Restaurant operations

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5 Books to Read this Month: December 2023

5 Books to Read this Month: December 2023

by David Klemt

Flipping through an open book

Our inspiring and informative December book selections will help you and your team transform your operations and F&B programming.

This month, we look at books covering an array of topics. There’s an alcohol-free cocktail recipe book, an exploration of some of America’s most unique hotels, and more.

To review the book recommendations from November 2023, click here.

Let’s jump in!

The Mocktail Club: Classic Recipes (and New Favorites) Without the Booze

Some people find the word “mocktail” is one of the best to label their alcohol-free drinks. Others find the word condescending. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, The Mocktail Club should help you expand your zero-proof menu.

From Amazon:The Art of Mixology meets mocktails in this beautiful collection of 75 alcohol-free recipes for classic drinks, new flavor concoctions, and twists on old favorites, so you can experience the joy of cocktail creation without the booze!

Pre-order it today. This book is available on January 2, 2024.

Hotel Kitsch: A Pretty Cool Tour of America’s Fantasy Getaways

We love a creative independent hotel brand, unique resort, or one-of-a-kind motel. Any place with endless details to discover and appreciate that places value on offering unforgettable experiences during a guest’s stay. This book captures such hotels and motels in a series of photographs that should inspire operators to follow through with their incredible visions.

From Amazon: “From the photographers and inveterate travelers behind the social media sensation A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour, Hotel Kitsch celebrates dozens of creative, nostalgic, one-of-a-kind hotels that span the heart of the Poconos and across the United States to Mexico, Spain, and the UK. Discover, in the middle of Iowa, a jungle room with fake trees and foliage surrounding the bed as if it had taken its cue from Where the Wild Things Are. Or Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo where the rooms are reached by scuba diving. An Arctic Cave room at a hotel in Kentucky with its carved blue walls and not a window to be found. And on the California coast, the iconic Madonna Inn featuring 110 rooms, each themed and no two alike.”

Grab it today.

The Hospitality Mentality: Create Raving Fans Through Your Guest Experience

This book is so new it isn’t available until tomorrow, December 5. New book, fresh ideas to lead you into the new year.

The Hospitality Mentality is all about empowering your team to deliver impeccable service and unforgettable memories, keeping them coming back to your venue for more.

From Amazon: “Business leaders will gain inspiration to take their service standard to the next level, knowing that this is an area that cannot plateau. Readers will be motivated to go above and beyond guests’ expectations through creating hyper-personalized experiences, amplifying enthusiasm, anticipating needs, and crafting superior ‘wow’ moments that solidify memories that take satisfaction to the next level. By maximizing the benefit of guest feedback and directly addressing complaints, service providers can strengthen their relationship with their guests, ultimately leading to business/brand loyalty.”

Get the paperback today!

Reinvent: Navigating Business Transformation in a Hyperdigital Era

This business book has earned a number of accolades since its publication earlier this year:

  • Wall Street Journal bestseller
  • Silver for Best Business Book in the 2023 Globee® Awards for Business, The 21st Annual American Business Awards®
  • 2023 Best Business Book of The Year, Silver Stevie Winner

The hospitality industry, as operators are all too aware, has been making massive strides when it comes to technology the past few years. However, as Reinvent also says, you can’t just plug in a tech solution, expect it to work, and say your brand and business are transformed.

From Amazon: “From top to bottom, organizations will be compelled to change entire mindsets, attitudes, and assumptions about how they operate, how they can grow, and even the very reason for their existence. This book introduces readers to ideas, concepts, and a comprehensive framework (LIFTS) that they can use to better position themselves and their organizations to reap the greatest number of benefits that business and digital transformation can afford. It’s a journey rich with promise that explains complex concepts in an understandable common language.”

Order the hardcover today.

Bar Hacks: Developing The Fundamentals for an Epic Bar

This informative and conversational book is the perfect read for aspiring or seasoned bar, pub, lounge, or even restaurant owners, operators, and managers looking for that competitive edge in operations! If you’re looking for both fundamental and in-depth planning methods, strategies, and industry focused insight to either start or grow a scalable, sustainable, memorable, profitable, and consistent venue in today’s cut-throat industry, Bar Hacks is written just for you.

Pick up the paperback from Amazon today!

Image: Mikołaj on Unsplash

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Program for Unique Holidays: December 2023

Program for Unique Holidays: December 2023

by David Klemt

"Think about things differently" neon sign

Do you want to stand out from from other restaurants and bars in your area? Change how you think about your December holiday promotions.

Several holidays are set against every date on the calendar, and this month is no exception. These holidays range from mainstream to esoteric.

Pay attention to the “weird” or unique holidays to raise eyebrows, carve out a niche for your restaurant or bar, and attract more guests. Why do what everyone else is already doing? Why program only around the same holidays as everyone else?

Of course, you shouldn’t try to celebrate every holiday, strange or otherwise. Focus on the days that are authentic to your brand; resonate with your guests; and help you grab attention on social media.

You’ll find suggestions for promotions below. However, the idea behind our monthly holiday promotions roundup is to inspire you and your team to get creative and come up with unique programming ideas.

For our November 2023 holidays list, click here.

December 2: Global Fat Bike Day

For the unfamiliar, “fat bikes” are offroad bicycles with larger-than-normal tires. They’re fantastic for navigating sandy, snowy, muddy, and rocky terrain. Why? Because riders can run lower tire pressures to overcome obstacles smoothly.

Of course, plenty of riders also like to bop around town on fat bikes. So, whether you operate in a snowy area or you just happen to be in a market with a bunch of fat-bike riders, this would be the holiday to encourage them to group up and roll to your bar or restaurant.

December 4: National Dice Day

There’s a lot we can do with dice. One of the simplest ways to celebrate this holiday is to craft a food and/or beverage menu with numbered items/specials. Guests roll the dice and they’re served whatever they roll.

December 9: National Pastry Day

Hey, it’s holiday season—people are snacking a bit more than they would normally. Pastry, whether sweet or savory, is surely tempting and can make a holiday meal memorable.

December 11: National Noodle Ring Day

Do you know what a noodle ring is? More importantly, if you’re not the chef, does your kitchen team know about noodle rings?

