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A year in review

Report says 2019 saw increase in healthier options, use of mobile devices

A new year has begun, which allows time to look back and reflect at how the full-service restaurant industry progressed throughout 2019.

BentoBox, a company that assists more than 5,000 restaurants with their websites, recently released its “2019 Year in Review” that recaps major trends in the sit-down space.

Menu Items on the Rise

According to BentoBox, one of the more notable swings was consumers’ movement toward healthier options, as seen by a 130 percent increase in plant-based, meat alternatives on menus and a 109 percent increase in spirit-free cocktail options. Cristina Martin, marketing manager for BentoBox, says the latter trend shows “more guests are looking for how they can skip the alcohol, but still have a delicious drink.” Those particular increases were juxtaposed with a 52 percent decline in vegan menus.

In addition, the growing affinity for all things CBD showed a noticeable effect in the full-service restaurant industry. BentoBox reports a 70 percent increase in CBD menu options, and that’s only expected to rise in 2020. Martin says consumers will see more chefs and bartenders infusing CBD into food and drinks as the public becomes more familiar with the product.

Movement Toward Mobile

The advancement of technology was also reflected in the full-service sector in 2019.

BentoBox’s data shows that 70 percent of customers used mobile devices—instead of a desktop computer—when it came to online ordering. Additionally, 65 percent of those who visited websites used mobile devices, which is a 12 percent increase from 2018. A little over half of consumers deployed mobile technology to book reservations, as well. The peak time for website visitors was 5:30 to 6 p.m., and Saturday was the most popular day to visit a website.

“Full-service restaurants whose websites aren’t mobile-friendly could be missing out on well over half their potential customers,” Martin says. “Mobile-friendly websites are favored on search engines and provide faster load times, meaning more discoverability and engagement from consumers.”

Sales Beyond the Table

One of the more interesting trends reported by BentoBox is how consumers were willing to spend money on items other than what’s on the menu.

BentoBox states that the full-service industry witnessed a 150 percent increase in restaurants offering food, beverage, and do-it-yourself kits. Examples include a seltzer kit, hot sauce kit, whiskey tasting kit, and more. The most popular among these in 2019 was the Ichiran Ramen Kit, sold by New York–based Ichiran. Each kit comes with three servings of packed noodles, soup concentrate, and Original Spicy Red Seasoning, Ichiran’s website states. The most expensive item was the $718 Ultimate Meat Collection from Duke’s Premium Meats. According to the restaurant’s website, that package includes 26 items—filets, ribeyes, strips, porterhouse steaks, lamb racks, veal chops, veal osso buco, and inside skirt steaks. The package feeds two people for about two weeks.

Martin notes that restaurants also branched out by selling branded hats, T-shirts, housewares, and accessories. BentoBox reports that shirt sales were four times more than hat sales.

“Consumers are invested in the restaurants they love and want more than just dinner,” Martin says. “Full-service restaurants expanding their offerings into E-commerce have the best chance of connecting with their customers this way and driving more revenue. Plus, it’s a great space to get creative.”

Holidays and Gift-Giving

Restaurant guests love their mothers, or at least that’s true according to BentoBox’s data. Mother’s Day was the most popular holiday for reservations. BentoBox’s review also shows that procrastination from that special someone intensified as Valentine’s Day approached. That holiday experienced the most last-minute reservations. The full-service industry saw a 75 percent increase in reservations prior to Valentine’s Day.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the top two reasons for purchasing a gift card were for birthdays and the holidays. Following those were “thank you,” anniversaries and “just because.” Buying gift cards were no exception when it came to changes in technology either. According to BentoBox, 57 percent of people purchased digital gift cards as opposed to physical.

Other Notes and Figures

BentoBox listed the most popular menu items for populous states (and Washington, D.C.) in 2019:

California: carne asada

Illinois: Caesar salad

Washington, D.C.: lobster roll

Florida: espresso

New York: eggplant parmesan

Texas: avocado toast

Monday was the most popular day to place a catering order and Thanksgiving was the top holiday for catering orders. The average catering store tip amount was 15.3 percent—that’s a 2.8 increase from 2018.

The most popular ticketed events were: tasting and classes, special dinners, New Year’s Eve parties, prix fixe brunches, and Valentine’s Day.

The top private events held at restaurants were birthdays, wedding events, and holiday parties.

The average gift card amount was $90 and Saturday was the most popular day to use one.

Consumer Trends, Slideshow