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Industry outlook

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Most industries move slowly to embrace new ideas and technologies. But the restaurant industry rushes to take advantage of the latest trends almost as quickly as the fashion world, said Gerald White, associate publisher of sales development of Lebhar-Friedman flagship publication Nation's Restaurant News.

BtoB:What are the top restaurant trends today, and who's setting them?

White: What's interesting is that food, design and equipment suppliers used to set the trends. Then, slowly, the restaurateurs took more control and began telling their suppliers what they wanted. However, now consumers-who are more food and entertainment savvy than ever-are setting most trends that shape this industry. For instance, there's been a widespread "casualization" of fine dining, with top restaurants being forced to offer cheaper, more casual menu items. Meanwhile, fast food is moving upscale and you're seeing the likes of Chipotle and Panera taking market share from the burger-and-fries purveyors.

BtoB:How do these trends affect suppliers and how they market to restaurants?

White: Consumers are demanding an overall increased level of quality in restaurant food, service and atmosphere. They want food that's freshly prepared for them-by a chef rather than a common cook-and restaurants need suppliers to help them to achieve a new level of sophistication. All marketing efforts, from using the Web for easy ordering to building stronger relationships with distributors to ensure your products are being showcased, should convey this sophistication.

BtoB:What's the biggest challenge to restaurants today, and how can marketers help them?

White: There's a major labor shortage in the industry, and restaurant owners, from national chains to single independent locations, are looking for products that cut the amount of labor needed to run their businesses. This could be anything from a faster, more efficient piece of kitchen equipment to easy-to-use, back-office software systems. The trick is to cut labor but improve quality-no easy task. -Roger Slavens

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