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Move over country-wide chains and make room for the trending concepts in the restaurant world. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), more than 9 in 10 restaurants have fewer than 50 employees, and more than 7 in 10 restaurants are single-unit operations. These numbers support the rise in non-traditional restaurant concepts. Let’s visit some of the newer ones to hit the scene.

Food trucks

Possibly considered the forefathers of non brick-and-mortar restaurants, food trucks have been gaining steam for the last 7+ years. Even though they’re not the new kids on the block, their presence and popularity continue to grow – in an NRA study, 56% of chefs say food trucks remain a hot trend for 2017. 

  • Mobility is key. Food trucks can be downtown feeding the masses over the lunch hour and at a suburban art fair two hours later. Being able to be in different locations means more opportunities for people to try your food.
  • Smaller menus allow chefs to focus on a few dishes or one region’s specialties. Ready-to-eat, portable street foods are common offerings.
  • Social media is a food truck’s best friend. Locations and hours tend to change frequently so fans follow Facebook and Twitter to find their favorite trucks.
  • Popularity has even spawned competition TV shows like Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.” Major cities have also started organizing food truck festivals.

Food halls

Remove the image of a food court in a mall wasteland from your mind. Now think of several small, independent vendors under one creative roof (no lukewarm pizza or dry corn dogs here). Borrowing from the European tradition of dining halls, major cities such as Minneapolis, New York City, Denver, Omaha and Washington, D.C. are embracing the food hall movement. And so are well-known chefs like Mario Batali (Eataly) and Anthony Bourdain (soon-to-open Bourdain Market).

  • Diners will find specialty, artisan cured meats, cheeses and seafood. These dishes typically showcase local, fresh ingredients.
  • Food halls are a perfect destination for groups with varying tastes. Odds are good that you’ll find something to accommodate everyone’s cravings, whether it’s vegetarian, sandwiches or sweets.
  • Communal dining spaces make the experience casual and social.
  • These spaces bring together all things food with some including cooking schools, groceries, microbreweries and gathering spaces.


Counter service, swivel stools and rotating dessert cases. Today’s luncheonettes are keeping most of those old-school elements and drawing in loads of new customers with comforting nostalgia. In fact, food news and dining guide, Eater, recently proclaimed 2017 as the year of the luncheonette.

  • With a nod to traditional lunch counter fare, chefs are getting creative with comfort foods. Look for a turned-up tuna melt or spiked banana cream pie.
  • Speaking of the menu, luncheonettes often serve all-day breakfast. What’s better than a giant plate of fluffy pancakes and hash browns?
  • These five-and-dime throwbacks are usually smaller spaces that evoke a laid-back atmosphere and neighborhood feel. You might find yourself lingering with a pot of black coffee and a newspaper. 


The NRA ranked pop-up restaurants as the number four trend for restaurant concepts in 2017. You’ve likely heard of pop-up shops that are open on certain days of the month or that are in a location for a temporary timeframe. The pop-up restaurant is the same premise. Many organizers may be tied to fundraising efforts or giving back to the community.

  • Pop-ups are usually in random spaces such as old warehouses, event halls or existing buildings, therefore there is less overhead and start-up costs.
  • Chefs are able to offer gourmet food at more affordable prices since the menu is fixed and parties are much smaller than a typical sit-down restaurant.
  • Just like the venues are rotating, the chefs may also change frequently. Chefs who work full time at a restaurant may participate in a pop-up to showcase their own dishes or experiment with various cuisines. Also, young chefs can use pop-ups to gain experience and exposure to the food industry.
  • There is a sense of mystery and creativity for both chefs and diners with this phenomenon. You know you’re going to get something different from the local scene.

Today, diners have more choices than ever, as do business owners and chefs. If a brick-and-mortar restaurant doesn’t energize you as a chef, think about a pop-up or food truck to test the waters. And if you’re up for variety, visit a food hall for a weekend dining experience. There’s more than enough appetite and room for all types of dining.


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