The year 2008 brought doom and gloom to many Americans, as the economy shook and pocketbooks tightened. As people tried to cut back on spending, the restaurant industry felt a pinch across the board. From fast food to fine dining, foodservice establishments have struggled to keep business good despite tough times.
But, change seems to be closer than many people think. According to Mintel Oxygen, 47% of Americans say they spend their extra money on dining out. By focusing on positive messages and emotional descriptors, highlighting fresh ingredients and foods that are inherently “good,” and innovating creative, exciting new cocktails, the restaurant industry can look forward to a culinary rainbow after the economic storm.
A Positive Focus and Emotionally TiedMore than ever, restaurants need to play into people’s need for pleasure and relaxation. As consumers weather the economic storm daily, they look to restaurants as a form of entertainment and relief. People are asking for fresher food, foods that make them feel good and more creativity on the menu. These items help them remember better times and look forward to a bright future.
By having a positive focus and including positive messaging on the menu, restaurants can effectively tap into these needs. Rather than specifying the “lows” and “nos” of food and drink, restaurants that highlight the positives of healthy food will help bring both meal and diner into the light. Mintel Menu Insights has seen more positive messaging begin to appear on menus, and it predicts more development of these messages in 2009. Restaurants are trying to make people feel good about what they are eating and drinking.
For example, Mintel Menu Insights has seen:
* Citrus Squeeze (Jamba Juice)--Citrus Squeeze gives your body a big “citrus-y” hug from the inside out.
* Black Bean Roll-Ups (Max & Erma’s)--H-E-L-L-O, skinny jeans! Five tortillas filled with spicy black beans and veggies, served with low-fat Tex-Mex dressing and fresh pico de gallo.
* Ginger Martini (The Melting Pot)--Refreshing blend of Skyy citrus, Cointreau and lime with ginger.
In addition to making people feel good, food is also tied to other emotions. Comfort, relaxation, fulfillment, stress and even anger can be fueled or halted by a good meal or drink. Restaurants are starting to play into the connection between food and emotion on the menu, and Mintel Menu Insights expects this to become a major trend in 2009.
Messages that speak directly to consumers’ wants and needs are being featured more on American restaurant menus. By tying into consumer interests, restaurant owners can create an emotional connection that makes menu items more enjoyable. It also makes the menu item more memorable, giving people a reason to visit the restaurant again.
The following are emotions and word cues found on restaurant menus by Mintel Menu Insights:
* Emotion: Healthy/physical wellness; cues: heart-smart, skinny, guilt-free, health-conscious.
* Emotion: Happiness; cues: hugs, smiles.
* Emotion: Relaxation; cues: calmness, comfort, stress-free, cool-down, restore.
* Emotion: Refreshed; cues: refreshing, cooling, invig-orating.
* Emotion: Satisfied; cues: crave, satisfying, filling.
The Fresh Factor to Inherently GoodFresh is becoming major in the most natural of ways. Though restaurant menus have always been a canvas for innovation and experimentation, increasingly, diners are looking for natural, fresh food and drink. Owners have quickly responded, and, according to Mintel Menu Insights, “fresh” labeling has increased by 36% over the past three years on the menu (3Q 2005-3Q 2008). (See chart “Growth of ‘Fresh’ Over Time.”)
Freshness is typically associated with produce and with good reason. Fresh produce carries the positive connotation of being nutritious and flavorful. But, fresh produce is just one part of the fresh story: more and more restaurants are marketing their meats, dairy products and even desserts as fresh. From ingredients to preparation styles to full entrées, “fresh” is being used to let customers know that the food has been prepared just for them.
Fast-casual Mexican restaurants are taking the lead in “fresh” food and drink philosophies, tracked by Mintel Menu Insights. For example, Baja Fresh bases its menu and restaurant concept around being the freshest, with the slogan “It's About Flavor, It's About Fresh, and...It's About Time!” Chipotle Mexican Grill’s mission is to “offer a simple menu of great food prepared fresh each day, using many of the same cooking techniques as gourmet restaurants.”
Other restaurants, such as Subway, Seasons 52, Jamba Juice, Ruby Tuesday and Red Lobster, have either been built around freshness or have changed their menus to focus on fresh. Inherent goodness is a burgeoning trend on American restaurant menus. Tied to both positive messaging and freshness of ingredients, inherent goodness encompasses everything that is naturally good. Restaurants are increasingly using these ingredients to position their menu items as flavorful, satisfying and healthy.
Mintel Menu Insights has seen inherently good ingredients cropping up on restaurant menus across dining segments:
* Wheat Germ Pancakes (Original Pancake House)--Made with the healthiest, tastiest part of the wheat, it is a heart-smart treat.
* Vegetarian Vegetable Bowl (Pollo Tropical)--A new TropiChop for the health-conscious or vegetarian eater. A colorful row of yellow corn, black beans and lettuce-tomato blend is served on top of a bed of white rice.
* Cedar Plank-grilled Wild Salmon (Cheebo)--Rich in omega-3s.
A Sip of CreativityBeer, wine and soda might be fine at home, but in a restaurant or bar? Creative cocktails and other fancy drinks are king. As beverage menus grow across dining types, many fine dining and upscale restaurants are creating fun, new drinks to keep people in the establishment longer. Even casual restaurants are getting in on the picture.
Chefs and bar chefs are working together, using similar ingredients in both food and drink. For example, if pumpkin is a seasonal special on the food menu, bar chefs will use pumpkin in their signature cocktails. This synergy bridges the gap between food and drink and creates a truly special experience for the diner. From alcoholic to “zero-proof,” Mintel has seen interesting new cocktails and mocktails popping up everywhere:
* Coyote’s PB & J (Coyote Café)--Made with strawberry-infused vodka shaken with Smucker’s strawberry jam and contrasted with a unique, peanut butter powdered rim.
* Capri Martini (Coyote Café)--Made with aromatic fresh basil muddled with fresh lime juice, shaken with premium vodka and presented with a balsamic reduction and a cherry tomato mozzarella flower.
* Maui Punch (California Pizza Kitchen)--A combination of orange and pineapple juices, with a splash of grenadine served over ice.
* Pineapple Dream (Denny’s)--A fruity blend of orange juice with the flavor of pineapple, a splash of Sprite and a squeeze of fresh lime.
In fine dining especially, Mintel Menu Insights has seen truly interesting new ingredients being incorporated into fancy cocktails. (See chart “Inventive Cocktail Ingredients.”) As is so often the case with new packaged retail products, innovative products, creative use of ingredients and positive messages help drive the success of restaurant fare. pf