Current Restaurant Market Trends

Healthy eating has become a major concern with many customers, who are now eating much more low calorie food, salad and fruit. Lunches have become lighter, in order to fit in with diners' busy lifestyles, and there is widespread interest in exotic cuisines regarded as providing greater nutritional benefit, energy and flavor than more traditional dishes. Many existing businesses have tried to respond to this shift in demand, with varying degrees of success; for example; McDonalds has reversed its financial decline by expanding and altering its menus to cater for the health-conscious.

A related trend is the growing interest in organic and locally sourced food, as customers gain a better understanding of the effects of artificial additives and the practices involved in creating processed foods. Consumers are increasingly keen to know where their food comes from, how it has been produced and the ingredients it contains, and are prepared to pay a premium price for food that meets this criteria.

Regional food has undergone something of a renaissance recently, with local chefs striving to promote an area's identity through the food they prepare. Some restaurants are emphasising the fact that the food they serve is sourced locally and infused with regional flavor; and this can be a successful way for eating establishments to attract tourists keen to sample a region's 'signature' dish. Chefs, restaurant proprietors and retailers are beginning to seek protection for the identity of well-known regional foods.

The demise of the corporate 'boozy' lunch has had a significant impact on the lunchtime trade of city centre restaurants. The old trend for business executives to enjoy lengthy, large, and alcohol-sodden lunches at local restaurants has virtually disappeared in line with reduced corporate expenditure on 'perks' and a need for greater openness with company accounts. Many firms also forbid employees to drink during their working hours, and the raised awareness of dieting and healthy eating is leading people to eat less at lunch. Similarly, long and demanding working days mean that a high proportion of workers eat 'on the hoof' or at their desks, and rarely take a full hour for lunch.

Consumers are spending more on leisure, but as a result of extended working hours, are spending more of their free time at home. Demand for takeaway and delivery services are ripe in this market, and rented DVDs, CDs and video games often accompany food and drink brought into consumers' home.

Future trends and issues

Eating out is anticipated to grow in popularity and value over coming decades as average incomes and the US population rise. The sector remains highly attractive, but it is not likely to become any less competitive or challenging to enter.

The rapid diversification of the restaurant market poses particular challenges for existing businesses offering established ethnic culinary styles. This is particularly true of Indian and Chinese restaurants, which have been criticised for offering menus identical to those of 20 or 30 years ago, and failing to recognise evolving demand. Middle Eastern, North African and even revived American cookery have started to gain market share, and in coming years this change is likely to spread to other towns and cities in the US.

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