As the economy and the attitudes of today’s diners evolve, many restaurants are finding it harder and harder to flourish using the time-worn techniques that worked for our parents’ favourite eateries. The general attitudes toward “junk food” have put pressure on burger joints and fast food chains, while the friendly neighbourhood diners and local destinations have had their market share eaten into by new, niche restaurants and the rise of food trucks. There is still success to be found, however, if the modern restaurateur is willing to rethink their strategy.

The two types of restaurants that experienced the most growth last year were “fast casual” restaurants, and finer dining establishments. The local eateries that try catering to people who just want a cheap meal ultimately find themselves either trying to beat the major fast food chains at their own game or ineffectively pandering to a demographic that has given up on eating out altogether. If you want to cater to the hungry masses, you need to focus on speed, not necessarily bargains. Working class patrons are frequently eating out because their jobs have offered them little extra time to prepare their own meals or energy to cook for themselves. It is this market that has paved the way for the food trucks to drive up and serve meals just about anywhere, with constant social media updates on current locations, allowing unparalleled convenience that a brick-and-mortar restaurant can’t hope to match, plus they’re really cool.

But truck-served food also has a reputation for being greasy and high in salt and fat. Many restaurants are therefore finding their own niche in the market by offering healthier fare, or by catering to the many new health food trends sweeping the country. Restaurants entirely devoted to raw food, gluten-free menus and the eradication of other common allergens, and selections from the paleo diet have become a rising market segment. Restaurants not willing to fully commit to such a theme can still lure in some of this crowd with a few low-calorie options, if said options are well publicized. Social media is one of a restaurateur’s greatest tools in this regard, as eating out is already considered a social activity. Satisfied customers will often do the majority of a restaurant’s marketing by posting and sharing their experiences with their friends, if they are impressed enough.

Those looking to draw in more upscale patrons can also benefit from much of this advice, with a bit more focus on creating not just a good meal, but a good evening out for your diners. When people eat out at more expensive restaurants, they want an experience. They want to feel like they’re spending that extra money to get something they can’t get anywhere else. You need to not only have an upscale restaurant, but have a convincingly upscale restaurant. One way to do that is to integrate technology into the dining experience. Many restaurants nowadays allow diners to place orders from table-mounted tablets, or from an app. We live in an app-based society now, so give your customers what they’re comfortable with! This dovetails nicely with the ever-growing need for a strong social media presence. Turn your chefs into social media darlings, and the social media influencers will make your menu’s masterpieces go viral!