The latest research from Lumina Intelligence’s UK Menu & Food Trends Report 2023 has revealed that mainstream chain and pub & bar operators are using menu engineering tactics to drive average spend and keep ideas of value in consumers’ minds.
High levels of inflation persisted through 2023, seeing chain pub and restaurant operators raise the prices of same-line dishes by 8.5% and 6.5% in spring and summer respectively, according to the new data.
Operators are encouraging consumers to spend more by introducing higher-priced new dishes, which are aligned with the current trends towards more premium and sharing options.
Chain restaurants have, however, kept entry price points at the same level to boost value perceptions, while focusing their more significant increases on the highest-priced lines.
Furthermore, mega-trends are being reflected on mainstream menus as operators widen the variety of dishes available.
Healthier, more sustainable items like veg-centric and Asian-inspired dishes, are growing on menus.
There are more meat-free dishes in chain restaurants, up by eight percentage points this year.
Garlic, pickle and mushroom are emerging as the vegetables being most featured, while ‘spiced’ and ‘pickled’ are top of the list of adjectives most used in menu descriptions.
Value scrutiny was the most important mega-trend in 2023, highlighted by both customers and businesses as shaping their needs and priorities, the data revealed.
Frugality was central to many product trends in 2023, with interest in cheaper cuts of meat as well as veg-centric and affordable cuisines as many consumers adjusted to financial challenges by becoming thriftier.
Product trends include tinned meat and fish, zero-waste and pea protein.
Lifestyle shifts are also helping the growth of party dining, with more consumers seeking atmospheric, social media-worthy experiences.
People are going out earlier and coming home earlier as a result in increased home working.
However, the decline of the late-night sector – also influenced by rail strikes, hotter summers, and the pandemic – has seen the emergence of late-night entertainment in premium restaurants.
Looking to the future
Luxurious and differentiated interiors, live DJs and immersive elements are key features of party dining venues, influenced by the rise of social media and the revival of unused spaces.
The Lumina report also predicted social corporate responsibility and streamlining operations would be top business priorities for the coming year with the economy set to stabilise.
The total eating out market is forecast to be worth £102.4bn by 2026, underpinned by higher inflation post-Covid and the predicted strengthening of consumer spending power.
Sustainability, workforce diversity and digitisation are the top three initiatives being prioritised by businesses.
Digitisation and artificial intelligence will be central to streamlining operational costs and boosting customer satisfaction.