The U.S. restaurant industry has experienced modest growth in the past few years, and research firm Mintel estimates sales of $438 billion in 2013, as well as a 5.9 percent increase in sales in 2014.

Julia Gallo-Torres, category manager — U.S. foodservice reports at Mintel, has identified five key trends that are set to shape restaurant menus and spur continued growth in the New Year. They include:

1. Fast casual

The growth of the fast casual segment demonstrates consumers, who are still focused on price, are willing to pay more for food they consider to be of better quality or healthier. According to Gallo-Torres, new concepts focusing on customization, speed of service and convenience, have sprouted; including better burger, chains, concepts focused on healthy items, and customized pizza brands.

2. Premium, speed

Full-service concepts are mimicking the successful attributes of fast casual restaurants. For example, several full-service brands are testing or have launched concepts that utilize the speedier fast casual service model. This is important especially during the lunch rush. Other tactics include launching healthier, more flavorful menu items and employing technology to speed up the dining experience.

3. Transparency

More than ever, foodservice consumers are questioning the origin of their foods and they are demanding transparency not only in ingredient sourcing, but in general business practices, including the treatment of animals and employees. Consumers are interested in patronizing restaurants and buying brands that reflect their own values. Concepts that understand this and offer more information about their green practices or the causes they support stand to reap the rewards of increased loyalty, according to Gallo-Torres.

4. Due demographic diligence

Operators have been focused on Millennials, as they are the ones most likely to dine out in almost every restaurant segment. However, other demographics also present growing opportunities:

Hispanics tend to dine out in larger groups and their population is increasing. Their spending power is expected to reach nearly $1.7 trillion by 2017, meaning serving this rapidly expanding community will be key to growth.

Women visit restaurants less than men and this is likely due to their being more health- and budget-conscious. This indicates restaurants need to do more in terms of pricing, atmosphere and menu to gain momentum with this group.

Baby Boomers enjoy dining out and have more disposable income than other demographics, but few marketing campaigns specifically target them.

5. Technology interface revolution

Restaurants are increasingly using technology to cut service times, and to offer loyalty programs, promotions and discounts electronically. Furthermore, in-store tabletop tablets and menu boards offer nutritional and other information, while reducing order, wait and check out times. Brands are redesigning their websites to allow consumers to gain all the information they want with as few clicks as possible, according to Gallo-Torres. This includes making their sites more attractive and useful via smartphones, which consumers rely on more and more for staying organized and gaining information.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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