For the past few years, market intelligence agency Mintel has published annual foodservice trends that highlight industry developments, changes in consumer behavior, and market shifts that have altered foodservice. That continues with the 2019 edition, which predicts the innovation that will be prevalent in the U.S. foodservice industry for the foreseeable future.

Mintel’s forecast is divided into four parts: You Are Where You Eat, Serving the Earth, Restaurants for Good, and Tech in Balance.

You Are Where You Eat

Diners are supporting foodservice establishments that have cultures and values that align with their own lifestyles. Brands are looking to foster connections with customers through branded merchandise, unique collaborations, and contests. They are also appealing to customers through their stances on social issues.

“In the year ahead, expect restaurants to take customer engagement a step further by creating a sense of community with their patrons. Knowing that diners want to align themselves with brands that fit their lifestyle, restaurants can meet diners halfway by taking a stance on social and political issues and supporting organizations that are important to them. The most successful brands will be those that are personable and form transparent relationships with diners,” says Amanda Topper, Associate Director of Foodservice Research for Mintel.

Serving the Earth

Operators have a big impact on the environment, and they are becoming increasingly aware of that fact. Consumers are looking for environmentally-responsible companies to support. Compostable straws and upcycled food scrap are two of many ways that foodservice establishments can appeal to these customers.

“With more restaurants adopting environmentally friendly practices, sustainability will become the new normal, and operators will need to take more innovative steps to stand out. Expect to see restaurants make changes to the way they operate in 2019, including partnerships that put the greater good above competition and circular economies that benefit the environment and the people involved in the food systems,” says Topper.

Restaurants for Good

For foodservice establishments, qualified labor is a top priority. Attracting and retaining top talent by focusing on employee well-being is key.

“Employee retention programs and community outreach initiatives will be crucial for brands in 2019. Although mental health care and sexual harassment protections seem like they should already be basic necessities, these issues are ongoing in the restaurant industry. With national awareness mounting for both, expect to see restaurants implement stricter procedures and protocols surrounding these issues in an effort to better protect and support their employees,” says Topper.

Tech in Balance

Foodservice establishments must ensure that new innovations are not only efficient but will truly benefit customers. Convenience has been a primary focus for the industry and that will continue in 2019.

“As restaurant technology continues to become more sophisticated, the way consumers order will dramatically change moving forward. Restaurants will utilize technology to heighten customer experiences and provide value through more personalized service. By implementing technology with tangible benefits for customers, such as greater customization and more intuitive recommendations, operators will be able to drive efficiency and better customer service,” says Topper.