There are an estimated 26,000 restaurants in New York City,
Countless restaurant concepts and trends — ranging from fast casual, to fine dining, to the idea of modern hospitality — have roots in New York City. So it begs the question: what's next?
I was fortunate enough to sit down with five leaders from prominent franchises and restaurants in New York for the newest episode of The Garnish Podcast, and they shared with me the biggest trends in restaurant technology, operations, and experience that they saw sparking in New York City.
Read on to see what the experts from 16 Handles, Bareburger, Mulberry & Vine, Tacombi, and RBM Restaurant Group – the group behind Sarabeth's, Docks Oyster Bar, and Jane Restaurant – have to say, or listen to the podcast below!
Restaurant Trends From New York City Restaurants
1) Veg Out
Plant-based food sales increased 8.1% last year, and New York City restaurants have been a hub for that growth.
"From the consumer perspective, there's a huge pivot going to plant-based foods," says Paul Zarmati, Director of IT at Bareburger, headquartered in and operating more than 20 locations in New York.
"Vegetables can be fun food," argues Stephen Van Note of RBM Restaurant Group. "You've seen the advent of Brussels sprouts as an appetizer, or cauliflower steaks with Romesco sauce. You would never see cauliflower or Brussels sprouts in the center of the plate, and now you do."
The sheer number of vegan restaurant in New York City – including P.S. Kitchen, Avant Garden, and Beyond Sushi – proves that the demand for vegan and plant-based food is real and growing. Even restaurants that have meat on the menu are appealing to those in this movement, such as Bareburger and their "beyond" and "impossible" burgers – burger-like sandwiches made without meat.
Van Note sees the value in expanding a menu to include vegan items, saying, "It becomes the challenge of the industry and restaurant operators to find a way to innovate with these ingredients that are engaging consumers today."
2) Over the Top Has Toppled
Instagram has had an undeniable impact on restaurant marketing and attendance rates.
"We've always said that, in the restaurant industry, people eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouth," says Luis Reyes, Director of Operations at five-location Mulberry & Vine. "Instagram has taken that philosophy and not only tested, but proven that it's absolutely true. We're seeing more and more people really making their dining choices based off of that."
However, some might argue that the over-the-top food designs often deemed "Instagram-able" might have reached their peak.
"There's been a tremendous trend in the last few years of over-the-top things, people wanting to Instagram... the craziest things they can," says Roman Gorbach, Director of Finance and Project Management at 16 Handles. "It's dying down. It seems like things are getting a little more simple, yet people want to see interesting things and things that are creative."
16 Handles has introduced new menu items that favor elegancy over exaggerated, like their simple but enticing Froyaki cone.
While the trend of photographing food likely won't die down soon (69% of millennials take a photo or video of their food before eating), it appears that restaurants are starting to reach the peak of over-the-top food presentation.
3) Experience Cannot Be Overstated
16 Handles' Roman Gorbach also points to another restaurant trend expanding beyond New York City restaurants – the importance of experiential dining.
"People are looking for a destination," he says. "They want something that's more of an event."
Luis Berenbau, Director of Operations at the six-location Tacombi, concurs with this idea.
"Experience is super important for the current consumer," he explains. "It's not even just getting good food and service, it's also an overall package of experience."
These trends certainly align with overall consumer movements – particularly regarding millennials, 72% of whom prefer to spend money on an experience rather than a thing.
"People go out to eat because they want it to be engaging," explains Van Note. "They want an experience, and they want to eat well, and they want to eat things that they wouldn't necessarily make at home."
4) Consumer Knowledge is Growing
In a saturated restaurant scene, consumers are taking the extra step to learn more about where they're dining and what's going in their bodies.
"Especially in New York, I feel that the consumer is a lot more knowledgeable of the food," says Berenbau. "They're a lot more demanding. They want healthy, they want fast, they want efficient."
"We are also much more informed consumers than we used to be," reinforces Reyes. "We have information on what type of consequences can come out of our eating habits."
Because of this, restaurants are moving towards transparency when it comes to their menu – favoring fresh ingredients and sharing that information with their guests via social media or their menu.
5) Technology Leads to Constant Improvement
95% of restaurateurs agree that technology improves their restaurant's efficiency, so it should come as no surprise that New York City restaurateurs are embracing technology as a way to improve operations.
When asked which restaurant trend he thought was most noteworthy, Van Note says, "on the operational side, all the tech that's out there. Figuring out what's the right technology to help us run our business is a way that helps us run the business."
Reyes was even more enthusiastic. "I love technology," he says. "I think that the biggest trend in technology is that it's pervasive. You can't get away from it, and if you are trying to get away from it, you're swimming against the current."
Diving into it further, Reyes realizes the importance not only of the efficiency that tech creates in his restaurants, but also the decisions he can make thanks to restaurant analytics. "The technology's job is to give us the data, but our job as operators is to use the data to affect decision-making."
New York City Restaurant Trends
From the food we eat to the way it's made, restaurants in New York City are influencing the restaurant scene nationwide. To hear even more of the restaurant trends these experts highlighted, click below to hear our latest episode of The Garnish on New York City restaurant trends.