More regional Italian recipes will feature on American menus in 2018 as the fast-changing restaurants industry finds new energy through improved on-site and home delivery services and professional chefs train to satisfy quality-hungry consumers. The encouraging trend is especially visible in the United States, where the restaurant industry in 2018 is expected to report the ninth consecutive year of positive sales growth, according to a top expert of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the largest foodservice trade association in the world supporting over 500,000 businesses. As the industry continues to grow, it’s entirely logical that you have a greater focus on the different regionality of a country’s cuisine than in any point in time, Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of Research at the NRA, told Italianfood.net. The typical American palate now is more sophisticated than ever, he said. In 2017, US restaurant sales reached a record high of 799 billion dollars, up about 4% over 2016, according to NRA estimates. There are now over 1 million restaurant locations that employ almost 15 million people. Since the Great Recession, the industry growth rate has moderated somewhat, but 2018 will be the ninth consecutive year of positive sales growth for the restaurant industry, Riehle said. Of all spending on food in America today, almost half, 48%, is currently allocated towards the restaurant community, he said. In 1955, the ratio was 25%. The statistics confirm that American consumers continue to shift their food spending towards the away from home market, Riehle explained.
In 2017, US restaurant sales reached a record high of 799 billion dollars, up about 4% over 2016, according to NRA estimates
The evolution of global cuisine
What is also changing in America, as well as in other parts of the world, is the level of knowledge of global cuisine trends, favored by the Internet and social media. Consumers are more exposed to regional and historical cuisine prepared authentically, Riehle said. For many years now, Italian has been the most popular global cuisine among American consumers. To the extent now that it has become so familiar in many ways it is no longer global, Riehle explained. Expectations are that there will be a wide variety of global cuisines available, he added. The growing demand for authentic Italian items also impacts the quality of the meal delivered to the door. An important development in the United States is a growing number of professionally educated chefs and cooks who train on different countries cuisines and the regionality of that cuisine within the country, Riehle said. Over 90% of American adults report that they enjoy using a restaurant. They do enjoy a restaurant meal solution. With the large presence that the Italian cuisine has in the US market not only in terms of establishments but also in terms of menu items, it’s entirely logical that that market will only continue to grow through the delivery and carry out markets, the NRA top official said.
The rise of off-premise
The driver of such tremendous growth, which has seen new restaurant openings almost every week in many US cities, is in the ability of restaurant operators to adapt to a dramatic shift in consumer behavior, especially among younger diners who want convenience with quality. There are some important trends which have been developing. One of those is the off-premise market, which includes take-out delivery, drive-through, roadside for example, Riehle said. Restaurant operators – either small or large – are offering their own home delivery services or partnering a rising number of specialist providers including GrubHub, UberEats, Caviar, Eat24 and DoorDash. In terms of traffic today, about 63% of restaurant traffic is off premises, which has been primarily responsible for industry growth over the past several years and will continue to be important for industry growth in the years ahead, Riehle added. Restaurant operators are now facing the challenge of keeping providing good quality even when they deliver directly to the customer’s home. Certain restaurant operators would limit which menu items are deliverable and they would limit the radius they would deliver to, Riehle explained.
An important development in the United States is a growing number of professionally educated chefs and cooks who train on different countries cuisines and the regionality of that cuisine within the country
When the restaurant comes to you
Especially younger consumers, the so-called Millennials, are ready to change restaurant service if they don’t see that the price paid meets the value received. In the end, from consumers’ perspective, there’s nothing more popular than having the restaurant come to them, Riehle said. What you see developing in the delivery market today in the United States, is that those small ‘mom and pop’ operations, as well as the national operators, are focusing on that delivery component, he said. An essential tool is the use of mobile apps. The important thing from a restaurant operator perspective, looking at younger patrons, is that Millennials expect to use some type of technology. The smartphone has become very important in executing that delivery option Riehle explained.