Ten Hot Trends Among Restaurant Guests

The needs and desires of restaurant guests trend and evolve over time. Common needs that have emerged across restaurant categories as hot topics in recent years relate to food, the in-restaurant experience, the human experience, value for time, and health. While it is not the case that all these trends apply to every class of restaurant, keeping abreast of the changing market will likely reinforce loyalty and frequency of visit.



Clean Food is becoming a more prominent focus and evokes a sense of pride among restaurant guests for being on the forefront of mindful dining choices. Clean food is healthy food prepared in an uncontaminated way. It is also nutritionally dense food with limited or no additives, colorings, artificial sweeteners or preservatives. Restaurant guests describe clean food as colorful, not overcooked and visually appealing and it is closely tied to the notion of food as fuel. Restaurants are increasingly aware of the desire to be mindful in food choice and many prominently display fresh foods to reinforce the clean food trend.

Food as Fuel is food that does not weigh one down. Restaurant guests often describe leaving a restaurant in a state of discomfort and instead desire to leave feeling light and energized. Discomfort includes feeling bloated and lethargic, which result in feelings of regret. If there is regret for having eaten the food then the regret is negatively associated with the restaurant itself. This desire for food as fuel crosses demographic and psychographic profiles. Some restaurants address the issue of discomfort that deters frequency of visit by offering small plates, sharable plates, and the option for guests to customize their meal. There remains a strong desire for comfort food, but food as fuel should be considered to avoid the veto vote.

Locally Sourced, Farm to Table and Organic are trends moving into mainstream across the U.S. Guests feel good about themselves when they visit a restaurant that serves locally sourced food. In addition to the presumption of healthier foods, guests associate locally sourced with supporting the local community and reducing carbon emissions by avoiding trucking in food from other regions. Dining at restaurants that serve locally sourced foods stimulates pride in making the right decision. This sense of pride is then extended to the restaurant brand itself.


The In-Restaurant Experience

Experiences that restaurant guests seek are as unique as the guests themselves. When dining in, guests less often want to just fill their stomachs and more often want an enjoyable and memorable experience. A holistic experience encompasses more than just food; rather, it encompasses the entire restaurant experience from entry to exit. Whether a stimulating atmosphere with music and guest chatter is preferred, or a quieter escape from the daily grind, guests are increasingly aware of and look for particular restaurant experiences. Ambiance and service style reinforce experience. The more guests feel they have had an escape or a mini vacation, the more likely they are to feel they have had a memorable and enjoyable experience.

Transparency is multi-faceted. Seeing chefs prepare food in an open kitchen engenders trust that the food is handled properly; publishing calories assures guests the restaurant is open about the food being served; and communicating the origin of food (fresh and locally sourced versus frozen and trucked across country) reinforces common values and commitment to health and community.

Control is another multi-faceted theme. Guests control their dining experience in part by controlling what food goes on the plate and in what portion, and by controlling the time spent in the restaurant. Increasingly, restaurants are appealing to guests’ desire for control. Arguably pioneered by Subway, the plethora of new fast-casual cafeteria-style restaurants allow guests to pick and choose what they want on their plate and this style crosses the cuisine spectrum. Additionally, ordering and/or paying before sitting at a table enables guests to expedite or slow their time spent in a restaurant. Control over time spent is especially important during the weekday lunch hour when time is limited.


The Human Experience

Making Memories is an intrinsically rewarding benefit of visiting a restaurant, particularly in the context of making memories with immediate and extended family. Restaurants afford the opportunity to slow-down in a relaxed environment and often in the absence of distracting smart phones. Focus can be on deeper and meaningful conversation and enjoying each other’s company while sharing a meal. This is true of both regular and special occasions. Restaurants can support making memories by providing guests with a memorable experience. Food and beverages should be spot on and service accommodating though not overbearing.  Décor, intimate dining areas, and environmental factors such as music, ambient sounds, temperature, lighting and aromas all integrally contribute to the making of memories. Every category of restaurant has the opportunity to support the making of memories.

Come as You Are is a sentiment expressed across guest profiles. Guests want to feel comfortable arriving at the restaurant no matter the situation, e.g. from work, from running errands, or dressed in Yoga pants. Feeling genuinely welcomed, no matter the situation, is paramount to enjoying time at the restaurant and not feeling restricted as to the circumstances under which it might be appropriate to visit the restaurant. This sentiment is especially true for restaurants in the fast casual and casual dining categories and much less so in the fine dining category.


Value for Time

Value for Time is increasingly important, especially during mid-week lunch hour when guests need to get back to work and busy weekend evening hours when guests wish to avoid long wait times. Value for time can be negatively impacted by crowded parking, limited preferred seating areas and travel distance to the restaurant. Everyone feels they are busy and their time is limited. Restaurant guests feel respected when restaurants cater to this notion of value for time. Value for time is more often evaluated against time constraints in the fast casual and casual dining categories and by special and personalized attention paid to guests in the fine dining category.


Guest Health

A health focus tends to have two origins: a desire to live a healthy lifestyle and choices driven by doctor recommendations. On the one, guests seek restaurants that align with their healthy lifestyle. Core offerings typically include fresh, “whole” foods. On the other, guests are challenged by their physicians to seek foods that nourish their bodies rather than nourish their emotions. Allergies, diabetes, heart disease and body weight tend to be issues that these restaurant guests are seeking to address by making lifestyle changes, which includes choice of restaurant. In both instances, guests are seeking balance by proactively making healthy choices.



Lori Enfield is an Account Director at Q2 Insights, Inc., a research and innovation consulting firm with offices in San Diego and New Orleans. Q2 Insights specializes in restaurant research and has experience with all categories from QSR to fine dining. Lori can be reached at (760) 230-2950 ext. 3 or lori.enfield@q2insights.com.


Kirsty Nunez is President and Chief Research Strategist at Q2 Insights, Inc.  She can be reached at (760) 230-2950 ext. 1 or kirsty.nunez@q2insights.com.

This entry was posted in Restaurant and tagged on January 19, 2017 by Q2 Insights