Our 2018 Restaurant Industry Predictions

Each December, the industry is treated to the enlightened opinions from all corners of the business as to what to expect in the upcoming year. While we pride ourselves at The Rail on being different, we can’t resist the opportunity to join the chorus and share what we think is coming in 2018.

To shake it up a bit, we are reflecting our predictions based on the various disciplines the average operators manage daily. From marketing to human resources, our operators are generalists and need to know what they’ll face across the board.

So, without further ado, let’s see what’s up with 2018.

TECHNOLOGY: Mobile Payments is Right Now

Mobile payment will be ubiquitous at QSRs by the end of 2018. If for no other reason than McDonald’s push for full US implementation by year’s end. In fact, between EMV compliance and mobile payment expansion, you can bet you’ll be seeing it more. While not limited to QSR’s, the success of Starbuck’s and Domino’s in mobile has proven that there is not turning back.

There are several ways a full-service operator can embrace mobile payment and near substitutes. Just ask Chili’s what their table-site tablet implementation delivered. It simultaneously lowered turn times, increased check amounts, and improved server gratuities. If that’s not in your budget there are plenty of solutions that are available with a device attached such as tablet readers and other mobile toys. This isn’t the future, it’s the right now.

HUMAN RESOURCES: Sexual Harassment Will Still Be Here

I am going to be cynical here, so if you want stories that end happily ever after you may want to stop reading about now.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination will not be solved either in general or in our industry in 2018. In fact, I am confident things will return to some facsimile of what we saw before this liberating outbreak of awareness. The problem is, sexism is so finely tuned to our culture that even something as momentous as the revelations during the last quarter of 2017 won’t be enough to jar it loose.

Have hope. These discussions are important and should have been had a long time ago… Oh, but, wait a minute. They were in 1991 and involved a Supreme Court nominee. Look, I would really love this to be fixed. Unfortunately, I am fearful it will fade just as it did then. And that time it got much worse before we arrived to the end of 2017. So, yes the seal of silence being lifted for those who’ve been harassed is uplifting and liberating, but will it be enough to completely transform the culture? I have my doubts.

OPERATIONS: Restaurants Will Leverage More Distribution Opportunities

Have you heard? Delivery is the next big thing, right? The answer is a resounding maybe. Sure, a lot of chain operators are jumping on board, but to what end remains to be seen. The trend does, however, offer an insight into the future of full-service dining, and that is leveraging every available distribution opportunity. You pay rent for 168 hours a week and driving revenue from whatever means you can just makes fiscal sense.

Look for operators to focus on catering, delivery, and carryout from a production perspective. The future is providing your food, wherever and whenever a guest wants it. Segmenting space in your restaurant dedicated to this task is also a new trend. Whether it’s co-locating a secondary service concept with a separate entrance or just creating a facility to improve the fulfillment of off-site ordering, operators will do whatever they can to stay ahead of the continued traffic drops in our segment.

MARKETING: Email Marketing Will Trump Facebook

No other revelation about marketing form 2017 was as impactful as the end of organic Facebook posts for commercial accounts. Facebook’s algorithms now essentially block your posts from appearing in the streams of those that follow you unless you pay for advertising. While you can’t blame Facebook from trying to profit from their own platform, it’s a twist in the narrative that all you need is a good social presence to market these days.

As we have said, ad nauseam, email is the platform that guarantees your communication will be presented to your followers. Even if it’s only your sending address and subject line, they read you are at least gaining their attention for a few seconds. Every email address is like currency in the battle to speak to consumers and give them reasons to visit your restaurant. Smart operators will focus on gathering email addresses and regular communicating with their guests.


The success or failure of any restaurant requires a generalist’s view of the world. These four trends for 2018 won’t guarantee your success, but they will ensure you are focused on efforts that will positively impact and potentially grow your business. Take them all, or just pick the ones you like, and we guarantee you won’t be wasting your precious time.

Have a great and prosperous New Year!