Premium loyalty schemes, top-quality staff and click & collect have been flagged up as key foodservice trends for the coming year.

Market and business analysis firm The NPD Group has identified five trends that it believes will shape the £57bn category in 2018.

“The foodservice industry has demonstrated its creativity for years, and many of the trends we see shaping the sector hinge on continuing to be innovative, on seeing opportunities and responding well,” said NPD Group foodservice director Cyril Lavenant.

The trends highlighted by the analysts are:

Click & Collect

Click & collect through smartphones will transform the way foodservice operators and consumers interact, according to NPD, which added this could reduce waiting times for consumers and help operators serve more people per hour. It will also enable operators to increase sales and profits, and gather better customer data that can be used to create personalised offers.

“During peak periods, increased traffic will call for improvements in restaurant efficiency, particularly in order fulfilment,” reported NPD. “Click & collect customers will want to benefit from an ‘express lane’ experience, so restaurant layouts may need reconfiguring and staff might need special training. Operators can use click & collect to drive traffic outside peak hours.”

Investing in the best staff

Staff can play a vital role in growing an emotional connection between consumers and a foodservice brand, said NPD, advising that foodservice operators invest in the best staff and provide the best training.

“Winners will be the companies that nurture, train and retain staff,” added the firm. “Operators that hire great people will really stand out."

Making VIP status the norm

Customers expect more than simple discounts and freebies from a loyalty scheme, and the next step will be tiered and personalised foodservice loyalty. NPD said loyalty schemes should target valuable customers with ‘Premium’, ‘VIP-only’, ‘Exclusive’ or ‘Private’ offers.

“Operators offering a simple yet fresh loyalty scheme that rewards the most valuable customer on a regular basis will be the winners. Delivering the occasional, disruptive surprise will help drive short-term share gains and generate buzz and brand warmth.”

Avoiding broken brand promises

A brand should never over-promise and under-deliver, advised NPD Group, adding that foodservice operators should ensure product quality, service, support and marketing was in line with what they were promising consumers.

“Don’t allow your customer’s restaurant experience to be marred by long wait times, poor staff training or a poor supply chain,” said the firm. “The foodservice industry is intensely competitive and it’s all too easy to lose repeat business. There’s also the danger that consumers take to social media to complain about their experience.”

Sharing a recommendation

Consumers love recommendations for places to eat or drink, and what to order when they choose an outlet.

Staff members who offer authentic recommendations will build meaningful rapport with customers, suggested NPD, while technology and customer data can help to tailor menu suggestions.