They’re exactly what they sound like, and from everything I can find, they’re hundreds of years old. The premise is simple: a noodle dish is placed in a mold, then it’s baked. Bang—noodle ring.

Clearly, the noodle ring is a canvas for creativity and comfort food. So, see what your kitchen can come up with for National Noodle Ring Day, particularly if noodle dishes are already on your menu.

December 16: National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

Do you have food items that would taste and look great covered in chocolate? Guess what you should do on this day…

December 19: National Emo Day

You may have heard of the When We Were Young festival that took place in Las Vegas this year in October. The first version of this emo music festival was held in California in 2017.

A lot of people enjoy nostalgia, and during the holidays they get even more nostalgic. You can either hire a DJ for an emo set, hire a local emo band or two, or put together an emo playlist if you think it would draw guests through your doors.

December 20: Games Day

Board games, card games, tabletop games, video games, arcade games, bar games… If your bar or restaurant is set up for people to play games, design a promotion around it. After all, people are gathering for the holidays. Tempt them to gather at your place.

December 21: National Coquito Day

Ah, the Coquito. I’ll risk the pitchforks and say eggnog is not the move: the Coquito is the best winter cocktail. And the best version comes from bartender Giuseppe González.

You’ll find his recipe below, and you should give him a follow and thank him for being gracious enough to share it every year in December.

December 29: Tick Tock Day

No, not TikTok. This holiday is about accomplishing outstanding goals before the end of the year.

However, operators and their teams can take a different approach to this holiday. Are there any bottles you want to finally get rid of to make space in your inventory? Some rare drams guests can finish off? Create a promotion around them.

December 31: National Champagne Day

Sure, some people may know this day as New Year’s Eve. But really, this is National Champagne Day.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to create promotions around Champers. Whether focusing on dosage, grape varietals, vintage, color, or cocktails, there’s a lot to do with Champagne, and it’s not challenging to shine a spotlight on it on this day.

Image: Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels

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SevenRooms Unveils 3 Powerful New Tools

SevenRooms Unveils Three Powerful New Tools

by David Klemt

Booth seating inside a restaurant or bar

SevenRooms clients will have access to three new tools that will further enhance guest engagement, increase loyalty, and boost relationships with VIPs.

Each of these consumer-facing solutions is launching in time for the holiday season.

First up, 7R Priority Alerts. This tool helps operators manage their waitlists and generate revenue. We all know that even restaurants that require reservation fees end up with no-shows. Some platforms are capable of attempting to fill those available reservation slots. However, there’s not normally much control over who receives availability alerts.

Now, operators will have the power to target specific guests through automated reservation notifications. As 7R explains this tool, operators will be able to identify, label, and reward their most-valuable guests. These guests will feel like VIPs, increasing their loyalty, visits, and spends.

Then there’s Private Line. This is my favorite of the three new tools. Operators who implement this tool will be able to share an exclusive messaging line. So, a VIP such as a big spender, frequent diner, a member of the press, or an influencer can reach out to the team directly.

With Private Line, a VIP can inquire about a last-second reservation or make a special request. Again, this is the type of feature that increases loyalty and visit frequency.

Most people find new restaurants through friend, family, or coworker referrals. That got the 7R team thinking: How can restaurants reward people who refer new guests?

Enter: Word-of-Mouth Referrals, the third new tool on this list.

Pushed to guests via automated email marketing campaigns and post-visit surveys, a custom referral link is created for every diner. The guests then share that link, new guests make reservations, and the cycle continues. Operators, of course, reward guests for these referrals through any number of means, such as redeemable loyalty program points, comped F&B items, etc.

To learn more, please read the 7R press release about Priority Alerts, Private Line, and Word-of-Mouth Referrals below.


Priority Alerts, Private Line, and Word-of-Mouth Referrals redefine guest engagement and communication between restaurants and their most important guests

NEW YORK – SevenRooms, a guest experience and retention platform for the hospitality industry, today announced the launch of Priority Alerts, Private Line, and Word-of-Mouth Referrals, three new consumer-facing features that help operators connect with and reward their most loyal guests. With guests expecting more from their dining experiences than ever before, these solutions were purpose-built to solve real pain points for hospitality operators. These include alerting a specific diner about reservation availability, providing new ways for guests to get in touch and making it easier for guests to recommend their favorite restaurants to friends and family.

Priority Alerts helps operators control who they send automated reservation availability notifications to so they can prioritize their most valuable guests. In comparison to other reservation notification systems, restaurants choose who receives a Priority Alert first, not just deciding between a blast to their entire waitlist or to an exclusive subset of credit card holders. Instead, they can prioritize the guests that matter most to their business – whether that’s a VIP, loyalty member, frequent or recent diner, local, high spender, or someone else. This helps restaurants reward their most valuable guests to get them through their doors more often.

Private Line was created to give important guests an easier, faster way to get in touch with their favorite restaurants. With Private Line, restaurants can now offer their high-value guests – like VIPs, press, frequent diners and top spenders – an exclusive messaging line that can be used to instantly get in touch with their team. Whether a guest is looking for a last-minute reservation, has a special request, needs to add a friend to a booking or another ask, restaurants no longer miss out on opportunities to wow the guests that matter most. All conversations are centralized within the SevenRooms mobile app, making it easy for staff to book a table, add in requests or make other changes with just a few clicks.

Word-of-Mouth Referrals, the third consumer-facing feature launching with our fall release, gives restaurants the ability to motivate, track and reward loyal guests for referring new diners. According to recent data, 61 percent of diners discover new restaurants from friends, family and co-workers. Yet, without an easy way to capture this untapped demand, restaurants have historically left dollars on the table. Word-of-Mouth Referrals automatically creates personal referral links for every diner – shared through post-meal surveys and automated email campaigns – making it simple for guests to share with their networks and be rewarded with perks they’ll want to earn and use. Restaurants can tap into this high-value marketing channel for their business, rewarding loyalty and ensuring exceptional experiences for newcomers and regulars that translate into more sales and profits.

