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National Restaurant Association - Where are they now? Top trends from 2004

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Where are they now? Top trends from 2004

We took a look at our annual Restaurant Industry Forecast from 2004 to see how the top trends from back then match up with the industry today. In the last decade, the industry has evolved quite a bit, but some of the top trends from back then are still as relevant as ever.

1. Yes, our industry has expanded quite a bit. And still is. In fact, total industry sales have increased by more than 50 percent and now top $683 billion. And from 878,000 locations 10 years ago, the industry is now closer to one million locations.

2. Healthy is definitely still trendy. Though today we’re seeing a wider range of ways to boost nutritional content – and instead of removing things (like fat, sodium or sugar), we’re also adding things (like antioxidants, fiber or vitamins). Eight out of 10 consumers today say they have noticed more healthful options on restaurant menus. And kids’ nutrition is among the top menu trends this year, which is underscored by the growth of our Kids LiveWell program.

3. Government remains one of the top challenges listed by restaurant operators, though some priority issues have changed over time. For example, menu labeling was relatively new in 2004, but is soon going to be implemented nationwide at restaurant chains with 20 or more locations operating under the same brand name.

4. The U.S. is indeed growing more diverse, and restaurants are adapting. As an industry of opportunity for people of all backgrounds, the restaurant industry employs more minority managers than any other industry; minority-owned restaurant businesses have grown at double and triple digits, way above overall eating-and-drinking-place growth.

5. Technology is a hot trend in today’s industry, and some of the options we’d consider common today were the stuff of futuristic fantasy in 2004. Back then, did you imagine you would be able to order restaurant delivery on your phone by just touching your finger to the screen?

6. Up to a third of sales in a restaurant come from travelers and tourists. Especially international tourists are big restaurant spenders. In 2004, there were 46 million international visitors to the United States. In 2014, that number was nearly 72 million. You do the math.

7. While energy costs have fluctuated over the years, conserving energy is the new normal in the restaurant business. More sophisticated equipment and better understanding of energy use has paid off for restaurants across the nation. Environmental sustainability in various forms is still a hot trend in today’s industry. Just ask our Conserve sustainability program participants.

8. Good service is the top attribute consumers cite as important when choosing a restaurant, and restaurants are rising to the occasion. Today, the industry employs 1.5 million more people than a decade ago, and at 13.5 million – that represents one in every 10 working Americans.

9. With more locations than ever and growing offerings from non-traditional foodservice locations, the industry is more competitive than ever. The Great Recession was tough, but it did drive operators to streamline their businesses and be savvier at cost management. The result is a lean, mean industry machine that continues to innovate to build business.

10. There is still a bright future ahead, despite a range of challenges on the horizon. Restaurant operators are generally optimistic about their future business conditions, according to our monthly Restaurant Performance Index, and that bodes well going into the new year. Keep an eye out for our next Restaurant Industry Forecast in early 2015!

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