U.S. Diners Looking for Greener Restaurants and Healthier Fare in 2009: Survey

Research released by the National Restaurant Association shows that Americans are looking for healthier options and 'greener' restaurants when they dine out, in addition to an increased interest in value and convenience.

Surveys of restaurant operators, customers and chefs indicate that restaurateurs will sharpen their appeal in 2009 in these areas and that restaurants' responsiveness to customers' preferences will drive these industry trends, according to the association's 2009 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

'The restaurant industry is both innovative and resilient, and will remain the cornerstone of the nation's economy and communities, employing and serving millions of Americans in 2009,' said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the association. 'Consumers are looking for value, variety, healthier options and convenience, and they know that restaurants will provide them the experiences and choices they are seeking.

'Americans continue to rely on restaurants as a key part of their lifestyle as the industry provides the food, value and service customers seek, which drives both the trends and success of our industry. In 2009, it is predicted that nearly half of consumers' food budget will be spent in restaurants, rewarding the continued responsiveness and innovation that our industry provides to budget-conscious Americans.'

According to new association research, healthy kids' meals will be among the hottest trends in 2009. Out of nearly 210 culinary items listed on the association's 'What's Hot' survey of more than 1,600 American Culinary Federation member chefs, nutritionally balanced children's dishes came in as the No. 4 trend, and fruit/vegetable side items for kids ranked sixth. In a separate survey, quickservice operators named healthy options in kids' meals as the No. 1 food trend in the quickservice segment in 2009.

Emphasis on Nutrition and Health

Overall, chefs ranked nutrition/health as the No. 11 trend on restaurant menus for 2009. Underscoring the importance of healthful foods, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish, and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals were all among the top 20 items on the third annual chef survey. According to association consumer research, three in four adults say they are trying to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago. Nearly three in 10 adults — 27 percent — have gone online to search for nutrition information about restaurant food, up from 24 percent a year ago.

The No. 1 trend among chefs was local produce, according to the 'What's Hot' survey, and the local foods trend has become particularly popular at fine-dining establishments. According to the association's research, 89 percent of fine-dining operators serve locally sourced items, and nine in 10 believe demand for locally sourced items will grow in their segment in the future. Close to three in 10 quickservice operators serve locally sourced items now and nearly half believe these items will grow more popular in their segment in the future. Seventy percent of adults say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items.

Greater Energy and Water Efficiency

Restaurateurs will also continue to show increasing leadership in becoming 'greener' in 2009—by taking action such as reducing energy and water use—in step with patrons' interest in environmental issues.

About four in 10 full-service-restaurant operators and nearly three in 10 quickservice operators say they plan to devote more of their 2009 budgets to green initiatives. Restaurant patrons like the idea: 44 percent surveyed recently said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on an operation's practices in the areas of energy and water conservation.