“At SevenRooms, our focus from day one has been on building innovations that help operators increase profitability, drive sales and improve the experiences of their guests. These three new features, all integrated into the SevenRooms platform, give operators new ways to connect and communicate with their guests – helping them evolve to meet the needs of guests who know what they want, how they want it, when they want it,” said Angela DeFranco, VP of Product at SevenRooms. “In an increasingly competitive landscape where consumers have more choice than ever before in where they choose to take their business, we’re dedicated to finding new ways for restaurants to connect and market more effectively to their guests with tools that not only make them more money, but help them execute on experiences that guests remember and recommend. Restaurant marketing is no longer one-size-fits-all, and we are redefining the role that technology can play in creating truly personalized guest engagement and marketing touchpoints at every stage of the guest journey.”

“The plan was to always move to SevenRooms because the technology was far superior, the potential for integration with our point of sale system was a lot stronger and owning the data was a huge deal,” said Kim McDiarmid, Partner at Liquid and Larder. “SevenRooms’ Priority Alerts has been a dream for us. Compared to our previous platform, it’s a lot more customizable and fully automated so it does the heavy lifting for us. We’re going to use it to give priority to guests who match criteria such as those who dine with us regularly, and with that, it will work even harder for us.”

For more details on SevenRooms’ newest innovations, please visit

About SevenRooms

SevenRooms is a guest experience and retention platform that helps hospitality operators create exceptional experiences that drive revenue and repeat business. Trusted by thousands of hospitality operators around the world, SevenRooms powers tens of millions of guest experiences each month across both on- and off-premises. From neighborhood restaurants and bars to international, multi-concept hospitality groups, SevenRooms is transforming the industry by empowering operators to take back control of their businesses to build direct guest relationships, deliver exceptional experiences and drive more visits and orders, more often. The full suite of products includes reservation, waitlist and table management, online ordering, mobile order & pay, review aggregation, email marketing and marketing automation. Founded in 2011 and venture-backed by Amazon, Comcast Ventures, PSG and Highgate Ventures, SevenRooms has dining, hotel F&B, nightlife and entertainment clients globally, including: Marriott International, MGM Resorts International, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Wynn Resorts, Jumeirah Group, Hard Rock Hotels & Resorts, Wolfgang Puck, Michael Mina, Bloomin’ Brands, José Andrés Group, Union Square Hospitality Group, Australian Venue Company, The Wolseley Hospitality Group, Dishoom, Live Nation and Topgolf.

Image: Carson Masterson on Unsplash

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Indies: Which Cities Lead the Way?

Independents: Which Cities Lead the Way?

by David Klemt

Aerial view of Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan coastline

The majority of the top ten indie restaurants on the Restaurant Business Top 100 Independents ranking are in two American cities.

Those two cities are Miami Beach, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois. While Miami Beach claims two spots among the top three, Chicago has the most restaurants in the top ten. However, the top three indies are all in Florida, with number two being the Boathouse in Orlando.

So, Florida and Illinois are home to nearly the entire top ten of Restaurant Business’ Top 100 Independents. That’s impressive.

What’s even more impressive is the combined annual sales figure of the top ten: $333.4 million. Now, let’s separate Miami Beach. The three indies in the Florida city generated nearly $114 million themselves. Chicago’s four indies among the top ten generated $118 million.

Taken together, the top 100 indies generated $1.95 billion.

All told, 14 of the top 100 indies as ranked by Restaurant Business are in Chicago. Five are in Miami Beach, and five are in Miami. Before I move on, no, Miami Beach and Miami aren’t the same city; they’re entirely separate municipalities. In total, 16 restaurants on this list are in Florida.

New York boasts 15 restaurants on the list. Four are in San Francisco, and just two are in Los Angeles. However, California claims 15 restaurants in total.

However, as you’ll see below, this Restaurant Business list consists of more than just the usual big cities.

Restaurant Business Top 100 Independents: The Top Ten

Below, the top ten independent restaurants, per Restaurant Business.

  1. Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant (Miami Beach, Florida)
  2. The Boathouse (Orlando, Florida)
  3. Komodo Miami (Miami Beach, Florida)
  4. Maple & Ash Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)
  5. Mila (Miami Beach, Florida)
  6. Sierra Mar (Big Sur, California)
  7. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (Chicago, Illinois)
  8. Gibsons Italia (Chicago, Illinois)
  9. Alexxa’s (Las Vegas, Nevada)
  10. Alinea (Chicago, Illinois)

Alinea commands the highest average check among the top ten, at $650. The most reasonable is the Boathouse, averaging $45.

Interestinglyand perhaps logicallythese two restaurants find themselves in the inverse when it comes to annual meals served. The Boathouse serves the most: just over one million. And Alinea, among the top ten indies, serves the least: nearly 45,700.

Notably, when we move on to numbers 11 to 20, Las Vegas, Miami, and New York account for six restaurants.

However, it’s also notable that it’s not just the usual big cities with restaurants on this list. Smaller cities, such as Frankenmuth in Michigan, are home to some of America’s top-performing independent restaurants.

For some context, Frankenmuth has a population of less than 5,200 people. However, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” draws three million tourists per year. So, it’s no surprise that Zehnder’s Restaurant generates more than $19 million in annual sales.

Restaurant Business Top 100 Independents: The Bottom Ten

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the bottom ten on the Restaurant Business list.

  1. Siena Tavern (Chicago, Illinois)
  2. Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar (Charleston, South Carolina)
  3. Electric Lemon NY (New York, New York)
  4. Bar Siena (Chicago, Illinois)
  5. El Vez (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  6. Mi Vida (Washington, DC)
  7. Scoma’s Restaurant (San Francisco, California)
  8. Mexican Sugar (Las Colinas, Texas)
  9. The Shed Barbecue & Blues Joint (Ocean Springs, Mississippi)
  10. Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and Bar (Miami, Florida)

Adding context, these ten restaurants have generated $114.6 million in annual sales. That’s roughly the same amount of annual sales as the three restaurants in Miami Beach in the top ten.

Each of the “bottom” ten has annual sales ranging from $11.2 million to $11.9 million.


We all know the following axiom: “Location, location, location.”

It’s tempting to assume this means a business must be in a major city. That’s a woeful oversimplification. Myriad considerations must be made when looking at a market, whether the population is in the hundreds or millions. Assuming a concept will drive traffic and generate millions of dollars solely because it’s in a major city is foolish.

Let’s take another look at Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth. The restaurant, number 47 on the list, generated $19.2 million in annual sales. Moreover, it’s in a town with a population under 5,200.

