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Trends of Steakhouses & BBQ Restaurants: Food

There are various emerging food trends for fast-casual steakhouses and/or BBQ restaurants in the US. Some of these include the increased popularity of new meats, green grills, gold standards, and the introduction of new flavors.


Information for this research was obtained through journals and articles published by food and restaurant industry magazines. These resources provided the latest trends across the fast-casual steakhouses and/BBQ restaurants in the US. We ensured that the restaurants mentioned we selected to fit the classifications of fast casual, affordable, and family style.



Prime choice classics that are popular include sausage, beef ribs, pork ribs, brisket, pork shoulders and whole hog.
Similar, according to a report by Technomic titled 2017 Center of the Plate: Beef and Pork Consumer Trend Report, standard low and slow-cooked barbeque such as pork ribs, pork shoulders and brisket in addition to pulled beef and pork are currently trending in fast-casual barbecue concept restaurants.


According to Mintel Menu Insights (MMI), there has been an increase of 28% in the number of flavors on the menu in barbecue restaurants from 2015 to 2017. There has been an 8% decline in the sweet flavor whole the use of spicy and tangy flavors has increased by 22% and 7% respective between 2015 and 2017.

As stated by a Food Service Analyst at Mintel International, Diana Kelter, the increased use of flavors in regards to barbecue shoes enhanced creativity across foodservice segments. As such, chefs are blurring the lines of international inspiration and regionalism; this is in addition to innovation blending with tradition.

Additionally, classics like lamb, chicken wings, vegetables, and smoked wings have been reinterpreted with cultural influences like Korean and Mexican. Barbecue restaurants are also offering more variety through seasonability, quality ingredients, specials, and reenvisioning how different components work with the menu.

According to Menu Monitor, both regional cuisines and global barbecue dishes are trending. The intake of Korean and South American barbecues are also increasing by 11% and 4% respectively.


There are various new meats that are being used by Pitmasters. Some of these include pork chops, tenderloin, tridip, goose, duck, prime rib, and pastrami from beef ribs. A new cut that is also getting preferential treatment is beef tongues. Similarly, new dishes such as pork steak and Tri-tip which is predominantly California are gaining popularity. According to the Menu Monitor by Technomic, the demand for Southeast Asian barbecue dishes such as skewed meats is also increasing annually.


There is increased popularity in meatless grilling away from vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Examples include Bad Hunter in Chicago that serve vegan Vietnamese sandwhich (banh mi) that is made from pecan pate and charred trumpet mushrooms. Similarly, Barrel and Ashes in Los Angeles also serves smoked beef salad with Santa Maria tri-tip and BBQ chicken and a meatless burger that was very popular in 2018.

Across the US, there are more food carts and restaurants that serve vegan bbqs. Examples include Homegrown Smokers at Portland, Ore that has gained popularity for their smokey soy curls and tempeh ribs. Additionally, BBQ Revolution in Austin, Texas serves ‘No Bull Brisket’ made from a ‘white roast’ that includes peanut butter. Finally, more consumers are shifting to vegan dishes that feature healthy and green recipes like wood-roasted carrots, shawarmas, beet salads and vegan Philly cheesesteaks.

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Trends of Steakhouses & BBQ Restaurants: Customers

Fast-casual dining makes up just 10% of the restaurant industry but has grown by 500% since 1999. There are certain trends that have been noticed with customers of fast-casual steakhouses and restaurants, including fast-casual diners trend younger, fast-casual consumers are on-the-go, fast-casual consumers are more aware of what and how they eat, and fast-casual consumers have more multi-cultural tastes. These trends are discussed in further detail below.


These trends were picked based on the frequency that they were mentioned in popular food and business publications, including Ad Week, Quick Serve Restaurants Magazine, Fast Casual, Nation's Restaurant News, among others. We mainly found trends on fast-casual dining as a whole, and found some instances of fast-casual steakhouses and BBQ restaurants. Since we realized these trends overlapped, we used the trends from the fast-casual industry and included examples and case studies of how these trends are affecting these steakhouses and BBQs as is seen in the rest of the industry.


Even though Millennials make up just about 25% of the US population, they also make up 51% of fast-casual restaurant customers. According to Forbes, millennials have $200 billion of buying power. The demographic for casual-dining steakhouses like Outback Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse skew older, and a study by Morgan Stanley showed that the core customers of casual dining restaurants are baby boomers between 50 and 68 years old. This is why restaurants like Texas Roadhouse has been opening lunch spots like Jaggers. Casual dining restaurants have been launching new fast-casual restaurants instead of redesigning to prevent them from alienating their older customers, while also attracting new ones.

Things that drive Millennials to restaurants include good food quality, convenience, and dining experience. When it comes to convenience, younger customers care more about food quality than getting waited on, so they are less likely to go to a full-service restaurant and pay more for service when they can get the same food at a lower price at a fast-casual restaurant. In terms of experience, when millennials dine in, they want an experience that is more than the food, which could include technology for ordering and entertainment. This is why restaurants like Holler & Dash and others have an open-kitchen concept that allows diners to see their food being prepared. Holler & Dash makes their decor exciting to provide a unique experience for millennials. Holler & Dash, for instance, looks like a rural route filling station, with drinks served in Mason jars. On their social media page, they show that they create their food from scratch, and show their local suppliers.

