Less was definitely more in restaurants last year, according to Mintel Menu Insights.
A look back at menus from 2008 shows that three of the year’s top trends were related to downsizing: mini food, value pricing and lighter food options, largely the result of increased nutrition labeling laws, according to Mintel Menu Insights.
“2008 was an extremely difficult year for the restaurant industry,” Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights. “Many Americans were trying to save money by going out to eat less, so restaurants were looking for new ways to attract diners. Many foodservice establishments focused on providing targeted value, the exact food people wanted at prices they could afford."
Caranfa expects 2008′s "downsizing" trends to continue this year as restaurants find new ways to stretch a dollar. Trends she’s predicting:
Mini Food Maxes Out
"Mini food was the runaway trend of 2008," Caranfa said. "Fun and frivolous, yet reasonably priced, mini foods offered the perfect balance between sensibility and satisfaction." Mini burgers dominated the mini trend: Mintel Menu Insights reports that 28 restaurants added mini burgers to their menus last year. But mini sandwiches and bite-sized desserts were also popular, spotted on restaurant menus ranging from casual to fine dining.
Value Pricing Makes Cheap Chic
In 2008, Mintel Menu Insights saw many restaurants offer meals for special, affordable prices. "Value pricing was a natural fit for 2008. Consumers had less to spend, but they still wanted to dine out for convenience and enjoyment," Caranfa said. Mintel Menu Insights saw special value pricing appear everywhere from quick-service restaurants, like Subway and Pizza Hut, to upscale establishments, such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Nutrition Labeling Laws Spark Lighter Dining Options
The movement for mandatory nutritional labeling on restaurant menus gained traction as cities like New York and Philadelphia joined in. With more attention paid to the health of restaurant food, Mintel Menu Insights saw some restaurants offering lower calorie items on their menus last year. For example, Cosi launched a "Lighten Up!" menu with less-than-500-calorie versions of its sandwiches and salads. "Restaurants realize that increasing transparency about their food’s health is paramount to gaining consumer trust and loyalty," Caranfa said.