Number 46 generated $19.3 million and is in (on?) Waimea in Hawaii. Number 48 boasted annual sales of $19 million and is in a city with a population of almost 2.7 million: Chicago.

Clearly, tourism a key contributing factor to the success of Zehnder’s. Not population, not the demographics of the permanent residents, not big-city status.

So, what about check average? Alinea, number ten, has the highest at $650 and generated $28.3 million in sales. However, the Spot, number 85, has an average check of $18 and generated $12.3 million.

The success of any restaurant, bar, nightlife or eatertainment concept doesn’t come down to a single element. What sets a concept apart is a deep understanding of a specific market, the surrounding markets, “sister” sites and competitors, guest desires and expectations, and so much more.

How does an operator come to understand their operation and their market? A feasibility study to start. Then comes a thorough, coherent concept plan and a complete business plan, and an obsession with data.

Operators who put in the work to attain strategic clarity have the potential to earn their way onto the Top 100 Independents list.

Image: Cameron Casey on Pexels

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Two New Review Platforms You Need to Know

Two New Review Platforms You Need to Know

by David Klemt

Person looking at restaurants on a map on their phone

Operators should be aware of two new review platforms that will help people discover their restaurant, bar, nightclub, or eatertainment venue.

At this point, we’re all aware of the mainstream review sites. Google, Yelp, OpenTable, Tripadvisor… Whether viewed as a helpful discovery tool or nuisance, each is a well-known player.

Well, there are new platforms on the scene. Importantly, each one is putting their own stamp on how people review venues and discover new experiences.

For example, I wrote about a new platform that rejects negative reviews a few weeks ago. It’s Good “believe[s] a restaurant rec from 1 trusted friend is more valuable than recs from 10,000 strangers.”

The founders, including Kevin Auerbach (former Apple), Meghan Raab (former Snap), director and photographer Mike Rosenthal, and songwriter and performer John Legend, have also eschewed the standard star rating.

So, that’s one modern-day take on the review platform. Now, two others.


By now, most people are aware that video content outperforms static photography on social media. In other words, people engage more with video.

That’s not to say that static photography is obsolete. Rather, when it comes to discovery, video appears to be king at the moment.

Enter: Atmosfy.

This platform is all about video reviews. In fact, their website reads, “A video is worth a thousand pictures.” Restaurant, bar, nightlife, and eatertainment operators should see the value in users showing off their experiences via video.

In addition, users get access to a personal map. They can bookmark places they’ve been and want to go, and share their experiences so others can discover them.

And with $12 million in seed funding from Redpoint Ventures and other venture capital firms, operators can be certain this is no flash in the pan. In fact, Atmosfy supports in excess of one million businesses in over 10,000 cities in more than 150 countries.


First, the T-rex mascot of this platform is pretty cool.

Second, Recs takes a similar approach to It’s Good. However, the founders, Jesse Berns and Sean Conrad, have put their own spin on review platforms.

Like It’s Good, Recs sees far more value in recommendations from friends than strangers. Also, there’s no star rating system, nor will users find negative reviews.


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A post shared by Recs (@getrecs)

Another interesting detail: Users aren’t able to leave anonymous reviews. This is because Recs is built for recommendations among friends. Were a user to be anonymous, they wouldn’t be discoverable to friends, and therefore they’d be leaving recommendations to…nobody.

However, the most important element of Recs (arguably) is that users either recommend a place or they don’t.

So, in theory, if a business is blowing the guest experience, they won’t even be discoverable on Recs because nobody will be recommending it. At least to a specific core of users, that business won’t exist in their world on Recs.

As far as the Recs user experience, people save venues as “recommend” or “wanna go.” Users find their friends, share their lists, and discover new places to try by checking out their friends’ lists. A simple, straightforward way for people to eat, drink, and hang out together throughout a city.


Simply put, an operator needs to know how people are discovering their business. Operators need to meet guests where they are, which means online.

So, operators need to know about new platforms. When sending a post-visit surveyit doesn’t need to be lengthy—operators should ask how guests learned about their venue. This is one way to stay up to date on social media and review sites.

A comprehensive and effective marketing strategy includes review and discovery platforms. Certainly, operators ignore discovery tools at their peril.

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2023 State of the Menu: Datassential

2023 State of the Menu: Datassential

by David Klemt

Korean fried chicken wings

The annual 2023 State of the Menu by Datassential includes an interesting metric to gauge restaurant recovery: menu size by segment.

Hosts Jack Li, Mike Kostyo, and Claire Conaghan discuss a handful of topics during this webinar. Host Li touches on food-forward cities at the beginning of this presentaiton. Kostyo shares some of the most innovative menu items out there right now. And Conaghan dives deep into menu trends.

Industry professionals interested in watching this webinar on demand can register to do so here.

There are a handful of metrics people are using to measure post-pandemic restaurant recovery. Labor is, of course, receiving a lot of attention. People are also tracking traffic, average check size, revenue, and profits.

One metric Datassential is keeping tabs on is menu size per restaurant segment. Additionally, they’re tracking each segment’s top-growing food and beverage items.

Notably, however, in tracking menu size, Conaghan focuses solely on food and non-alcohol beverage items, omitting catering and alcohol.

Chains vs. Independents

Starting things off, Conaghan addresses the overall menu size trend. That is, menus are noticeably smaller in comparison to pre-pandemic sizes.

Interestingly, chain restaurants don’t appear to be in any rush to move away from this trend. In fact, Conaghan notes that chains appear to be further reducing the size of their menus. This has been the trend over the past 12 months.

According to Conaghan, fine dining also seems to be happy to shrink their menus. Menu size shrunk the most among restaurants in this segment. In comparison, quick-service menu sizes decreased the least.

However, independent restaurant operators appear to be going in the opposite direction from their chain counterparts. In contrast, indies have been growing the size of their menus the past 12 months.

Menu Size by Segment

Fast Casual

Per Conaghan, the only segment to reach pre-pandemic menu size is fast casual. In fact, this category of restaurant is often exceeding pre-pandemic items-per-menu size.

This increase in menu size is attributable to operators “leaning into” core cuisine items. For example, sandwiches, Mexican entrees, and pizza.

