On the outside, it may look to you like fast food hasn’t changed too much in the past year. And unless you’ve been actively following restaurant industry news or been eating at McDonald’s weekly, you can certainly be forgiven for that: Chipotle has spent the year recovering from its foodborne illness outbreak, McDonald’s has been settling into its all-day breakfast menu, and things seem pretty steady. But if you look at the trends, you’ll notice that the fast-food landscape has been irrevocably changing this year — in many cases for the better.
In many ways, the trends rippling through the fast-food industry are the same ones we see reflected in the food industry at large, an example being the movement toward responsible sourcing of higher-quality ingredients. And when a specific dish is having its moment across the country, you can bet that if a fast-food chain can ride the bandwagon, it will (see Nashville fried chicken, for example). We’ll see if Long John Silver’s adds tuna poke to its menu anytime soon.
For all the risk (and expense) involved in rolling out a new menu item, we’re still seeing some chains go all in on the gimmicks, which seem to grab people’s attention but do not always result in sales. And even though some technological innovations over the past year can easily come across as gimmicks, the fast-food sector has been embracing consumer-facing technology just as eagerly, if not more so, than any other branch of the restaurant industry.
Keep reading to learn 10 trends we’ve recognized have worked their way through the restaurant industry throughout the past year. If they’re any indication of what we might be seeing more of in 2017, then it’s hard to argue that we aren’t on the right track.