The restaurant industry has a fair amount of uncertainty, but menu labeling and its requirements may be one of the most ambiguous challenges operators have faced in recent years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released proposed regulations in 2011. Three years later, we are still waiting for the final rulings, but operators can take steps toward accurate labeling now.

Menu labeling triply challenges pizza operators. First, pizzeria menus offer greater variety than other industry segments. Second, customization inherent in the offering makes standardization far more difficult. Third, pizza — in its wonderful decadence — often has higher calorie counts than other comparable segments. Add to the pie the expected costs of analysis, and menu labeling becomes a supreme problem. Or not. With the right partner and the right information, operators can stay true to their brands while providing the necessary information and options that comply with menu labeling standards. It’s as easy as pie, or in this case, as easy as 1-2-3. (read more…)

When Denny’s recently unveiled their newest restaurant, set to open in Manhattan’s Financial District, the design was nearly unrecognizable. The new restaurant is full of dark woods, tufted leather seats, copper ceilings, and full-wall photographic murals. There is even a craft cocktail bar serving pre-Prohibition era cocktails and an eye-catching $300 “Grand Cru Slam” which pairs two entrees with a bottle of Dom Perignon and a “bartender high-five.”

But the new Denny’s concept is representative of a broader shift in the industry, as a number of brands seek to regain market share lost during the recession and compete with fast casuals for the Millennial dollar. Now many restaurant chains are revamping their image with new logos; playful social media-driven marketing efforts (like that high-five from the bartender); modern décor; and a refreshed menu.

For the first in our two-part series of TrendSpotting Reports on recently revamped restaurants, we focused on the well-known chains that have recently (or are currently) refreshing their concept, discovering the modern trends that are impacting the entire landscape. (read more…)

Perhaps the only modern-day phenomenon that’s more striking than people strolling down the street while using cell phones is the ubiquity of food. It’s everywhere – inside Ikea and Nordstrom, fresh from Amazon.com, delivered to your car in rush-hour Manhattan traffic.

Increasingly, food culture and technology converge in ways that are not strictly about purchasing: People share pictures of meals on Facebook and gain inspiration for recipes and ingredients on Pinterest. They use Twitter to interact with chefs and favorite brands. Date night sometimes means a couple sitting at the same table gazing into their smartphones.

These are markers of a revolution in the way people think about eating — and they mean huge changes for food marketers who are used to focusing on consumers’ wants and needs. Going forward, the most successful food companies will pay attention more to what people are actually doing with food, how they play with it and what meals and snacks they make — all activities anchored by the digital world and far different from the “need states” marketers traditionally study. (read more…)

What makes a truly great sandwich? It’s no small question — sandwiches are big business, both for restaurants — Subway, the largest QSR chain in the world, has over 42,000 locations — and retail, with nearly 90% of consumers report eating a sandwich within the past week, the majority eaten and prepared at home.

For our upcoming MenuTrends Keynote on sandwiches, we wanted to know what consumers were already eating, what they were interested in trying, and how that compared to the sandwiches that operators were menuing. We asked over 1,000 consumers for their thoughts on a wide range of sandwich options, flavors, trends and ingredients, uncovering preferences and motivations with direct implications for both operators and consumers. We combined this with operator data on purchases and brand preferences, and leveraged the power of MenuTrends, our trend-tracking menu database, for this one-of-a-kind series that comprehensively explores topics and categories central to the industry. (read more…)

Today’s consumers expect fine-dining menus to boast locally sourced ingredients and change with the seasons, and now the locavore trend is fueling changes at less-pricey fast-casual chains such as Mad Greens, Salata, Sweetgreen, and Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless.

Fast casual continues to grow, even as overall restaurant traffic has remained flat for more than five years, according to recent NPD Group data. A key trend driving that growth is the rising demand for fresh ingredients, and the willingness to pay a premium for them. And, if the food is locally sourced and comes with a backstory, so much the better.

Colorado-based Mad Greens has increased the amount of locally sourced items on the menu in recent years, and there’s a strategy for expanding that when the 13-unit chain expands beyond the Centennial State’s borders, said founders Marley Hodgson and Dan Long. “The plan is to have a dedicated portion of the menu that’s local specific,” Hodgson said. (read more…)