However, the fastest-growing food item on fast-casual menus is the chicken wing. According to Conaghan, it’s easy for operators to innovate with chicken wings.

A restaurant doesn’t have chicken wings? All they have to do is add them, starting with simple preparations. If a restaurant does have chicken wings on the menu already, innovation is as simple as adding new flavors.

As far as the fastest-growing drink for fast-casual restaurants, it’s dessert beverages.

QSR, Casual Dining, and Midscale

These three segments are “very, very close” to reaching pre-pandemic menu sizes.

As midscale operators are likely very aware, this segment tends to have the largest menus. I wouldn’t be surprised, therefore, if a number of midscale concepts review their items per menu, their costs, and decide they can perform well with slightly smaller menus moving forward.

Unsurprisingly, chicken wings are the food item growing most quickly on QSR food menus. Oh, and barbecue chicken wings are the fastest-growing food item among casual dining restaurants.

Perhaps a bit more eyebrow-raising is the fastest-growing beverage type for QSRs: energy drinks. Boba and flavored iced teas are growing fastest on casual-dining drink menus.

For midscale restaurants, dessert samplers are the fastest-growing food items. Think “dessert charcuterie” when trying to picture a dessert platter. Another way to think about the dessert sampler is a static dessert cart with small bites of each dessert on the menu.

Fine Dining

Again, this segment is the furthest from pre-pandemic menu size. And, again, operators in this category seem happy with this trend.

An interesting note Conaghan makes about this segment is what many operators are using to fill out their menus: desserts. This is, she says, an area where fine dining can differentiate itself from other concepts.

Per Conaghan, bao, applesauce, and summer squash are growing the fastest on fine-dining food menus.

Now, I may have slipped into a fever dream during this portion of the Datassential webinar. Because unless I’m mistaken, the Shirley Temple has been identified as the fastest-growing beverage in the fine-dining space.


Okay, so this segment of the 2023 State of the Menu webinar isn’t really a recovery metric.

However, it’s interesting, and something Jack Li says about chain restaurant pricing made me chuckle.

Most Expensive vs. Least Expensive

First, some straightforward data.

The following list identifies the five most-expensive ZIP codes for chain restaurant menu pricing. Anyone who wants the full list of 15 most-expensive ZIP codes can watch the webinar.

  • 10036 (New York, NY)
  • 96707 (Kapolei, HI)
  • 98902 (Yakima, WA)
  • 96815 (Honolulu, HI)
  • 99503 (Anchorage, AK)

It’s understandable to think this would consist entirely of New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco ZIPs. But when we consider what it costs operators to import food to Hawaii and Alaska. Additionally, Washington and New York are among the states with the highest minimum wage. Operators need to recover those costs somehow.

And now the five least-expensive ZIP codes:

  • 78526 (Brownsville, TX)
  • 75224 (Dallas, TX)
  • 76106 (Fort Worth, TX)
  • 31907 (Columbus, GA)
  • 31701 (Albany, GA)

Pricing Logic

Now, on to what Li says during the webinar that makes me laugh.

Nationwide, the average price of a McDonald’s Big Mac in the US is $5.26. (A caveat: This webinar took place in October. This price may have increased or decreased by now.)

However, the lowest price for a Big Mac is $3.49 at a location in Wilburton, Oklahoma.

So, what’s the highest price, and where can one find these pricey Big Macs? Three McDonald’s locations sell the burger for $8.29. That’s nearly two-and-a-half times the lowest-priced Big Mac.

Summarizing pricing variations among chain restaurants succinctly, Li made me laugh with the following: “Store pricing often just doesn’t make sense.”

Going further, Li says Datassential shows that the more franchised a restaurant chain is, the more variances in pricing will occur.

The full webinar can be viewed here.

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Datassential Ranks Food-forward Cities

Datassential Ranks America’s Most Food-forward Cities

by David Klemt

San Francisco skyline and bay at night

Let’s take a look at food and beverage intel platform Datassential’s ranking of the 158 most food-forward cities in America as 2023 comes to a close.

We are, in part, reviewing this list because of Wallethub’s “Best Foodie Cities in America” report. You can find our thoughts on that ranking here.

To summarize, however, Wallethub prioritizes “wallet-friendliness,” or “the best and cheapest” cities for foodies. In contrast, Datassential’s ranking is a scientific attempt to quantify the “food-forward” status of a given city.

“It’s the diversity of cuisines, the prevalence of emerging foods and flavor trends and residents’ appetite for varied menus, that make a city food forward,” writes Samantha Des Jardins, content marketing manager at Datassential.

We at KRG Hospitality are big fans of Datassential and find the company to be a credible source of industry insight. Earlier this year they tackled video versus static photography, and the flavors and menu items they predicted would be big in 2023.

To review Datassential’s ranking and download the full list for yourself, click here.

The Top 25 Food-forward Cities

Alright, I know why you’re here. Below, you’ll find the highest-ranked cities on the Datassential list.

(Note: Due to the scoring, some cities are tied in terms of overall points. Where this is the case, it has been noted.)

  1. San Francisco, California
  2. Los Angeles, California
  3. Miami, Florida
  4. Washington, DC
  5. San Diego, California
  6. New York, New York
  7. Houston, Texas
  8. Monterey, California
  9. Las Vegas, Nevada
  10. Austin, Texas
  11. Sacramento, California
  12. West Palm Beach, Florida
  13. Atlanta, Georgia
  14. Dallas, Texas (tie with Atlanta)
  15. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  16. Phoenix, Arizona
  17. Portland, Oregon
  18. Palm Springs, California
  19. Seattle, Washington
  20. Orlando, Florida
  21. Denver, Colorado (tie with Orlando)
  22. Honolulu, Hawaii (tie with Orlando and Denver)
  23. Salt Lake City, Utah
  24. Tampa, Florida
  25. Fresno, California (tie with Tampa)

So, the top tenthe entire top 25, reallyare most likely not much of a surprise. When I talk about cities as the “usual suspects” for rankings like these, I’m talking about New York, LA, San Francisco, Miami, etc.

However, not every usual suspect is among the top 25. Notably, Chicago just fails to make the cut, earning number 26 on this list. In fact, five “big cities” are absent from Datassential’s top ten: Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Another interesting detail? Whereas Orlando holds the number-one spot on Wallethub’s list, it’s number 20 on Datassential’s ranking.

