As executive chairman of The Futures Company, J. Walker Smith is considered one of the leading analysts on consumer trends. The foodservice industry has always been a keen area of focus for Mr. Smith, who recently noted that consumers are demonstrating less interest in controlling how operators bring their concepts to market; rather, they want the industry to understand their desires and take the lead in creating concepts and products they need.
Mr. Smith shared these insights, and many others, in a January/February 2014 Restaurant Briefing article entitled "Consumers' 'Pivot to Passive'", where he said this consumer-centric shift is causing a unique trend in the foodservice industry.
"In our Monitor data we are seeing a decreasing percentage of people agree that they can't live without their cellphones," Mr. Smith said in the article. "Overall, there is a rising demand for 'headspace,' for some relief. Consumers are saying, 'I want some time off, a moment to reflect, to be able to step back. I don't want to be actively engaged all the time.'"
Quality and Diverse Interests Still Top of Mind
That consumers do not feel the need to be as involved in the creation of new market offerings as previously considered may be a new trend; however, it is not to say that consumers will support anything. Individuals use restaurants for a myriad reasons after all, and one of them is for change of scene and an opportunity to wind down. That said, operators in particular will have to remember that consumers still bring a wealth of diversity to the marketplace.
"Remember that in terms of unplugging and escaping, one guest's tranquil ambiance is another's crowded scene, so know your audience (age is an important clue) and create their kind of haven," Mr. Smith said. "Regardless of ambiance, don't overburden customers with an excessive number of choices - options are important but overload is easy when there are too many or they are presented in a cluttered way. "Consumers are looking for someone to take the wheel, so to speak. For example, well-trained servers can be a huge advantage and chef's recommendations and/or set menus may be a welcome relief."
Attend COEX 2015 to Learn More
J. Walker Smith will be addressing a variety of trends and opportunities like these at IFMA's Chain Operator EXchange (COEX), March 1-4 at the Green Valley Resort in Las Vegas. Register now to learn from Mr. Smith about the future of the foodservice industry consumer. Many other noted speakers will also be addressing how to win the consumer's choice through establishing foodservice best practices and teamwork in marketing, culinary, operations and procurement.