5 Non-Food Restaurant Trends for 2017

Okay, so 2016 didn't exactly end on a positive note for restaurants, with same-store sales and traffic averages both ending in the negative across the industry. How can we reverse those stats in 2017? We could start with food trends, which is always a fun exercise; this year's collective predictions can be found here. But mouthwatering food is table stakes these days, especially in a claustrophobia-inducing market. Here are five non-food trends to get the party started.


Easily the hottest topic on everyone's mind. Usage of native mobile apps from restaurants doubled in 2016. You read that correctly. Leading the way are Starbucks and Taco Bell®, as Chipotle and Chick-fil-A® have narrowed their focus to rewards programs. “Mobile-first” is the mantra for 2017 (even ahead of desktop). Good restaurant apps let you view menus and earn rewards; great restaurant apps let you order and pay.


In addition to the study Northlich conducted in 2016, QSR® magazine published its annual review of drive-thru competitors. Wendy’s® tops the list for speed (averaging 169 seconds from order to pickup), but Chick-fil-A tops for accuracy (at nearly 95 percent). Many restaurants are revamping the drive-thru experience to include more face-to-face time and better technology (e.g., employees take tablets to car windows). Starbucks reinvented its drive-thru by breaking down the experience into six zones, then tweaking each particular zone. Analysts now say Starbucks has a best-in-class program.


It doesn't matter how you do it (via your employees or a third-party vendor); just do it. Chains like Red Robin®, The Cheesecake Factory® and Panera Bread® are blazing new trails in delivery, which is expected to rise this year. One more perk to offer your customers.


Grocery prices are falling, which means cooking at home in 2017 will be even cheaper compared to dining out. To succeed, restaurants had better think smart. Chains like Buffalo Wild Wings®, Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s® are expected to suffer, having priced themselves out of the “value” equation. Other chains have shifted tactics to rewarding light users and using social/earned media to cast a wider audience net.


Yes, the college intern can help you set up an Instagram account. But savvy marketers are allocating more time and money to social media efforts. Consider what FOCUS Brands® (Moe's®, McAlister's®, Auntie Anne's®, Schlotzsky's® and Cinnabon®) has implemented for their new HQ: a media-listening center where employees can monitor — and view analytics for — all brands across all platforms in real time. And while not everyone should sass the customer like Wendy’s did, we should at least discuss plans for successful customer engagement.


Pat Pujolas has over 20 years of experience on restaurant accounts, including McDonald’s®, White Castle®, IHOP®, Fazoli’s®, Bruegger’s Bagels®, Smokey Bones, Frisch’s® Big Boy®, Sweet Tomatoes and more. (In other words, he likes to eat.)