As someone who truly enjoys dining out, I do my best to keep up on the latest trends and maintain a list of places I must get to.  Recently, a colleague of mine sent me this article which touched on celebrity chef restaurants and why some of the country’s most esteemed dining locales have closed. The articles bottom line states, “Having a celebrity chef’s name on a restaurant once was a recipe for success. But rising rents and changing consumer tastes have taken a toll.”

Celebrity chefs were once people who had Food Network shows, chain restaurant empires and national brands, but as approachability trends upward, authentic-obsessed millennials dominate the marketplace and as foodie culture goes mainstream, this celeb status characterization can (at times) be less of a draw. This got me thinking about how the experience of dining out has truly evolved over the years and why the meaning of celebrity chef continues (and will continue) to change.

Approachable Concepts are at the Top of the List

The culture of food has expanded exponentially over the past 15-20 years. From fast food to fast casual, family dining to upscale casual, pop-up restaurants to pop-in self-service – it’s all encompassing with endless options for diners. Fine dining used to imply white tablecloths, candles, glassware and full service. Now, the prim & proper experience is not always the expectation. An exceptional meal out has evolved to include eating local BBQ and sipping house-distilled whiskey at a picnic table at a local farm – more approachable, but equally as special.

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), hyperlocal restaurant concepts including onsite beer brewing and housemade items, are at the top of the Hottest Culinary Concepts list for 2018. What’s also noteworthy – chef-driven fast casual concepts are the leader on the NRA’s Hot Restaurant Concepts list proving that the country’s top chefs understand the allure of the more approachable restaurant concept vs. a fine dining experience like Tom Colicchio’s ‘Wichcraft which now has 17 locations or Michael and Bryan Voltaggio’s STRFSH in Santa Monica.

Now, the prim & proper experience is not always the expectation. An exceptional meal out has evolved to include eating local BBQ and sipping house-distilled whiskey at a picnic table at a local farm – more approachable, but equally as special.Click To Tweet

Everyone has Deemed Themselves a Foodie

Over the past 10-15 years, it seems as if every diner now identifies themselves as a foodie – a term we’ve all grown to know and at times dislike. While today’s diners are placing a higher value on authenticity as they seek new and different flavors and concepts, they’re also using food as a shared experience with their friends and family. Dining out has evolved into a full-on experiential event of sorts. Consumers want to leave a restaurant not only thinking about the food itself, but how it made them feel – why they enjoyed it and what was unique and different in comparison to other dining experiences.

Millennials are Calling the Shots

It comes as no surprise that millennials are a driving force behind the everchanging foodservice industry. According to the Food Institute’s analysis of the United States Department of Agriculture’s food expenditure data from 2014, millennials spend 44 percent of their food dollars – or $2,921 annually – on eating out. What’s more – veggies are taking a more prominent role on millennials’ plates. According to the Organic Trade Association, millennials eat 52 percent more vegetables than their older counterparts, a staggering 40 percent of them are reportedly taking a plant-based diet and this generation makes up over half of (52 percent) of the organic consumer market.

Millennial diners are prioritizing their overall personal wellbeing and everyday healthy lifestyles and dining out is no exception. A higher value is being placed on restaurants that offer gluten free menus, vegetarian options or plant-based dishes vs. a restaurant with the most stellar wine list or artistic food.

From celebrity chefs to chain restaurant empires, our food culture will inevitably grow and evolve as consumers do. Foodservice operators will need to continue to address the desires and needs of consumers by meeting them where they are and catering to cravings for authenticity, approachability and health-minded attitudes to keep up with trends in the marketplace.

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