By Christopher Zook
With summer coming to a close and 2013 fast approaching, now is as good a time as ever to take a look at some of the year's most popular emerging trends. And while we've covered things like fair food and green catering in the past, this will be a look at restaurant trends specifically.
Probably one of the lesser-known ideas of the past year, beer cocktails are the product of gastropubs and creative bartenders. While most are familiar with Jagerbombs and other bomb drinks, there are other, less party-oriented mixtures that work well as casual beverages to accompany meals. And just because they're cocktails doesn't mean they have to be complicated. Santa Monica's Cezanne crafts a Cherry Wheat Mimosa out of Blue Moon, Chambord, and orange juice - a very simple list of ingredients that maximizes each beverage's flavor in the mix. On the other hand, you can get a little more adventurous for your intense customers and advertise a Flaming Doctor Pepper, which includes a beer, amaretto, and high-proof liquor (Bacardi 151 or Everclear, commonly). Unlike the Cherry Wheat Mimosa, this cocktail is designed for optimal alcohol content and to be quickly chugged after preparation. It also literally includes the use of fire, so extreme caution should be taken when making it, because it's not for the faint of heart (or the new bartender).
And yes, it tastes just like regular Dr. Pepper.
Restaurants have become much more conscious about a number of health-related issues over the past several years, including food allergies - so much so that there is actually a full week dedicated to awareness. Because these allergies are better understood today than before, many businesses have opted to serve food that is hypoallergenic, minimizing the chance a customer will experience an allergic reaction. Cucumbers, carrots, apples, maple syrup, buckwheat, rice, pinto beans, and lamb meat are just some of the more popular ingredients that can be used to produce great-tasting, healthy, and safe dishes.
We've covered local sourcing before in different ways, but regardless of whether you choose to buy local or grow your own food at your restaurant, local sourcing is a boon to local economies and the environment. Buying local helps keep money circulating in your town or city, instead of sending it across the country or to large import firms. Plus, purchasing on a local level can help keep food safer - it's fresh and hasn't been handled by nearly as many people - while helping your bottom line. For example, here in Lancaster, PA, the headquarters of The Webstaurant Store, it's not uncommon to pass a local food stand selling something like ears of corn for as little as two dollars per dozen. You simply won't get that price from shipped foods at a grocery store. And if you don't want to buy, you can always grow your own vegetable garden to supplement your food stock.
An important factor of your restaurant, a social media presence is almost a requirement for any successful restaurant today. Particularly among Millenials, the desire to check in on Foursquare or Facebook is unquenchable, and it helps when you can feed off of these users' links and free advertising by including information about your business. Facebook is especially important, considering it boasts roughly 900 million active users (three times greater than the population of the US), but don't forget about Twitter (500 million users), Google+ (250 million users), and Pinterest (10 million users). While a fair number of these social media users are sure to overlap, that's still a ton of people you can reach without any expense on your part - it's exclusively a time investment. Post food and beverage specials, detail events you have going on, hold contests and giveaways, and link up with other businesses in your area to help promote each other.
Depending on how much you use it, you might not even need a company website.
Knowledge is power, and nowhere is that more evident than when choosing food. Particularly now in such a health-conscious society, it is important to have nutritional information on-hand for any customer that asks, not only to ensure it is safe for a person with food allergies, but also for those who may have diabetes, monitor their cholesterol, or are simply trying to eat better. Readily available nutritional facts can be every bit as important as the service a customer receives. This is especially critical for children's meals, as concern of child obesity and safety has recently hit an all-time high and information on how to prevent it is readily available. So before you put a dish on your menu, make sure you have the proper information ready for anyone who asks, because it just might be the difference between a one-time customer and a regular.