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January 6, 2023

The Top 10 Restaurant Trends for 2023

Tony Treadway

The Top 10 Restaurant Trends for 2023 article

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Creative Energy produces tons of content for a wide range of food companies. Last year, more than 300 infographics, videos, and blog posts were produced to drive lead generation and thought leadership for a variety of clients. A significant amount of that content deals with restaurants and the food service industry. It means we’re constantly on the lookout for trends impacting restaurant operators and their guests. As we welcome a new year, here’s a list of important trends we are following.

1 – A Revolt Boils Over Against Third-Party Delivery

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Third-party delivery companies are at risk of a revolt by restaurants due to high commissions.

Third-party delivery companies blossomed during the pandemic as restaurants were shuttered and customers were sheltered. Despite food and labor cost inflation, operators have been hesitant to pass along all those costs to their customers. With profit margins in the 10% range for some chains, restaurants will revolt. The 25–30% cost by third-party delivery companies will be bypassed by chains that’ve built their own delivery systems, more drive-throughs, and more.

2 – Doing More with Kitchen Staples

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Leveraging kitchen staples to address continued supply chain problems is big for 2023.

It’s hard to believe but restaurants continue to be dogged by problems with their supply chain. Missed shipments. Out-of-stock items by food manufacturers. These problems can destroy a menu. Some operator surveys find that most think the supply chain headache problems will continue at least until Q4 of the year. Thus, look for operators to leverage kitchen staples to make their own sauces, such as a spicy ranch dressing or turning to multiple uses of a prepared marinara sauce. Repurposing something as common as ketchup is a great way for operators to do more with fewer ingredients.

3 – Cheese Flavor Bombs Explode

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Italians have known about fresh mozzarella pearls for decades and now the rest of us will be introduced to these beautifully tasty babies on their flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and plenty more in 2023. When melted, these little oases of flavor entice you to grab one or two in every bite. Look for them to emerge on more menus this year.

4 – AI Enters Restaurant Marketing

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Artificial Intelligence will play a greater role in restaurant marketing in the new year.

If you haven’t explored some of the emerging Artificial Intelligence platforms, such as Chat GPT, many in restaurant marketing are. These platforms can easily be tasked to improve a restaurant’s ranking on Google from romancing targeted demographics on social media, picking featured on a digital menu board based on facial recognition to writing irresistible copy for a new menu item. AI won’t be perfect in 2023, but it’s gaining interest among restaurants and every other business in America. 

5 – Color & Nostalgia Rule

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Nostalgic twists with color are easy ways to customize successful menus.

The menu movement toward more colorful foods and brands that reckons back to a fun childhood will become more apparent in the new year. Smart operators will leverage the trend as eye candy for social media and menus for desserts, snacks, and sharable appetizers (think Fruity Pebbles cereal or Pop-Tarts. Datassential says “Pop-Tart” menu mentions is up 163% in the past four years).

6 – Plant-Based Is at Its Crossroad

Plant-based protein advertisement from KFC.
Plant-based proteins face significant headwinds as the newness of the concept wanes.

Inflation and fatigue with the newness of plant-based proteins are challenging its future. Only about 40% of consumers say they plan on purchasing plant-based proteins in the new year, about 20% below the threshold of consumer interest for an operator to take the risk. For consumers, the extra plant-based pricing for a protein they may not like makes for a tougher sell.

7 – Ever Heard of Mexican Sushi? You Will.

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This sushi burrito is a great example of how the trend can wow customers with flavor.

Consumers in America’s Southwest are embracing sushi with a unique flair. Mexican sushi is spicy, crunchy, cream cheese-slathered, and sometimes, surprisingly beefy. A typical Mexican sushi roll might include cooked shrimp, cilantro, American cheese, and bacon. Another might lure you with mozzarella, chipotle sauce, cream cheese, and skirt steak. According to Datassential, Japanese cuisine is at the top of the cravable chart for the new year so a mash-up with Mexican-style sushi is a launchpad for more innovation ahead with ceviche or poke.

8 – Food As a Movie

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Video takes center stage for storytelling about the unique menu and its ingredients.

As Congress ponders the future of TikTok, one thing is certain, the days of romancing food through video are ripe for success in the new year. Today, 80% of Gen Z customers use TikTok, but whether it’s an influencer nibbling on a new menu item on TikTok or on Instagram, consumers engage with video much more than still images. We’ve pioneered creative ways of touring the luscious ingredients of a menu item as a fresh approach to food as a movie star. We think it’ll be a game changer for restaurant marketing in the new year.

9 – Refining Back-of-House Efficiencies

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Back-of-house efficiency is the top priority of operators in the new year.

More elbow grease is being applied at making the process of making food more important than any other challenge for 2023. Getting more food produced more quickly is a science that can cut costs, and reduce the number of employees needed and the speed of service. Operators are counting on prepared or partially prepared foods as a shortcut compared to scratch cooking. The days of carving out an hour to make a compound butter is giving way to buying some that’s pre-made. Look for this trend to explode in the new year.

10 – Making The Dine-In Experience More Memorable

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Chicken N Pickle brings fun to center stage as a trending eatertainment venue.

Dine-in occasions are still down about 5% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Smaller footprints for newly constructed restaurants and bringing “wow” to the dining occasion is now ruling innovation. Sharable appetizers, new cocktails, and rejuvenated “eatertainment” venues will be a major focus by restaurant operators during the year.

These are the headwinds and tailwinds that will drive trends within the food service industry in 2023 and our brand strategists, writers, and video crews are in the thick of helping clients get the most out of opportunities for sales growth in the new year. If you would like to discuss your opportunities, we’ll be ready to listen and innovate for you.