Of their respective top tens, the two lists have just five cities in common: Miami, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Austin.


Since the two lists are vastly different when we contextualize what they quantify, it should come as no surprise that Datassential and Wallethub’s methodologies are likewise dissimilar.

Whereas Wallethub scored affordability, and diversity, accessibility, and quality, Datassential weighed different metrics.

For their “Most Food-forward Cities in US,” Datassential scored the following:

  • Race to 90;
  • Ethnic restaurant diversity; and
  • Trend-forwardness.

During Datassential’s annual State of the Menu webinar, Jack Li, executive chairman, board of directors explained each of these metrics.

Race to 90

The number different cuisine types required in a particular metro area before reaching 90 percent of restaurants.

For the curious, Miami is the most-diverse city by this metric.

Ethnic Restaurant Diversity

Datassential asks the following question to measure this metric: What is the proportion of ethnic restaurants compared to all restaurants in a metro area?


Based on a dataset developed by Datassential which tracks a number of points, from food and drink items to flavors, keywords, and beyond.

The company continuously polls consumers by ZIP code to measure consumer knowledge of upcoming trends, then aggregates the ZIP codes to measure a metro area.

The Bottom Eleven

Why am I listing the bottom eleven rather than bottom ten? There’s a tie for number 149 among these 158 cities.

There are nearly 800 cities in the US with populations of 50,000 or more. Therefore, it’s reasonable to argue that even the bottom of this list boast respectable food scenes.

  1. Youngstown, Ohio
  2. Rockford, Illinois
  3. Peoria, Illinois
  4. Johnstown, Pennsylvania
  5. Billings, Montana
  6. Traverse City, Michigan
  7. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  8. La Crosse, Wisconsin
  9. Green Bay, Wisconsin
  10. Fargo, North Dakota
  11. Wausau, Wisconsin

In case you’re wondering, Datassential and Wallethub’s lists don’t share any bottom ten (or eleven) cities.

So, there you have it: San Francisco earns the top spot among Datassential’s food-forward cities. And Wausau earns number 158, which is still notable.

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Ontario Updates Employment Standards Act

Ontario Updates Employment Standards Act

by David Klemt

Daytime photo of the Toronto, Ontario, Canada, skyline

Yesterday, Ontario, Canada’s government tabled updates to the province’s Employment Standards Act meant largely to protect restaurant and hospitality workers.

These explicit protections are known as Bill 79, Working for Workers Four Act, 2023.

Interestingly and timely, the updates seem to be, at least in part, a direct response to technological developments.

For example, Bill 79 addresses digital payment apps and artificial intelligence. I’ll expand on that below.

These updates certainly appear to have been drawn up to protect restaurant workers specifically, and hospitality professionals overall.

An End to Unpaid Trial Shifts

One of the most significant updates addresses hours and pay.

It likely shouldn’t have to be said but, according to Ontario law, an employee must be paid for all the hours they work. This includes trial shifts.

Specifically, the new legislation expressly prohibits unpaid trial shifts.

Pooling Tips

Employers in Ontario are well within their rights to share in pooled tips. That is, if the employer is performing the same tasks as staff.

However, there’s now an update to this practice within the Employment Standards Act.

If any employer intends to share in a tip pool, they must make this clear and inform staff.

Speaking of Tips…

For the most part, digital payment platforms bring with them transaction fees. This includes fees for restaurant workers to get their tips.

“We’re seeing apps that are taking a cut every time…a worker accesses their tips, and that’s not acceptable,” says Piccini.

So, moving forward, employees who are paid tips via direct deposit will have more control. The updates to the Employment Standards Act now state that employees paid this way can choose where their tips will be deposited.

Deducting Wages

Per multiple studies, one in 20 diners has dined and dashed. Apparently, it has been common practice for some employers to deduct wages in response.

Personally, I think it’s ridiculous for any employers to pass a business loss on to their workers. That’s neither good leadership, ethical, or a healthy work culture. I’m not saying I’m surprised it happens; I’m disgusted that it still happens.

Now, the practice of penalizing employees monetarily for guests dining and dashing is prohibited specifically. Will that stop it from happening? Probably not, although perhaps it will happen much less moving forward.

This also includes language that makes it illegal to deduct pay from employees due to customer “gassing and dashing.” For anyone wondering, gas theft affected Ontario businesses to the tune of $3 million CAD in 2022.

Artificial Intelligence

Some employers, as many job hunters are aware, use artificial intelligence during the hiring process.

Now, these employers will have to disclose their use of AI in job listings. In theory, this update addresses privacy and data collection concerns.

Further, job listings will now have to include salary ranges. Also, employers are now prohibited from requiring work Canadian work experience in their job listings or on their application forms.

To review Bill 79 in its entirety, click here.

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Peppermint is the Latest Flavor Superstar

Peppermint is the Latest Flavor Superstar

by David Klemt

A candy cane surrounded by red smoke in a studio

Just when you think you have a handle on seasonal flavors, along comes the latest and greatest demand from consumers: peppermint.

Perhaps it’s because pumpkin spice shows up earlier each year. Maybe it’s because that hit of frosty peppermint hits the nostalgia button.

It could be as simple as consumers thinking:

  • pumpkin is for fall; and
  • peppermint is for winter.

Regardless, it appears that people are turning their attention to peppermint.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that pumpkin and pumpkin spice are out of favor completely. A recent trip to a grocer with shelves devoid of pumpkin butter and other pumpkin spice flavors show me people are still snapping it up.

And no, it wasn’t a product shift; staff says those products are flying out the door after each restock.

Instead, I think people are just ready for the next thing. In this case, the next flavor thing. And that flavor, it seems, is peppermint.

Considering that pumpkin spice LTOs appeared in early August this year, it makes sense for many consumers to want something new. After all, they’ve had four months to indulge their pumpkin and pumpkin spice cravings. That’s a third of the year.

Peppermint on the Rise

When delving into F&B and hospitality trends I tend to look at Datassential and Technomic. Both are credible, reliable sources of information.

However, I’m turning to another source, Tastewise, to dive into pumpkin spice and peppermint. For the unfamiliar, Tastewise is an F&B insight platform that uses artificial intelligence to collect real-time consumer behavior data.

