A look at what's ahead in 2012


Looking ahead to 2012, the restaurant industry is sure to face a still-struggling economy, increased scrutiny from regulatory organizations and the always-changing preferences of consumers. Ever optimistic, however, restaurant operators have said they are looking forward to 2012, expecting sales to improve in the months ahead and getting ready to meet challenges head on, whether by tapping menu trends or working new marketing angles.

The editors at Nation’s Restaurant News have picked their top predictions for the restaurant industry in 2012. Tell us what you expect in the year ahead by taking the NRN Restaurant Operator Survey.

Robin Lee Allen, Executive editor
Economy. The economy is expected to plod along in 2012 much like it did in 2011. Moderate growth is anticipated, with all eyes on — and a lot of people holding their breath over — the unemployment rate, the housing market and the stability of Europe.

The consumer. The customer experience will grow increasingly important as a differentiator between brands, as more operators upgrade restaurants, menus and service in the race for market share.

Tailor-made. In the same vein, customization will rule. Not only will guests want to have food and drink the way they want it, but they’ll want it when they want it in an atmosphere that allows them to linger with friends, work or eat quickly depending on their whims.

Mark Brandau, Midwest bureau chief
Daily deals become a chain game. In 2011, more nationwide chain restaurants waded into the daily-deal space, some with partners — Qdoba was a test partner for Groupon; McDonald’s has teamed up with Living Social — and some on their own. Chili’s “Holi-Deals” offer through its email club may be a template for competitors looking to make a big one-time gain in traffic.

Going mobile. Best practices have been established over the past few years for mobile marketing, where any restaurant can see the efficiency of simple text offers or the potential return on investment for smartphone apps and location-based social media. When technologies like near-field communications improve, look for restaurants to be enthusiastic adopters.

Yum! Brands turns around domestic system. Confidence in the prospect for renewal at its brands in the United States permeated Yum’s investor conference at the end of 2011. With breakthrough products at Taco Bell, improved relations with KFC franchisees and modest unit-growth prospects at Pizza Hut, that optimism could prove well founded. All three brands face negative same-store sales from 2011 that could provide favorable bases for comparisons.

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