The More You Say, The More They’ll Pay

Foodservice’s Most Impactful Trend

Back in December, the National Restaurant Association released its Top 10 Trends in Foodservice. A number of these trends had more to do with the culture of food than the food itself: farm/estate branded items, locally sourced meats, sustainable seafood, etc. Given how trend-conscious the foodservice industry is, one might expect to find a slew of farm names and healthy-descriptors cropping up in menu descriptions across the United States. Something akin to this, perhaps:


Free-range Chicken & Roasted Vegetable Hash

Spice rubbed Petaluma chicken with roasted potatoes, organic red peppers, squash, corn, and sage. Topped with cheddar cheese and served over brown rice with cherries. House-made hot sauce on side.

Gluten Free, Spicy

* If you want to learn more about incorporating descriptions like this into your menu, check out our Menu Descriptions Best Practices download. 


The New Competitors on the Block

Except this menu description doesn’t come from the healthy, fast-casual concept down the street from your office. In fact, it doesn’t come from a restaurant at all. Rather, it comes from Sprig, a tech start-up looking to steal from your already decreasing share-of-stomach. According to Rosenheim Advisors, in just the past year more than $360 million has been invested into the burgeoning “meal-delivery” industry – companies like DoorDash, UberFresh, and Caviar are among the hottest tech startups right now. These companies are well-funded, fast-moving, and – as you can see from the above example – quick to adopt best practices from the foodservice industry. But they’re not the only ones looking to capture meal occasions – restaurants are all too familiar with the explosion of fresh and prepared food offerings inside of traditional grocery stores, a strategy that has helped fuel the more than $80B in annual food spend that has shifted away from restaurants and back to grocery stores in the last few years.

If traditional fast-casual concepts want to protect their share of stomach, they should begin to implement the trends outlined by the National Restaurant Association. Or, put another way, mention where their food comes from, speak to how a dish has been prepared, and describe in detail the attributes of each menu item.

Menu Description Best Practices

A menu can and should work just as hard as the food it’s describing to attract a customer – it is the single most important sales tool for any restaurant. It is an extension of the food, working both as an informant and a marketer of the dish to come. It sets expectations and excites the brain, tongue, and stomach. To that end, there are a few things each operator can do to properly market their food and further entice potential customers.

  • Mention preparation methods. Are the french-fries hand-cut? If so, include that. Because according to Food Genius data, doing so can increase the average price of a side of French-fries by $1.68. Other terms that correlate to a spike in average dish price are “house-made”, “in-house”, “artisanal”, and “grass-fed”.  On the other hand, some terms are played out. The term “fresh” appears on a whopping 76% of menus which suggests that its meaning has been watered-down due to it’s proliferation so consequently it doesn’t have quite the same amount of positive implications to diners.


  • Discuss the food’s origins.  Four out of NRA’s Top 10 trends relate to food origins and according to a study by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, nearly 9 in 10 consumers globally (86%) say, “ingredient transparency is extremely important or very important” for companies or restaurants to address. Despite patterns of the past, this kind of food supply transparency is no longer just reserved for independent operators. Fast-casual superstar Five Guys has been listing the farms that provide them with their potatoes for years and to much customer satisfaction.  So does Rick Bayless’ quick-serve, concept Tortas Frontera. Perennial tastemaker Chipotle has furthered the trend by establishing a festival that honors their ingredient providers and seafood star Red Lobster has also caught on. On each menu they detail where their “fresh catch” hails from- either on a regional or state level.

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  • Make note of dietary accommodations. Between five and 10 percent of all Americans may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form and 22.8 million Americans say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Traditionally, these people have had to go out of their way to find an accommodating eatery but the aforementioned start-ups and fast-casual concepts like LYFE Kitchen, are broadening these customers’ options by considering dietary restrictions in their menu planning and displaying dietary attributes on the menu. Though this might sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t. Even the most traditional of fast-casual concepts likely has more than five menu items that are gluten-free or vegetarian and all that it takes to delight a health-conscious patron is to label the food as such. Doing so limits the amount of time it takes a customer to order and overall increases the dining experience.

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The Menu as a Marketing Tool

The most important takeaway from all this is that when it comes to food, Americans are becoming more conscious consumers. Factors like health and environmental impact are being considered alongside convenience and affordability.  The good news for fast casual operators is that appealing to this customer does not have to involve a complete rebranding or overhaul of practices. Rather, it simply means becoming more transparent about the good things you already do. New companies like Sprig understand this and are using the menu as a marketing tool. So can you. The three practices outlined above are only an introduction into how to stay competitive in a more conscientious and aware market. For a more complete guide, download an example menu created by the Food Genius team that incorporates all the aforementioned best practices, and if you are interested in learning how to use data to incorporate industry trends into your menu design, contact Food Genius today.


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