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NRN predicts 2016 consumer trends

In a special series, NRN editors predict the trends that will emerge in the coming year in all areas of the restaurant industry. Here, executive editor Jenna Telesca predicts what's next for consumers in 2016.

The consumer can be unpredictable, but here is what I expect to see next year:

Diners will greet new “free-from” moves with a yawn

Next year, restaurants will expand initiatives to source more meat raised without antibiotics, as well as cage-free eggs. These restaurants will receive a lukewarm reaction from consumers.

Yes, customers care deeply about these types of ingredients, but don’t expect too hearty a pat on the back for introducing them. These sourcing changes will be expected. Cage-free, no antibiotics and no artificial ingredients are the new norm.

With the likes of Papa John’s, Subway, McDonald’s and Taco Bell already making moves, it’ll be news next year if a chain chooses to not make sourcing changes.

Food safety concerns aren’t going to keep consumers from eating out

Chipotle’s foodborne illness outbreaks sure got consumers’ attention, but people aren’t worried enough to skip restaurant meals.

Chipotle E. coli closures
Chipotle shuttered some restaurants in the Pacific Northwest after an E. coli outbreak. Photo: Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Consumer food safety confidence has stayed consistent for years. According to The NPD Group’s Food Safety Monitor, 49 percent of 13,000 consumers surveyed through Dec. 9 agreed that they felt foods served in restaurants were safe to eat. Thirty-nine percent didn’t agree or disagree, and just 7 percent didn’t agree the foods were safe.

NPD did find more people were aware of E. coli in November and December this year, but concern didn’t match the awareness levels.

Instead of turning customers off restaurants, Chipotle’s food safety problems will put the industry itself on high alert next year.

Expect chains to take a careful look at both their own procedures and their sourcing partners’ food safety standards.

Danny Meyer
Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer is leading the no-tipping charge. Photo: Ellen Silverman

With Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group leading the charge, the no-tip movement is positioned to gain traction next year. So far it’s gotten good press and a hip following.

Just this month Andrew Tarlow followed suit and announced that he’d eliminate tipping at his artisanal Brooklyn restaurants — including Diner and Marlow & Sons — by the end of next year.

And I predict that urban Millennials (a.k.a. the UM) will lead the way in the no-tip movement. No tipping is easy for these folks. It’s not that the UM aren’t generous consumers; it’s that they are used to not tipping.

Forty percent of Uber users are 25 to 34, according to data collected by GlobalWebIndex. A distinguishing feature of Uber is that the fare is all-inclusive. The UM are comfortable with being charged with the total, real cost. This fare mindset melds well with a post tipping restaurant experience.

Contact Jenna Telesca at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter @jennatelesca

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