CHICAGO – The US restaurant industry is poised for growth in 2014, and five key trends will influence menu offerings and drive sales, according to Chicago-based Mintel, a leading market research firm. Julia Gallo-Torres, category manager – US foodservice reports at Mintel, identified the trends set to shape restaurant menus and spur growth in the New Year.

1. New concepts in the fast casual segment focusing on customization, quick service and convenience are gaining customers who are willing to pay more for better quality and healthier foods. "These include higher quality burger chains; concepts more firmly focused on health, and a rash of pizza restaurants that can deliver a fully-cooked, customized pizza in a matter of minutes."

2. Taking a page from the fast casual playbook are full-service restaurant concepts that adopt the quicker fast casual service model — especially during the lunch daypart. Healthier, more flavorful menu offerings and use of technology to expedite service are additional tactics full-service concepts will use to generate traffic.

3. Consumers are demanding transparency from the food industry. Diners want to know the origins of the foods they eat; and they want to know that food companies are using responsible animal handling and welfare best practices, according to Mintel.

"Consumers are interested in patronizing restaurants and buying brands that reflect their own values," Mintel noted. "Concepts that understand this and offer more information about their green practices or the causes they support stand to reap the rewards of increased loyalty."

4. Capturing the attention of Millennials has occupied many food companies, but other demographic groups such as women, Hispanics and Baby Boomers represent opportunities for the foodservice industry, Mintel noted.

5. Finally, technology has left no industry untouched. Restaurants are offering nutritional and other information via tablets and digital menu boards while reducing order, wait and check-out times, Mintel reported. Restaurants also are using technology to deliver loyalty programs, promotions, discounts and other offers.

"Brands are redesigning their websites to allow consumers to gain all the information they want with as few clicks as possible. This includes making their sites more attractive and useful via smartphones, which consumers rely on more and more for staying organized and gaining information," Mintel said.