Trending Now: What to Watch for in 2012


With a month of 2012 already under our belts, we’ve all had some time to reflect on the flurry of trend predictions that closed 2011. Economic factors like high unemployment and low disposable income are still weighing heavily on the foodservice industry, even though it has been a rare bright spot in the recovery. In no small part that’s due to a significant shift in the post-recession consumer mindset – one that’s more likely to purchase food from retail groceries, and more concerned about “family time” and family budgets. Outside of the economy, health & wellness are other main drivers of consumer behavior and trends impacting foodservice. The First Lady’s recent release of the new guidelines for school foodservice, and the pending release of menu labeling regulations from the FDA are just two big reasons why the topic will dominate the media landscape in 2012.

So what will the post-recession consumer look for – and find – in the foodservice marketplace this year? Mintel’s “2012 A Look Ahead” report, released in December 2011, offers some thoughtful guidance. We’ll focus on a couple of trends in particular, “Double-Sided Menus” and “Consumer Control.” For the full forecast, click here. The following is adapted with permission from that report.


The use of double-sided menus reflects the increasing frequency with which Americans visit restaurants. Dining out used to be a special occasion, and it still is and should be. But it’s also an everyday occurrence for more and more people. Menus should offer choices in a broad range of splurging, value, and calorie bombs.  As well as, of course, better-for-you (BFY) options.

This is where menus take on split personalities in terms of offering value, dietary staples, snacks and quick-fixes for busy families; selections that coexist with premium choices, especially in more affordable segments, like quick-service restaurants (QSRs), fast casual restaurants and family restaurants.

Double-sided menus also list indulgent, splurge-worthy dishes alongside BFY options, meeting the demand for people who are out for a treat and others who are dining out by necessity and need to have affordable, nutritious options available.

64% of restaurant goers are interested in seeing more healthy menu items at restaurants.

(Source: Dining Out: A 2012 Look Ahead, January 2012)

Where It’s Occurring: Double-Sided Menus

Morton’s balances $50 filets with its growing menu of Bar Bites, available for $6 to $7 a piece.

Starbucks’ “skinny” 150-calorie drinks are offered alongside its latest holiday special, a peppermint mocha made with mocha sauce, peppermint flavored syrup, topped with sweetened whipped cream and dark chocolate curls and packed with as many as 620 calories.

77% of restaurant goers report that they order what they crave when they go to a restaurant.

(Source: Dining Out: A 2012 Look Ahead, January 2012)

Mintel Insights: Why Double-Sided Menus Are Worth Watching

  • The same diner who opts for a salad on Monday may want a burger on Thursday, and offering both meets demands for better health and indulgence.
  • Balancing low-priced volume drivers with premium-priced margin drivers keep the bottom line in check.
  • Double-sided menus still give operators control over their menus, but also deflect external criticism, putting the ultimate choice in the customer’s hand.
  • Split personality menus will continue to split; barbell pricing strategies are already evolving into tiered or multi-layered ones.

Barilla Insight: As a platform, pasta is equally comfortable as part of an indulgent or “luxe” item as on a value menu or BFY choice. Barilla’s Whole Grain and Protein+™ products can help make healthier options more appealing and easier on the bottom line.


Our second trend, Consumer Control, is a good follow up to Double-Sided Menus because this also relates to the changing role of restaurants in our lives. As the title indicates, this trend is all about putting the diner in the driver’s seat. Customization has gone far beyond choosing what we want on our sandwiches and has moved into all aspects of the dining experience, from the way a diner places an order — often with some form of offsite technology, to more self-service options. Diners are also in control of what and when they eat, prompting more operators to offer all-day breakfast, late-night menus, snacks and other non-traditional dayparts.

Consumer Control is important because people are used to having this level of control in other parts of their lives, whether it’s watching whatever television show they want, whenever they want, to checking their flights ahead of time. Foodservice needs to keep up in as many ways as possible.Mintel surveys show that 58% of restaurant goers like to customize their food orders when dining out, and the forms or customizations are coming in new ways.

Where It’s Occurring: Consumer Control

STK steakhouse allows diners to pick the cut and size of their steaks, the rub applied to the steak, the cooking level, toppings, sauces and sides, essentially designing the meal, but letting somebody else do the grilling.

Buffalo Wild Wings is an example of an operation that puts customization on the front burner by letting diners choose the number of wings they want and then choose from dozens of sauce options, creating mix-and-match flavor experiences.

At Stacked, a new concept from BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, orders are highly customized and ordered via iPads.

Why It’s Worth Watching: Consumer Control

  • It adds up. Self-serve and pre-ordering often lead to add-on sales, bigger than anticipated portion sizes and more customer satisfaction from having control over the ordering experience.
  • Responsibility goes both ways. The food order participation of both operator and diner contributes to the overall dining experience, whether it’s in order accuracy, flavor enhancements or portion control.
  • Consumers are able to control their experiences elsewhere, such as with online banking, and they appreciate control over their dining experiences, especially as our culture becomes more sophisticated about food choices, techniques and chefs.

Barilla Insight: Pasta is perhaps one of the most customized and customizable entrée platforms around. Our partners have been doing this in non-commercial and fast-casual settings for years, allowing guests to pick their protein, sauces and pasta shapes to create their own dishes, without slowing down operations or risking the bottom line.