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Marketing

What's Cooking in 2017 Restaurant Trends?

November 10, 2016 • 7 min read
Cori Ready

Cori Ready

Contributor

The Instagram years

What does the restaurant industry look like these days? Instagram is the place to find out, as chefs join a pop culture pantheon previously reserved for rockers, actors, and the occasional wealthy, good-looking drug memoirist. Restaurants have been setting food trends for populations beyond their doors for some time now, but, increasingly, restaurateurs are setting serious trends in marketing and design.

It’s a brand new Instagrammable world and restaurant trends are at the center. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the foodie world, from cooks to eaters to place settings. Customers are becoming as eager to convey a restaurant’s ambiance on Instagram as they have been to share images of their entrées. Restaurant owners know that means their customers are doing the best kind of marketing for them through customer-created content.

From food bloggers and social media

foodie instagramSocial media is the new direct-to-customer marketing, and foodies are the new marketers. Some savvy diners are even making a career of eating out and photographing their food. The visual appeal of restaurants seems to exceed even search-optimized websites. Though there is still a place for email newsletters, and targeted web ads, tapping into just a fraction of the 500 million active monthly users of Instagram is marketing gold.

It seems like much of the marketing spread has switched from traditional direct-to-consumer marketing tactics to, say, . . . the Sandwich Selfie tactic. Bon Appetit knows what “any Instagram fiend knows, [that] holding a halved sandwich—especially a bagel one—in your hand to show off its layered interior is the new ice cream cone against the wall.” Bowl food is another easy hit on Instagram—eat with one hand, post with the other. Is it a coincidence that this year there are at least new five cookbooks to bring bowl food straight to your kitchen?

It’s not unusual to go to a restaurant and see someone holding their phone up above their dish. Jessica Hirsch, a teacher who Instagrams in her free time, is the force behind CheatDayEats, which has 104,000 followers. “It seems like every day there is something going on at restaurants, and I try to go to as much as possible,” she told Refinery 29. On the weekends, Hirsch eats two meals in a row at different restaurants. People are making a living connecting audiences with brands, and the images of food, restaurants, and the behind-the-scenes processes help make that happen. Saveur magazine even has an annual food blogger awards, where you’ll find people like Dad Beets—a foodie dad with almost 70,000 followers who snaps pics of yummy food he eats at restaurants, with the occasional post of his two kids.

Connecting with diners and foodies

Tori TsuFrom McDonald’s to the bakery on your block, smartly curated social media feeds are getting seats in chairs at tables across the nation. Who could resist the call of a hashtag like NYC’s #chachamatcha or the suggestion to “Pie it Forward” by buying your neighbor a slice at Detroit’s Sister Pie. No entrepreneur’s restaurant is too small to be double-tapped as much as the biggest viral gourmet distractions, like the cronut or the rainbow bagel.

Some restaurants are making so much of the trend that Thrillist asked, “Are LA restaurants creating food spectacles just for Instagram?”

It’s almost like dinner and a show,” Darren Wong said of Instagram-focused foods, talking to Thrillist. “These plates are a performance now. The plate doesn’t just come to your table, there has to be some sort of interaction with it.” Wong should know; he’s out there cooking up a cake that looks like a giant jiggling droplet (known as mizu shingen mochi in Japan), a dessert he spotted for the first time on, you guessed it, social media.

Instagram is a new business driver. “I think that we first eat with our eyes, then our nose, and then our mouths,” Aliza J. Sokolow told Thrillist. Sokolow is a former food stylist and founder of Poppyseed Agency, which handles the social media of some of LA’s biggest chefs. She said, “Social media provides a free outlet of exposure to potential and regular patrons. It’s the best way to interact with potentially thousands of diners with just a push of a button.”

Restaurant décor trends

It’s not just the food, though. Hordes of would-be foodies and decorators are taking note of colors, materials, and stylistic leanings of restaurants around the world. Look no further than Bon Appetit’s 2016 Top 10 restaurant picks for interior trends. From the exposed brick of Atlanta’s Staplehouse ( #1 ) to the bright light and clean white of San Francisco’s Lord Stanley ( #3 ), dining out isn’t just about the food.

Up and coming restaurants from craft beer-loving lunch spots to trendy coffee bars are choosing to express their brand not only with their food, but their interior aesthetics and styling. Take the warm, organic modernism of Oberlin restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. Highly-regarded Chef Benjamin Sukle’s casual comfort food reflects the space and vice versa. The team stuck with warm woods and many windows. Eater reports that the kitchen looks non-industrial while the final casual touch is—no reservations. The design from the plating to the front of house is seamless.

And whether it’s Scandinavian minimalism or Italian comfort, the décor alone at many of the eateries topping the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants is award-worthy, according to Architectural Digest. It may be industrial minimalism, like Wildair in NYC, or a cozy bohemian vibe, like New Orleans’ N7, but today’s favorite restaurants are being reflected in contemporary home design.

High-end establishments are even beginning to offer their designware directly to the public. London’s Sketch is selling a tea-set by artist David Shrigley, whose artwork lines the restaurant’s walls. “Restaurant interiors are more inspiring than ever,” says Isabel Rutland in Telegraph. She’s even set up a business, Discover & Deliver, that helps people buy the items they see in their favorite restaurants.

With all that in mind, let’s see how some of the pros predict the near future.

2017 restaurant trends

slack-imgsBaum + Whiteman, the global food, restaurant and hotel consultancy, are out with their annual forecast of the hottest food and beverage dining trends in restaurants and hotels. They say “virtual restaurants” are here to stay and getting fancier with every day, from David Chang’s delivery-only brand to apps offering home-cooked meals via delivery.

As vegetarianism and veganism continue to become more mainstream and companies invest in meat-free technologies, B+W predicts more “faux foods,” like meat from the Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, will continue with veggies laid out like meat. “Expect to see dishes that utilise vegetable off-cuts such as carrot tops and beet greens on menus, as chefs seek to cut down on food waste and appeal to the generally more eco-conscious diner.” In a new world order, vegetables will be comfort food, so get your spiralizer ready. At the other end of the spectrum, the butcher-to-table movement will be unavoidable in our 2017 feeds. And we’ll be upping the ante on Instagrammable desserts—the wilder, the better.

Restaurants may be the most popular place from which to crib style and cuisine notes, whether in our neighborhoods or on our screens. We’ve Snapchatted Kombucha into the mainstream, and scrutinized restaurants’ policies on everything from sustainability to animal welfare, to employee wages AND Nashville Hot Chicken. We’ll be at whatever the hottest new restaurant trying to inconspicuously Instagram our desserts.

If you need a foodie fix, there are no fewer than 20 awesome food mags full of great images and updates on 2017 restaurant trends. Far from being dead, the print tradition is being revived by foodies with everything from glam quarterlies to punky zines about their favorites.

Instagrams by Tori Tsu


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