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Trends and Implications

In summary, some significant trends in the food service industry are at work and will affect how food service operations do business and influence the equipment they choose for cooking, HVAC, water heating and other needs. These include:

Change in American eating habits

The phenomenal growth of food service industry sales over the last few decades is testimony to a change in American eating habits. Not only are consumers eating outside the home more frequently, when they do eat at home often the meal was prepared at a food service establishment. Almost half of table service operators report that takeout represents a larger portion of their total sales than just a few years ago, and one of three consumers have used curbside takeout at a table side restaurant. Americans are also opting for more healthful and culturally diverse menu options. All this adds up to a need for highly efficient, technologically advanced equipment if food service operations are to control costs, improve productivity, ensure quality products and remain competitive.

A resource available to food service operators and specifiers when evaluating and choosing among the newest available technologies are cooking demonstration centers. Currently, the gas industry supports approximately four such facilities throughout the U.S. Working in conjunction with manufacturers, gas utilities equip the centers with a variety of the latest technologically advanced equipment. The centers provide a real-world opportunity for restaurant owners, chefs and food service facility operators to "try before they buy."

Greater reliance on the Internet

Online ordering of takeout food is a small, but growing piece of food service sales. According to predictions, consumers will be able to access a menu, place an order, charge it to their credit card and pick it up when ready. Already almost half of 25-34-year-olds have used the Internet to find out information about a restaurant they have not patronized. Restaurateurs who tap into the power of the Internet will be able to track customer preferences to better cater to them, market promotions, track and order inventory, and communicate training, recipes and reports internally among chain restaurants.

Non-traditional eateries

The fastest growing segment of restaurant facilities is nontraditional sites, known as kiosks, which are often found in malls, airports, stadiums and similar locations. Traditionally electric, these small space food service facilities offer a significant opportunity for gas alternatives as they become commercially available. Compact, high-volume appliances such as the advanced gas griddle developed through partnerships between organizations such as GTI and manufacturers can reduce installation and labor costs, improve productivity and ensure consistently high food quality.

Greater concern for energy costs

As all forms of energy continue to cost more, food service operators will be looking for ways to better understand and control the cost of their energy-using equipment. One method is by evaluating equipment purchases based on lifecycle costing. Tools for making such comparisons include the Food Service Technology Center's (FSTC) standard energy-use calculator that can be used for just about any piece of equipment. Another tool, developed by the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), lets users look at the operating costs of gas versus electric equipment in various U.S. cities.

Food service providers face stiff competition and low profit margins. To keep growing, companies will increasingly look to acquiring food service establishments more so than in the past. Making acquisitions gives companies a larger revenue base over which to spread costs, and it also gives them more leverage with suppliers to keep costs down.