Tight economic times, trends toward healthier dining and new seasonal flavors may drive us to change our dessert habits at times, but Americans still want to indulge in after-dinner sweets and, when they do, it’s most likely they’ll be having something chocolate. More than two-thirds of restaurant menus boast at least one chocolate dessert, with vanilla a far-off second at about 40%, according to Datassential, and many restaurants are seeing that old classics with new twists, as well as desserts that offer guests a different way of dining, are trending with consumers today.

There’s evidence that eateries are innovating in the area of chocolate, even as they downsize the menu. Restaurant menus were 2% smaller in the third-quarter of 2014, compared to the same period last year, and dessert menus shrank 3%, according to Technomic.

“The overall trend of downsizing menus means restaurants are focusing on the highest-reward items, the ones with the highest margins or the biggest sellers or the ones with the biggest buzz, and that’s certainly true with desserts,” said Technomic restaurant industry watcher Mary Chapman. (read more…)

America’s foodies have educated themselves about different cuisines and exotic ingredients through travel, food TV shows, social sharing sites and even old-fashioned word-of-mouth, and the most adventurous among them are fueling the rising popularity of chefs’ tasting menus. Paradoxically, the more they know, the more many want to be surprised and delighted rather than dictate each course.

Chefs Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza bought Philadelphia’s Marigold Kitchen this year from founder Rob Halpern, who spent five years building a following for the eatery’s tasting menu. The partners are carrying on the tradition Halpern started, along with Chef Keith Krajewski and General Manager Christopher Albert.

“We’re doing the same thing as the previous owner, it’s something bold and unique, but we have tweaked it in our own way,” said Lanza.

Marigold Kitchen offers a 14-course tasting menu for $90 per person, with seasonal offerings that change at least four and as many as six times a year, Lanza said. (read more…)

This post, sponsored by Kellogg’s, highlights groundbreaking research that examines A.M. consumer segment differences and eating behaviors, giving operators new profit opportunities and ideas.

Breakfast is no longer the morning meal that many of us knew as children. Leisurely sit-down meals composed of hearty items are now the exception, not the norm, as consumers shift their morning eating behaviors.

Today, many people opt for items that are convenient and portable. But that morning meal also needs to be nutritious and help fuel their activities. Most importantly, different types of consumers define morning “meals” in entirely different ways.

That means operators need to change the traditional ways they connect with various types of customers.

Generally, consumers choose their A.M. destinations based on food quality and food value. Coffee and water are the top beverage choices, and they opt for baked goods if they’re looking for a cold meal and breakfast sandwiches if they want a hot meal. (read more…)

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…)