First up, pumpkin spice. According to Tastewise, the flavor is up nearly 75 percent in terms of social conversations in 2023. Additionally, four percent of restaurants in the US have pumpkin spice items on their menus. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s more than 33,000 restaurants.

Now, let’s look at peppermint. Per Tastewise, social conversations about this frosty flavor are up almost 22 percent this year. However, peppermint liqueur conversations are up just over 77 percent.

Interestingly, according to Tastewise, peppermint items are on almost eight percent of menus in the US. That’s more than 67,000 restaurants, over double the amount of pumpkin spice.

One note: peppermint is not the same as mint. While peppermint is trending (most likely due to seasonal shift), mint is down nearly 109 percent. So, not all mint flavors and items are equal. This seems particularly true at the moment.


Is everyone on social media, talking about food? No, of course not.

It’s important to note, though, Tastewise’s current market overview. At the time of publication, Tastewise is scanning:

  • 8,151,698 people on social media;
  • 57,220,294 social media posts;
  • 937,070 restaurants;
  • 136,278,759 dishes; and
  • 5,878,416 recipes.

Operators can and should take industry insights with a grain of salt. Not every fad, trend or item works for every operator and concept.

However, it’s important to know what consumers are talking about and posting to social media. Being a part of some conversations can be a boon for an operator and their bottom line.

So, if introducing a peppermint LTO (or LTOs) will appeal to an operator’s guestsbecause they take the time to understand them and track their menu item salesand works with their concept authentically, they should consider becoming a part of this conversation.

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This content was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

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Gen Z Shifting the Restaurant Landscape

Gen Z Shifting the Restaurant Landscape

by Nathen Dubé

People holding phones over a pizza

I think we can admit every demographic snaps pics of their food now.

The next wave of restaurant guests is ready to be won over. Our industry is on the cusp of a monumental shift, and Generation Z is at the helm.

As they come into their own, both socially and economically, this vibrant generation is poised to redefine dining as we know it. With their digital-first mindset, staggering spending power, and penchant for loyalty, Gen Z is a demographic that no restaurant can afford to overlook.

Comprising nearly a quarter of the American economy, Gen Z is a force to be reckoned with. Born in 1993 or later, they command an awe-inspiring $250 billion in spending power.

But what’s truly remarkable is their approach to dining. Generally speaking, eating out is not an occasional indulgence for this generation; it’s a regular part of life.

In fact, the majority of Gen Zers frequent restaurants at least once a week, a statistic that’s all the more astonishing when you consider that many are not even old enough to drive.

As this generation matures and their financial standing improves, they are set to become the next wave of loyal restaurant patrons. To capture their attention and build lasting relationships, restaurants must focus on three pivotal areas: cutting-edge technology, customizable menus/personalization, and one-of-a-kind experiences.

By proactively adapting to meet the unique needs and desires of Gen Z, restaurants can not only win their business but also secure a prosperous future in an ever-evolving industry.

So, the question isn’t whether to adapt to Gen Z. Rather, the question is, how quickly can you do it?

The next generation of restaurant-goers is not just knocking at the door, they’re already here. And they’re ready to dine.


Generation Z is a digitally native cohort, seamlessly integrating smart technology into every facet of their lives—from smart cars to smartphones.

To engage with this generation of guests effectively, it’s imperative for restaurants to have a mobile-optimized online menu. Given Gen Z’s penchant for quick, easily digestible information, a streamlined, fast-loading menu is key.

Highlighting elements like flavors and health-conscious options can serve as compelling selling points.

The Digital Investment Dilemma

While the allure of digital innovation is undeniable, it comes with its own set of challenges, primarily financial.

However, there is good news.

Investing in robust digital systems is essential for ensuring a smooth guest experience. This investment often yields dividends in the form of operational efficiency and heightened customer loyalty—two factors crucial to long-term success.

Gen Z, in particular, is quick to embrace modern conveniences like alcohol delivery and digital ordering, signaling a clear trajectory for the restaurant industry’s future.

Additionally, many innovative tech solutions integrate with platforms operators use currently. Where this is the case, the new tools can enhance operations, automation, marketing campaigns, back of house, etc., which justifies the initial outlay.

Augmented Reality: A New Frontier in Dining

Augmented reality (AR) in the dining space is an emerging trend with boundless potential. Although the initial costs of integrating AR can be steep, the payoff in terms of guest engagement is substantial.

Imagine a dining scenario during which guests can use AR glasses or goggles to access nutritional information about their meal instantly. The possibilities are as limitless as they are exciting.

Staying ahead of the curve with tech ensures restaurants not only attract Gen Z but also offer an enhanced dining experience that sets them apart in a competitive market and attracts guests of all ages.

The future of dining is here, and it’s digital, customizable, and incredibly interactive. Are you ready to be a part of it?

Social Media

When it comes to capturing the attention of Gen Z, social media is a goldmine.

While Facebook may not be their platform of choice, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are where they’re most active.

These platforms are ideal for sharing quick, engaging six- to 15-second videos that resonate with Gen Z’s fast-paced and humorous nature. Bear in mind, video not only killed the radio star, it has surpassed static photography as the engagement format of choice.

And don’t underestimate the influence of even the youngest among them; they often have a significant say in family dining decisions.

Social Media: The Modern-Day Word-of-Mouth

In today’s digital landscape, social media isn’t just a platformit’s a potent marketing arsenal.

Gen Z is particularly vocal about their dining experiences, often sharing them online for their followers to see. This user-generated content serves as invaluable, organic marketing that can drive both foot traffic and revenue.

In essence, social media has become the new word-of-mouth, and restaurants should actively encourage this form of authentic promotion.

The WiFi Factor

Offering free WiFi isn’t just a courtesy, it’s strategic.

By becoming a wireless hotspot, you’re also positioning yourself as a dining hotspot.

Free WiFi enables Gen Z patrons to stay connected, even while enjoying a meal with family or friends. They can easily share texts, photos, and perhaps even a glowing review, providing your restaurant with the kind of word-of-mouth advertising that money can’t buy.

By embracing these digital and social strategies, restaurants can not only attract the Gen Z audience but also create a dynamic, interactive dining environment that appeals to all.

