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Restaurants - A sector in the change

These trends are changing the catering sector

What is still "in" today, can again be "out" tomorrow: the catering sector is confronted with many trends - be it the progressive digitisation that is changing the out-of-home market or the increasing reflection on local products. A look at the catering trends of today and tomorrow.

Pierre Nierhaus.

If you prefer to meet for dinner at home but want to eat well without cooking, you can enjoy "Virtual Restaurants". From a menu, the guest chooses between different dishes as in a classic restaurant. But this is where the similarity ends: the entire ordering process is controlled from home - by phone or the website of the restaurant. Just as a common delivery service, you might think. But "Virtual Restaurants" are different: so to speak, the restaurant is taken to the guests' home.

The star cuisine's answer to delivery services

As in a restaurant - the selected food is delivered in a high quality and ready to eat. "This trend is very popular in the USA, especially in New York. The challenge is to let the food arrive at the guests' home in the same way as it would be in a restaurant, for example in terms of temperature or preparation," explains Pierre Nierhaus, specialist for innovation and change of the hospitality industry.

In Germany, for example, "Virtual Restaurants" are rather a niche, not least due to the logistical challenges: "The concept is a combination of culinary excellence and a very high convenience factor. At the first glance, this is certainly a wonderful combination, but it is a topic which will be very high-priced," says Prof. Dr. Markus Zeller, lecturer for system catering at the Heilbronn university. This is why, in his opinion, "Virtual Restaurants" are more likely to be used on special occasions and will play a smaller part in the broad market development.

Local cultivation and transparency

One example is the increased demand for regionally and organically grown products. Therefore, the catering sector is even more focusing on sustainability and transparency, says Zeller: "The concept 'from farm to fork' plays an increasingly important role. Here, the process from the agricultural production to the plate is shown as transparently as possible." For example, consumers are increasingly demanding a more appropriate attitude when it comes to meat products. Therefore, the topics regionality and local production have to become more transparent in the broad market development. "Customers want to know where the ingredients come from and how sustainable the cultivation is," says Zeller.

In a New York restaurant, the trend even goes towards chefs having their vegetables grown on the walls of the restaurant. Just according to the motto: the closer the ingredients are grown near the cooking pot, the better.

Prof. Dr. Markus Zeller.

How the catering sector becomes digital

But not only high-quality and sustainable dishes are popular, also digitisation is entering the catering sector. Prof. Dr. Markus Zeller knows: "There is currently a great hype of digitisation. However, it will take a few years, until waiters and waitresses in classical restaurants will be completely replaced by tablets." The reason for this is that, from his point of view, that both, the caterers and guests continue appreciating the personal contact. In the USA, this is quite different: the largest food service specialist association of the world, the American National Restaurant Association, has already identified digitisation as a trend for restaurants and catering in 2015. Especially digital menus and payment with the smartphone are quite popular in the USA.

As much as digitisation affects the lives of people, eating out itself rather reflects an analogous counter-trend. After all, eating out is an immediate, sensual experience. Digitisation therefore only represents an optimisation of the processes in the catering business: "There are only three central areas for the use of digital technology in the catering sector. Firstly, it is about information and offers of restaurants not only being visible on a website but also being available in the social media and offering a mobile booking service," says Nierhaus. "Secondly, digitisation simplifies processes, for example in the form of a digital checkout. Especially in the system catering sector, ordering and payment via smartphone in connection with customer loyalty systems have already arrived. The guests and the caterer profit from the time savings." Thirdly, Nierhaus mentions the digital control of the company, in particular, goods management, logistics and kitchen technology. So the British delivery service Just Eat was the first in London to deliver orders by means of self-propelled robots in December.

Eating out as an event

Sitting in a restaurant, browsing through the menu, ordering from the waiter and, then, waiting for the food - this is no longer enough for many restaurant guests. Many of these guests expect a culinary experience.

In the kitchen and the back office, everything remains systematised, however, when it comes to the direct contact with the guest, the restaurant owner has the possibility to communicate in a creative and individual manner. In order to be able to provide this offer, the caterers will be using integrative concepts in the future which express the philosophies of the different cuisines: "There will be a basic change in the sector of event catering. Digitisation offers numerous new options, for example 3D presentations, holograms and technical tricks which upgrade the events," explains Nierhaus. However, overdigitised restaurants do not yet work according to the two experts.

Customer returns to familiarity

Trend-setters of the catering scene orient themselves primarily on the trends of the "Californication", because the Californian food scene often provides decisive impetus to the world-wide culinary future. "The niche concepts and innovative ideas certainly serve as inspiration, but basically you can say that most of the growth is generated in the classic world cuisines - like the Italian, Asian or American cuisine," Zeller describes the growth potential. The catering sector can learn from the model France or the Scandinavian countries, for whom quality is a very important aspect. At the same time, the consumer is willing to pay more for it.

Outlook: trends 2018

There are already some trends becoming apparent for the next year, says Nierhaus, concept developer and change expert. "There will be a strong flavouring with taste influences from South America. This does not only bring new flavours into the kitchen but also new colours. Another important trend is the diverse cuisine from North Africa, from Jerusalem to Libya."

Regardless of whether sustainability or transparency, the needs of the customers will also challenge the catering sector in the future. Zeller: "The changes in the everyday life and professional life of the people also influence the catering sector. Above all, mobile consumption will play a major part, which means how consumers can quickly and easily satisfy their hunger. In the course of this, food retailers will position themselves even stronger in the catering sector, so that the boundaries between these two will increasingly blur."

According to Pierre Nierhaus, market hall concepts and street food continue to be a trend, combining a high-quality and easy-to-eat food concept. Therefore, the development of the culinary future of the catering sector remains exiting.

Pierre Nierhaus

Pierre Nierhaus is a specialist for innovation and change for the hospitality industry and service sector. He advises hotels, restaurant proprietors, system caterers and shopping malls as well as the communal catering industry when it comes to trends, concepts and strategies. He combines his competence as catering contractor with his range of activities as expert for change, developer of concepts and keynote speaker. He is the author of the German books "Reich in der Gastronomie" and "TraditionsReich mit Gasthof, Wirtshaus und Kneipe". Pierre Nierhaus Consulting, based in Frankfurt, is the organiser of trend workshops for individual participants and groups.

Prof. Dr. Markus Zeller

Prof. Dr. Markus Zeller is professor for system catering and responsible for the course of studies Hotel and Restaurant Management at the Heilbronn university. His research focuses on system and brand catering as well as food service management and sales and marketing. The various partners of the (system) catering, such as the branded goods industry, suppliers, service providers, investors, etc. are thus included in the evaluation of the value-added chain.

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