Restaurants Focus On Kids, Local And Green

girl/saladRestaurants have an overflowing plate of objectives for 2009. In addition to a core focus on delivering ever more value and convenience, they will be expanding healthy kids' meals, locally sourced menu options and sustainability initiatives, according to National Restaurant Association survey findings included in the association's 2009 industry forecast.

Quick-serve operators ranked healthy kids' meal options as the top food trend in their segment for 2009. In a separate "what's hot" survey of more than 1,600 American Culinary Federation member chefs, nutritionally balanced children's dishes came in fourth among the 200-plus culinary items listed, and fruit/vegetable side items for kids ranked sixth.

Adults also want healthier options, of course. In the association's consumer surveys, three in four adults said that compared to two years ago, they are more focused now on trying to eat healthier at restaurants. Nearly three in 10 (27%) said they have gone online to search for nutrition information about restaurant food--up from 24% a year ago.

Chefs plan to deliver on the health front: Those surveyed ranked smaller dishes, fish and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals among the top-20 hottest food items. Overall, chefs ranked nutrition/health eleventh among menu trends for the year ahead.

Chefs ranked locally sourced produce as the #1 menu trend, and both consumers and restaurant operators confirmed its importance. Seventy percent of adults said that they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items.

Fully 89% of fine-dining operators now serve locally sourced items, and nine in 10 believe demand for locally sourced items will grow in their segment in the future. Among quick-serve operators, three in 10 serve locally sourced items and nearly half believe these will be more popular going forward.

On the sustainability front, about four in 10 full-service operators and nearly three in 10 quick-serve operators say they plan to devote more of their 2009 budgets to green initiatives. This dovetails with consumer data: 44% of restaurant patrons surveyed said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on restaurants' energy and water conservation practices.

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