Consumer confidence is climbing, but restaurant industry sales are stuck. Blame it on Netflix, Amazon or the supermarket up the street, said Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co., an Atlanta-based restaurant consultancy.
“Your customer situation is more positive today than it has been in years, but somehow restaurant industry sales have ceased to keep pace with that,” Kruse told participants during a presentation at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 19-22 in Chicago. “You’re getting stronger competition today from supermarkets than you have at any time in the history of the modern restaurant industry.”
Restaurant delivery and a renewed interest in home cooking also deter dining out. The key to luring consumers off the couch and into restaurants, Kruse said, is to deliver “vibrant, memorable, cannot-make-at-home experiences, not just in your overall environment but on your menu as well.”
Powerful or playful, presentation builds buzz and drives traffic, Kruse said.
“In addition to eating with our eyes, we seem to be eating with our iPhones,” she said, citing several Instagram-friendly menu items featuring hints of glitz and glamour. Buffalo Wild Wings, for example, invited customers for a limited time to “bling my wings” by adding a dash of edible gold glitter. Starbucks’ recently released Crystal Ball Frappuccino included a sparkly candy topping.
Enticing presentations may offer cues of comfort or may appear dark and dramatic – what many refer to as the “goth” food trend. The popularity of charred foods and the purported healthfulness of activated charcoal are among factors spurring interest in black-tinted hamburger buns, ice cream cones and cocktails, Kruse said. The charcoal latte is an emerging trend that already has made a splash in international markets.
A countertrend is what has been referred to as “ugly delicious,” led by young chefs who argue good food doesn’t have to look pretty.
“There’s a groundswell of support for what is being called ‘brown foods,’” Kruse said. “Soups, stews ... foods that aren’t necessarily these extraordinarily Instagram-able plate constructs, but just look good, homey, stick-to-your-ribs.”