coffees on tap is attracting a new generation of coffee drinkers with an alternative to their parent’s bitter morning hot cup of joe. For restaurateurs, partnering with cold brew specialists, rather than making it in-house, is the most reasonable way to keep pace with the demand.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 100 years, it’s that the restaurant business is constantly evolving and consumers’ tastes and demands are forever changing. Not only is keeping up with the latest trends critical for restaurateurs to keep patrons beating a path to their door, keeping close tabs on what’s going on inside your own facility is crucial, too. That’s where Compeat can help. By giving you insights into what’s hot and what’s not within your own establishment, we can help you make smarter decisions about how to run your business.
Is the demand for cold brew seasonal or year-round? Are the vegan burgers constantly out of stock? How long does that giant wheel of parmesan last before it runs out? Compeat can help you answer those questions, along with the million more that will come up as the restaurant industry embarks on the next century of outstanding service.