Emerging restaurant concepts capitalize on current trends


Like many Canadians, I’ve recently begun visiting restaurants in person again. Along with satisfying my craving for restaurant experiences, this has let me explore some emerging (and exciting) restaurant concepts.

The three locations I describe in this column capitalize on the following four key trends that have accelerated in recent years, as shown by The NPD Group’s CREST® restaurant industry tracking service:

  1. Home-to-restaurant visits: The share of consumers travelling directly from home to a restaurant represents more than half of all visits in Canada. This is well above historic levels and reflects the ongoing home-centric lifestyle. For restaurateurs, the challenge is to create an experience meaningful enough to draw people away from their homes just for the meal itself.
  2. From functional to emotional: Increasingly, consumers choose a restaurant destination for emotional reasons to treat themselves, satisfy a craving, or try something new. This third sentiment, trying something new, is heavily over-developed among older Gen Z consumers (aged 18 to 24), and could help shape their long-term interaction with the industry.
  3. Digital convenience: For consumers who choose to eat at home, CREST reports carry-out, digital ordering and delivery all remain at historic highs. This explains why the importance of a convenient location has diminished the digital presence matters more right now.
  4. Shop local: More than 40 per cent of Canadians reported in a recent NPD study that they are eager to support local businesses. This helps explain why independent restaurants have grown their share of the market by 33 per cent, outpacing chains in both the quick-service (QSR) and full-service (FSR) segments.

Meanwhile, independent restaurant locations have expanded by seven per cent, as shown by NPD’s ReCount® restaurant census data in 2021.

Here’s how the three concepts I visited are applying a mix of these top trends:

Kitchen Hub: This business defines itself as a food hall (read our segment report on food halls on p.32), bringing together a collection of cravable local restaurateurs under one roof. Part food court, part ghost kitchen, Kitchen Hub provides a unique, off-premises experience showcasing a new level of digital-ordering convenience. Expect to see this sort of off-premises focused concept, and others like it, appear in a neighbourhood near you.

Stock T.C: This food destination in booming midtown Toronto is the collaboration of a renowned local restaurateur and a prominent local butcher (Cosimo Mammolitti of Terroni and Stephen Cumbrae of Cumbrae Meats). It includes an extensive grocery venue paired with an elevated casual-dining experience. Taking advantage of continued demand for takeout, it offers an extensive selection of prepared meals and grocery items for those who still prefer to eat at home, available for online ordering, pick-up, and delivery. It’s another strong example of maximizing those four key trends, with a large emphasis on emotional and local.

Eataly: This brand encompasses a diverse food experience that blends shopping and dining. With multiple restaurants, from quick-serve coffee and sandwiches to a fine-dining steak house, there is truly something for everyone. It also features a demonstration kitchen and offers an array of special events such as wine tastings and regional tastings of Italian cuisine. Everything is available for delivery. Eataly reflects the trends of the moment, focusing on that meaningful experience that makes it worthwhile to leave the house.

Many restaurants continue to offer a more traditional, focused experience. By contrast, these three food concepts can attract a varied customer base beyond a narrowly defined cohort or need state. As the food landscape evolves, and as consumer demand shifts, legacy operators who rely on satisfying a singular purpose will need to decide if their existing model is right for the current moment and for the future.

By Vince Sgabellone is a foodservice industry analyst with The NPD Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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