The future of the restaurant industry is undeniably digital, and those who adapt will not just survive but thrive. Are you prepared for this exciting new chapter in dining?


The culinary landscape is evolving, and Gen Z is at the forefront of this transformation.

Authentic and Global Flavors: The Culinary Passport

In an era marked by globalization, Gen Z’s palate is as diverse as their worldview.

Their affinity for authentic, global flavors is more than a trend, it’s a reflection of a world where borders are increasingly blurred. As international cuisines become more accessible, they’re also becoming a staple on restaurant menus.

For restaurateurs, this provides an opportunity to diversify and enrich their culinary offerings.

Fusion: The Art of Culinary Innovation

Fusion foods are not merely a passing fad. Truly, fusion is a celebration of culinary creativity.

This trend allows chefs to push the boundaries of traditional cooking, often creating unique, high-value dishes that enhance a restaurant’s revenue potential.

In many ways, fusion embodies the inclusive and diverse spirit of Gen Z, making this culinary approach a hit among this demographic.

Experiential Dining: The Rise of the Experience Economy

The move towards experiential dining is part of a larger shift in consumer behavior, where experiences are valued over material goods.

Restaurants offering interactive experiences like cooking classes, wine tastings, or farm-to-table events are tapping into this lucrative trend.

Gen Z, in particular, is drawn to such experiential dining options, as well as to culinary fusions and fresh, natural ingredients.

A New Wave of Flavors and Dining Options

Unique flavors like yuzu, tamarind, and lemongrass are more than just exotic additions. These flavors and ingredients are becoming mainstream, particularly among Gen Z.

Educational food services, from grade schools participating in the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program to college campuses offering “campus cuisine,” are also playing a role.

These institutions are introducing Gen Z to a wide array of international flavors and dietary options, including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free choices.

By understanding and embracing these trends, restaurants can position themselves as forward-thinking establishments ready to meet the diverse needs and preferences of Gen Z.

The future of dining is here, and it’s as varied, interactive, and global as the generation it serves. Are you ready to be a part of this culinary revolution?

Crafting the Ultimate Customizable Dining Experience

When it comes to dining, Gen Z values customization above all else. They want their meals tailored to their preferences, and they want them now.

While staples like burgers and pizza remain popular, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole their tastes.

According to Technomic’s The Generational Consumer Trend Report, Gen Z has a broader palate, embracing a range of global cuisines like Chinese, Mexican, and pasta at rates higher than any other generation.

A Melting Pot of Influences

This global appetite is more than just a random preference. Rather, it’s a reflection of Gen Z’s diverse background and the adventurous spirit of their Gen X parents.

But the driving force behind it all is the allure of customization.

Imagine a dining table where each person has their own uniquely crafted taco, creating a communal dining experience rich in personalization. This aligns perfectly with insights from Flavor & The Menu’s Generational Flavors report, which highlights the importance of affordability, value, and convenience to Gen Z diners.

The Customization Kings: Why Subway and Chipotle Reign Supreme

It’s no coincidence that eateries like Subway and Chipotle are among Gen Z’s favorites. These establishments have mastered the art of customization while also offering affordability and convenience—three key factors that resonate with this generation.

By recognizing and capitalizing on these trends, restaurants can craft the ultimate dining experience that not only appeals to Gen Z but also sets them apart in a highly competitive market.

The future of dining is customizable, diverse, and incredibly exciting. Are you prepared to meet the demands of this new generation of discerning diners?

Social Responsibility

A Win-Win for Brands and Consumers

For Gen Z, social responsibility isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life. And this focus translates into tangible economic gains for restaurants.

Brands that actively engage in social responsibility have seen a four-percent uptick in sales. This demonstrates that doing good is also good for business.

This generation is more likely to patronize establishments that resonate with their values, making corporate social responsibility not just an ethical imperative but a savvy business strategy.

Health and Wellness: The New Currency

Gen Z’s emphasis on better-for-you options extends to their dining choices.

According to Technomic, features like recycling, sustainable food practices, and health-conscious menu items can significantly boost restaurant traffic.

But it doesn’t stop there.

This generation is willing to pay a premium for quality and health benefits, opening up lucrative revenue streams for restaurants that offer premium, health-focused menus. This is not a fleeting trend but a market shift, propelled by Gen Z’s prioritization of quality over quantity.

Sustainability: The Green Dividend

The push for sustainability is evolving from an ethical stance to an economic imperative. With government incentives encouraging eco-friendly practices and a consumer base willing to pay extra for sustainable options, going green is increasingly profitable.

This creates a virtuous cycle where businesses can contribute to environmental conservation while also boosting their bottom line.

By aligning with these core values—social responsibility, health and wellness, and sustainability—restaurants can attract the discerning Gen Z but also position themselves for long-term success in a rapidly evolving market.

The future of dining is socially responsible, health-conscious, and eco-friendly. Are you ready to embrace it?

The Social Hub

Coffee Shops as Gen Z’s Gathering Grounds

Starbucks and similar coffee shops have become social hubs for Gen Z.

Offering specialty coffee experiences in an adult-like setting, these establishments have become the go-to spots for socializing among those too young for adult beverages.

A Diverse Palette of Beverages

When it comes to drinks, Gen Z’s preferences are as diverse as their food choices.

While soda remains a popular option, this generation is also more inclined than others to opt for healthier alternatives like lemonade, bottled water, fruit juice, and smoothies.

Highlighting these better-for-you options can be a smart move for restaurants looking to cater to this health-conscious demographic.

Nutritional Transparency: A Win for All

In a world where regulatory scrutiny around food labeling is intensifying, transparency is key.

Restaurants that provide nutritional information voluntarily not only cater to the health-focused mindset of Gen Z but also position themselves as responsible businesses in the eyes of both regulators and the broader community.

In Conclusion: The Future of Dining is Here, and It’s Gen Z

As we’ve explored, Gen Z is redefining the dining landscape in numerous ways—from their penchant for customization and global flavors to their focus on social responsibility, health, and sustainability.

By understanding and adapting to these multifaceted preferences, restaurants can not only attract this influential demographic but also set themselves up for long-term success in an ever-changing industry.

The future of dining is not just about food; it’s about creating an experience that resonates with the values and lifestyles of the next generation of consumers.

Are you ready to be a part of this exciting culinary evolution?

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