The Biggest Restaurant Management Trends You Need to Know About in 2016

With over 1 million restaurants in the United States, there’s a lot of pressure to compete for customers. New restaurants open every day with fresh concepts, winning menus, and hot new chefs. As an established business, how do you keep pace with the trend makers?

To maintain a competitive edge, managers need to look ahead at new ideas. The restaurant business is ever-changing; it moves and responds to the interests of customers. By consistently adapting your management techniques to fit your customer base, you ensure a restaurant stays relevant no matter the competition.

Here are five standout trends to incorporate into your strategy in 2016:

1. Local, Healthy Ingredients

The local food movement started with restaurants like Chez Panisse in the 1970s and grew in popularity alongside farmer’s markets and increased environmental awareness. But in 2016, the emphasis on local foods will reach new heights.

At every type of restaurant — from fast food joints to Michelin-star restaurants — customers want to eat local ingredients, supporting their communities and local farmers. Managers can expect diners to ask whether the salmon is “wild-caught” and if their greens were sprayed with pesticides. Food sourcing is fast becoming a primary differentiator for customers, influencing their loyalty to restaurants.

The salad bar Sweetgreen, for example, has developed a loyal following across seven states because of its strong connection to local farmers. When customers eat there, they know they’re making healthy choices, supporting sound environmental practices, and contributing sustainable farming. Regardless of your restaurant’s concept, consider adding farm-to-table sourcing to appeal to conscious diners.

2. Fair Wages and Tip-Free Restaurants

In 2016, restaurants will continue to increase wages as a way to recruit and retain highly skilled workers. Late last year, Danny Meyer took this trend a step further. The restaurateur and CEO of New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group eliminated tipping in his 13 restaurants.

Meyer told The New York Times that during his 30 years in hospitality, “kitchen income has gone up no more than 25 percent. Meanwhile, dining room pay has gone up 200 percent.” Chefs struggle to hire talented cooks when they can’t afford to pay competitive salaries. By managing the income of all employees, restaurant owners bring transparency and fairness to a challenging salary system. This radical idea will spread in 2016, changing how restaurants manage their finances and employees.

Restaurant owners cite a few different ways they plan on handling this transition — here are the most popular:

  1. Add a 20% service fee to the bill.
  2. Fold the extra costs (higher taxes and increased employee pay) into the prices of dishes on the menu.
  3. Offset losses by expanding dining options and increasing the number of covers.

Regardless of their preferred approach, the most successful restaurant owners prioritize above-average pay to boost retention rates and offset financial struggle among employed workers.

3. A New Emphasis on Positive Culture

The restaurant industry is legendary for hot-tempered chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain. But in 2016, management will move beyond that stereotype to embrace a more positive culture. Here’s why: a restaurant’s reputation as a supportive place to work extends to customer service; when employees feel fulfilled, they’re able to pass on that same sense of appreciation to guests.

As Denise Lee Yohn, a restaurant consultant, summarizes, “A strong culture does this better than free food and other common perks — and in many cases even better than pay rates and benefits.” A study in Cornell Hospitality Journal mirrored Yohn’s conclusion, claiming that a “positive organizational culture” was one of twelve hallmarks of a successful restaurant.

By transforming a negative environment into a place of appreciation and encouragement, managers embody the same values that they expect employees to practice on a daily basis. These positive teams are also more effective at meeting consistently high standards in high-pressure situations.

4. Investing in New Technology

Just as other sectors have benefited from innovative technologies, the restaurant industry is positioned to adopt new digital tools that will strengthen their business practices. On the whole, cutting-edge SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) tools are less expensive and more flexible than traditional solutions. Plus, they offer remote access and management possibilities.

The most impactful solutions in 2016 will solve common management problems by automating and streamlining difficult processes. Here is a snapshot of the best digital tools for your year ahead:  

  • Marketman: A cloud-based tool that manages your inventory levels, budget, and relationships with suppliers
  • Toast:  A flexible POS system that includes an online ordering capability and a customer loyalty program
  • SevenRooms: A software program with easy-to-update customer profiles that personalize the dining experience
  • Waitlist Me: A product that simplifies wait times for restaurants by sending guests text messages when their tables are ready
  • When I Work: An all-in-one scheduling tool that enables managers to seamlessly fill shifts and communicate with employees through web and mobile apps. 

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Consider integrating these tools to bring efficiency to your workflow. The extra time you save will offer you more bandwidth to focus on what really matters: your customer experience.

5. The Rise of Casual Dining

With the rise of businesses like Chipotle and Shake Shack, fast-casual restaurants have popped up all over the country. The emphasis on casual dining will impact the restaurant industry as a whole, encouraging restaurant owners to offer superior casual fare at a reasonable price point.

Specifically, midrange and high-end establishments will respond to growing interest in relaxed, casual dining experiences by downplaying formalities. Instead of white table cloths in boutique restaurants, expect to find communal tables made of raw materials like wood and rustic metal. If you run a high-end restaurant, consider parlaying your concept into a high-quality, affordable bar menu that appeals to a new generation of diners.

Restauranteurs can also create a relaxed atmosphere in high-end establishments through intimate community gatherings. Renowned chef Barbara Lynch, for example, fills this need with Stir Boston, a space for cooking lessons and private meals that offers a more personal connection with diners than her other restaurants.

Bringing awareness to these restaurant management trends should deepen your relationships with customers, which you built through trust and consistency. When you incorporate these five ideas into your restaurant, make sure to present a unique take on each trend that stays true to your brand.

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