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A Restaurateur’s Guide to Surviving Food Trends

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surviving-food-trendsBy Sheri Hernandez
Program Director, Hospitality Management at American Public University

Diners are a fickle bunch. One minute, they are demanding that bacon be added to each and every dish served, including dessert; and the next, they want to ensure meals are made from only organic vegetable gardens located right outside the kitchen door.

Depending on where you are in the country, some trends haven’t yet hit, some are still in full force, and others are dead and buried in the compost heap out back. How does a restaurant keep up?  How does a restaurant survive these trends and remain successful through them all?

First and foremost, the restaurant must determine whether a trend will fit in with the overall atmosphere and culture.  A wine bar specializing in vegan offerings would probably not do well if it began offering gourmet burgers and homebrews.  Independent restaurants have more flexibility than national chains and have more freedom to experiment with trends. Most of the time, it’s not a huge investment to add a couple of specials to see how customers react and determine whether it is wise to pursue more involvement with a particular trend.

Taking a look at some of the most recent food trends that may have come and gone in your neighborhood, you may have seen the appearance of gastropubs– a bar and restaurant that serves up high-end brews and creative food. At your favorite place, you may have noticed menu modifications to add sliders, gourmet burgers with unusual toppings, flavored martinis, upscale comfort food, or small plates of just about everything. Larger cities may have noticed a fleeting trend of tiki bars, Asian-influenced sandwiches, growlers, or speakeasies.

Trends can pop up in an existing restaurant, in terms of menu or décor changes, but they also may appear in the form of entirely new ventures, such as a cupcake shop or a grill your own meat restaurant. These new ventures face many challenges because startup costs may be high, the timing or the market demand may not be just right, or the trend may be too fleeting to be sustainable in the long run.

A few new and continuing trends in your neighborhood may include cupcakes, beer sommeliers, farm to fork local sustainable sourcing, whiskey and hard cider, or a continued emphasis on nutrition, especially on children’s menus.

It is through trends that successful restaurants embrace fresh ideas, rather than running from them. However, the fundamental difference between success and failure is that successful restaurants do not change their underlying philosophies. They anticipate their customers’ desires and offer them a sampling of compatible trends, but make smart decisions.  They understand how to interpret their financials and engineer their menus so new and continuing trends do not overtake their core operations or negatively impact revenues.

Smart managers and owners realize that, in order to remain successful, they must offer what their customers want, ensure the food they serve is safe to eat in a clean and welcoming environment, control costs, and always provide a service that sets them apart from the other restaurants on the block. Successful restaurant owners and managers obtain feedback from their guests.

These are just some of the topics that should be covered in a restaurant manager’s formal education, such as the Restaurant Operations Certificate offered at American Public University.  Success begins with knowledge, and knowledge is gained through education.

Restaurants that survive have smart managers that don’t shy away from trends, but adapt, react, and take smart risks to ensure they are giving their customers what they want while ensuring they make smart operating and marketing decisions.

So, what’s next…craft beers and cronuts?  Are you ready?

About the Author:

Sheri Hernandez is the Program Director for the Hospitality Management Program at APU. She has extensive knowledge of restaurant operations, purchasing, and training. She combines her skills as a Restaurant Manager with her career experience in Financial Commodity Risk Management, Consulting and Purchasing to enable her educate her students with a customer-focused, yet financially sound approach to Hospitality Management.

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