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Mintel, the experts in what consumers want and why, has today (January 15, 2020) announced four trends set to impact the US restaurant industry in 2020, bringing new opportunities to appeal to diners based on specific dietary and lifestyle needs.

Amanda Topper, Associate Director, Foodservice Research at Mintel, outlines the trends and what they mean for restaurants in the year ahead:

Battleground: Foodservice

With more options for buying food and drink than ever, restaurants will lean into their ability to be a social gathering place, in addition to a place to refuel. To remain competitive, they will modify existing operations to meet diners at home and on the go.

“There are endless options and locations for buying food and drink, meaning restaurants need to be more than just a place for people to eat. Restaurants need to adapt their operations to different formats to stay relevant to today’s diners and keep them coming back for more. Whether through the blurring of foodservice and retail, or the rise of ‘eatertainment’ and virtual restaurant concepts, the restaurants of tomorrow need to make changes today.”

From the Ground Up

Despite the growing popularity of plant-based meat, concerns about ingredients and cost will temper long-term growth; meanwhile, natural plant-based ingredients will round out menu offerings and appeal to a wider consumer base.

“Plant-based meats have become tastier than ever before, and the excitement around this innovation has consumers eating and talking about meat alternatives. But as consumers begin to question the healthfulness, processing, and long ingredient lists of these alternatives, there are opportunities to highlight the flavor and texture benefits of natural plant-based ingredients. Looking ahead, we will see restaurants not just replace meat but enhance the flavor and appeal of plants, and create their own plant-based prototypes to give diners a delicious and proprietary experience.”

The Budding Effect

As consumers become increasingly ‘canna-curious,’ opportunities will arise to target cannabis occasions, whether through co-branding, marketing strategies, or menu items.

“Despite remaining unresolved regulatory and legal issues, operators have begun to leverage growing awareness and interest in cannabis-derived compounds, like CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), to address the equally tractionable consumer interest in menu items with wellness and relaxation benefits. Yet there are ways and opportunities for brands of all kinds to target canna-curious consumers and the occasion without getting their hands dirty.”

AI and Me

Advances in AI (artificial intelligence) are taking customization to the next level by personalizing the dining experience, with implications for check averages and restaurant hospitality.

“Whether consumers are picking up a coffee on the run or sitting down to enjoy a multi-course meal, personalization matters. Advances in AI technology are predicting diners’ every need and desire, all while improving the overall restaurant experience. But how can this technology co-exist with the human touch of hospitality that diners also value when dining out? From fast food to fine dining, customization is elevating check averages and dining experiences, via machines or maître d’s.”


Interviews with Amanda Topper, Associate Director, Foodservice Research, are available on request from the Mintel Press Office. Mintel’s 2020 US Foodservice Trends are available for free download here.