We walk a fine line in the restaurant industry—to trend or not to trend. There are some brands that have remained consistent in their messaging and offerings, no matter the noise and changes emerging around them. Of course, that doesn’t mean they haven’t embraced technology and enhanced their delivery services. They have, however, remained true to their roots. Then, there are those who remake menus almost daily and adapt to changing consumer preferences as soon as they’ve hit social media.
Is there a better route to take?
That would depend on who you ask. As someone once said a very long time ago, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” According to an ancient Chinese Proverb, “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.”
Let’s explore some of the brands that went both directions and where they are now.
Remaining True to Their Roots
What’s the first brand you think of when considering a successful company that’s remained much the same as when they opened their doors? Texas Roadhouse is a name I’m sure popped into many people’s minds. Hand-cut steaks, ribs, buttered rolls, made-from-scratch sides, and, of course, free peanuts are the basics of a menu that erupted on the scene in 1993 in Clarksville, Indiana.
In 2018, FSR Magazine headlines read, “The thriving steakhouse chain (Texas Roadhouse) hasn’t changed all that much over the decades. Why? Because it hasn’t had to.” In 2023, Mashed reported that big changes were coming to our favorite steakhouse. What was the big change for Texas Roadhouse? More locations. The beginning of 2023 saw 652 locations across the U.S. and in 10 countries. Their goal? 900.
Second quarter 2023 Texas Roadhouse financials, compared to the prior year, showed a 9.1% increase in restaurant sales, an 8.3% increase in restaurant margin dollars, and $146,727 average weekly sales at company restaurants, an increase of $11,175. Not bad.
Reinventions Gone Bad
Recently, Red Robin came out with the chain’s turnaround plan. What happened? According to Restaurant Dive, unlike 2006, when it opened 48 restaurants, 2019 saw 18 restaurants close. Their turnaround plan involves returning to the platform that made the iconic brand different from the rest when it opened its doors in 1969 in Seattle. That translates to a family-oriented, kid-friendly atmosphere with balloons and Red, its bird mascot.
They’ll also be updating their menu with fresher and higher quality ingredients as well as healthier alternatives to their well-known burgers.
We’ve all heard of Applebee’s problems, blamed partly on their rebranding based on appealing to the Millennials. Opening in 1980 in Atlanta, they marketed themselves as the neighborhood restaurant and found incredible success doing so. Middle-America roots and optimum value were replaced by barbecue shrimp in a siracha-lime sauce. The result? Confusion and the retreat of core customers.
Innovative and Ever-Changing
Here’s an example of a genuinely ever-changing restaurant. Every three months, The Consulate in Atlanta lets one diner spin the restaurant’s globe. Where it lands determines the restaurant’s menu for the next three months. From the Philippines to Cambodia, Turkey, Japan, Ireland, and Ethiopia, chef and owner Mei Lin is definitely exploring global cuisine.
Lin creates a menu that incorporates delicacies from the chosen nation. She and Douglas Hines, interior designer and owner, have also crafted an ambiance that aligns with the changing cuisine. It’s travel-themed, Mid-Century Modern, with iconic works of art. The Consulate opened in 2016 and was a James Beard Grant recipient in 2021.
Some of the Latest Restaurant Trends
Here’s a trend I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see—collagen. Yes, the most abundant protein found in the human body, responsible for providing structure and support to our skin, hair, bones, cartilage, and connective tissue, is now on menus. Yum.
Appealing to the health-conscious consumer, you can find it as a functional ingredient, right along with turmeric and ashwagandha. Datassential found collagen on 0.3% of restaurant menus, an increase of 225% over the last four years, as reported by Restaurant Hospitality.
What else is on the menu? Casual caviar, made famous on TikTok, is now trending in restaurants. In fact, go to TripAdvisor or Yelp, and you’ll find “The Best Caviar” in restaurants around the country.
So, to trend or not to trend, that is the question. The answer uniquely lies in a brand’s motivations, target market, projections, and values.
At Emerging Concepts, we help top restaurant and entertainment concepts maximize returns and minimize risks by developing expansion plans based on data-driven insights. Knowing your target market is one of the keys to positioning yourself successfully in this challenging yet awe-inspiring industry. To explore the possibilities and discover your potential, contact Emerging Concepts today.