Five chain-restaurant trends that should continue in 2013
This last year has brought us some terrible chain restaurant trends, including serving up sodium-soaked "healthy" meals; shrinking dessert sizes and charging the same prices; peddling fancy cocktails with more ingredients than a hair-relaxing solution; and restaurants labeling everything "natural." But despite the obvious failures, 2012 also produced five trends that have some juice -- let's hope they stay hydrated in 2013.
Saved by the Bell.
Here's our list of five chain-restaurant trends that should continue in 2013 -- because we can't serve up big glasses of Hater-Aid all the time.
5. Meal bundling.
It's a bundle in the neighborhood.
Bundles take the guesswork out of cable-internet-phone services, and they also make ordering "meal-in-a bag" dinners infinitely easier on customers who want food -- not intellectual stimulation. Over the past year, the ol' meat, taters and veg formula has been expanded to include appetizer, entrée and dessert -- all for one low price. This sort of promotion is ostensibly to help cash-strapped customers continue to dine out in this still-weak economic climate, but it's also a brilliant marketing strategy on the part of participating restaurants, because sometimes when diners save money on one thing, they spend it elsewhere -- on such add-on items as drinks, sides, extra desserts, appetizers and to-go meals. And fixed-price meals also work well for restaurants because they bring in frugal diners who may have friends and family members with them who order plenty of regular-priced items.
Chain restaurants would be smart to milk this trend like an amiable cash-cow.
4. Angel/devil menus.
Offering high-calorie/fat/sugar/sodium choices on one side of the menu, while simultaneously touting healthy menu items? This double-sided trend appeals to the dual nature of diners who want grilled chicken breasts with steamed veggies and salad sometimes, and at other times want bacon-wrapped steaks with loaded baked potatoes and slices of quadruple-layer chocolate cheesecake, while also offering health-conscious diners AND calorie-junkies what they want. Playing both sides can paid off.