What to Expect From Casual Dining in 2017

In the casual dining sector, it can sometimes seem like new trends come and go in the blink of an eye. One week will see operators swapping sharing platters for small plates, and the next week trading in plates for bowls.

However, the fast paced nature of Casual Dining is what we think makes the sector so exciting, with the influx of new culinary concepts and cuisines helping to keep consumers interested in what operators have to offer.

Ahead of this year’s Casual Dining Show, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the directions the sector is set to head in during 2017. Take a look at our predictions below, and head to our Casual Dining Show section to read more about what we’re doing at this February’s show.

Hyper-Regional Cuisine

One of the year’s biggest upcoming trends will see chefs fine-tuning their skills, focusing in on the ingredients, flavours, and cooking methods of specific regions. This stems from a wider effort to “refresh” cuisines - like Italian, Indian or Mexican – that are now familiar to consumers, and find offerings from these countries that may until now have been overlooked.

Instead of India, expect to see items from Kerela, Gujarat or Goa popping up on menus, and look out for Italian restaurants exploring recipes from unsung regions like Puglia, Umbria and Abruzzo.

Getting to grips with new regions might sound daunting, but in reality it’s relatively easy for operators to take influences from. One way to do so would be to offer up hyper-regional takes on topped chips; why not try topping our Staycrisp fries with mole sauce – a sweet and spicy sauce based on chilli pepper, tomato, nuts and dark chocolate -  and melting cheese for a fast-casual take on Oaxacan cuisine? Or, for more inspiration on how to offer up regional takes on fries, just head to our Staycrisp section, where our Street Food partners give their top tips on topped chips. 

Breakfast Changes Pace

Breakfast hasn’t traditionally been big business in the casual dining sector, with quick service cafés, coffee outlets and bakeries leading the way when it comes to visits. With 10% of consumers eating breakfast on the go, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise; for many, breakfast is a simply quick, convenient snack fit in amongst a busy schedule.

However, in 2017 breakfast is set to take a slightly slower pace. Although during the work week convenience is very much still king, breakfast is becoming an increasingly important offering for many sit-down casual dining locations. This is particularly true at the weekend - where dwell time and spend typically increases at breakfast - and in locations that are able to capitalise on passing trade from the weekday “breakfast meeting” crowd. At these times, instead of a being a quick bite, the first meal of the day becomes an opportunity to relax, indulge, and socialise.

As breakfast becomes a more realistic prospect in the casual dining sector, it’s predicted that the meal itself will diversify, taking on new textures, flavours, and a more “all day” character.

Soft, soothing items like scrambled eggs or pancakes will now sit alongside crunchy, fiery offerings - like fried chicken, fries, chorizo or tacos – that are not usually seen on British breakfast tables. Alongside being an effort to pique consumer interest in breakfast offerings, this allows operators a certain degree of economy, as many less traditional breakfast offerings would work transferred to lunch or even dinner service too.

The Rise of Snacking

In 2017 it’s likely that more casual dining operators will look to introduce snacking options to menus, a reaction to changes in the way the UK is eating. Many consumers – particularly younger generations – now view eating out as a predominantly social activity, with the chance to meet up with friends or family equally as important as the food served. Alongside this, younger consumers typically spend less on each occasion than older demographics, but eat out more frequently.

This means that there’s an increasing demand for operators to offer “light bites and snack” menu items that are low cost, shareable, and conducive to social eating. These menus– think sliders, topped fries, and tapas style items like patatas bravas – would cater perfectly for those just wanting a quick bit to eat while catching up with friends. They’re also equally as appealing for groups looking to lounge and graze, who may want to order a few small items at a time whilst socialising before ordering again as and when they feel.  

Flexitarianism Goes Mainstream

Meals without meat are likely to become more popular in the casual dining sector in 2017, as more operators start to cater to the needs of “flexitarians”; people who adhere largely to largely vegan or vegetarian diets, but who may eat meat as an occasional treat. 

Recently, some operators have looked towards using more obscure or underused vegetables to pique the interest of consumers looking for meat free options. However, in 2017 “veggie meats” are tipped to become more prevalent, with more and more so called “vegerarian butchers” becoming available to operators in the UK. These “butchers” produce foods that although tasting and looking like meat, are entirely plant based. That means that operators don’t necessarily need to formulate entirely new menu items to cater to flexitarians customers, as veggie meats can simply be swapped with the meat used in existing recipes.

Casual Dining Goes Tech

Technology is playing an increasingly big part in the foodservice industry as a whole, with casual dining operators in particular capitalising on the rise of app based delivery services and “foodsharing” schemes.

When we spoke to street food trader Ed Jones ahead of this year’s Casual Dining Show, he predicted that tech would continue to have a big influence in 2017, “whether that’s related to the use of delivery apps, or customer interface consoles.” Indeed, the growth of tech based delivery is by no means set to slow down - by 2020, it’s expected that the UK’s food delivery industry will be worth around £7.6 billion – and last year delivery services were some of the strongest performers in the overall dining out market.

With such strong growth predicted, and more brick and mortar operators likely to at least consider offering delivery, tech companies are looking into new and exciting ways to connect consumers to their favourite foods. One of the most talked about developments is drone delivery, where food is delivered to customers via self-driving aerial or ground drones. It might sound futuristic, but some restaurants in the US are already offering the service, with Dominos flying pizzas to customers in Reno, Nevada. Delivery company Just Eat are currently trialling a similar service here in the UK, meaning that delivery via robot may very well become a reality in 2017.

Want to find out more about casual dining in 2017? Head to our Casual Dining Show section to find out about industry changing products like Staycrisp, preview what we have planned at this year’s event, and meet the street food traders who’ll be helping us cook up a storm over the two days.