Millennials base their dining decisions on online reviews, and they like to let others know about their dining and shopping experiences. Around 70% feel the need to share their impressions of restaurants online. This is why restaurants that monitor their online reviews thrive. Omnichannel communication is increasingly important, as Millennials are more likely to interact with their favorite brands online and in person. 39% of millennials prefer restaurants with digital customer service platforms. Millennials are twice as likely as Baby Boomers (62% vs 28%) to use a restaurant's mobile app or website to order take-out.

Finally, Millennials and Gen Z consumers are more financially conscious, which is why they are more likely to take advantage of incentives and coupons. They're more likely to choose fast-casual restaurants that provide more value for their money.


The demographic who frequent fast-casual steakhouses and BBQs are the "on-the-go" demographic, the "business lunch" demographic that is usually between the ages of 35 and 45, are married, and would rather eat with their peers and work colleagues than their children. This is why these restaurants tend to do better in or near business districts, which is a stark contrast to more casual-dining restaurants which are found in the suburbs and rural areas. Overall, people are busier than in previous generations.

Customers are opting more for restaurants that offer 'to-go' options. This is a feature of fast-casual restaurants, and some more traditional restaurants are opting to do this as well. Three-quarters of consumers will at least view menus on their phones before trying a new location, and nearly 40% will pay with their phone. Overall, 24% who dine out also use delivery apps like GrubHub and Seamless. People are more interested in convenience than sitting down inside a restaurant.

When people do have time off, they prefer to stay home and eat than dine out. 57% of customers do not like the idea of communal seating. In a survey of 1,000 restaurant diners, 35% say they've eaten at home in the past 90 days, and just 13% say they're eating out more. When consumers do go out, they rather go to restaurants that give more value for money. Even though unemployment is low, people are earning less money. They don't prefer food that is 'cheap', but they would rather a dining experience that is worth the money that they spend.

Even though there is an increasing need for delivery, experts are still expecting that there will be an uptick in people that choose to stay and eat in the dining area, as more restaurants put more emphasis on the dining experience by making it a more social experience.


This trend is mostly driven by younger consumers, which see 'healthy foods' as more than just 'low in calories'. More than 50% of millennials define healthy food as fresh and less-processed with fewer artificial ingredients, according to Morgan Stanley Research. This is why many restaurants are showing what their food is made of and where their food is coming from on social media. On Holler & Dash's social media page they show that they create their food from scratch, and show their local suppliers.

Consumers today are more concerned about what they put into their bodies and how it affects their health. Many customers are now looking for places that serve protein alternatives, as many people today look to make more environmentally conscious and ethical decisions about their food choices. Fast-casual restaurants also innovate by serving healthy side dishes too, including fermented foods that act as a digestive-aid, such as kimchi, miso, tempeh, and yogurt (source 6). They like to know that their food is low on fat too, but even if restaurants refuse to sacrifice flavor to go low on fat, experts say that they can give eaters permission to indulge by showing nutritional facts of the food, so that the restaurant-goers won't feel guilty about what they consume (source 11).

Customers are more concerned now than in previous generations how their food is grown and sourced. 70% of restaurant-goers say they are more likely to eat at a restaurant with food that is grown locally (source 7). People like to know that their food is coming from their specific region. Restaurants that use Italian beef in Chicago tend to do better than others (source 7). Restaurant-goers also don't want to see food go to waste, as 83% want to see their leftover food wrapped (source 4). 27% are likely to order a meal made from leftover ingredients (source 4).

Consumers have become so conscious about where their food is coming from that even fast-food chains like Wendy's who for decades would serve frozen beef, now advertise that their ingredients and beef patties are fresh. Many restaurants are now bragging about how natural they are (source 5). Many steakhouses and BBQs brag about the use of their grills because the high temperatures of grilling eliminates excess fats and oils from proteins (source 3). The grills also accentuate the flavors (source 3). One fast-casual steakhouse that is using the grill in an innovative way is The Roast, which is housed inside of Whole Foods. The meats are grilled in the style of a Brazilian churrasco and are placed in bowls with sides of sauteed greens, grains, and sauces. Customers are free to pick and choose what they want in each bowl. They even serve vegan options as well.


According to a survey, 66% are choosing more 'ethnic' cuisines than ever before (source 7). Gen Z is a more multicultural generation than others, and now that they're able to spend their own money, they are looking for more international cuisines like Latin American or Korean (source 7). Because of this, restaurant offerings with more ethnic focus grew by 17% (source 7). Moroccan is one up-and-coming cuisine, with nearly four out of ten people interested in trying it. Thai is another trending cuisine, with three out of ten people say they are interested (source 12). Consumers are also preferring other more niche-focused restaurants, including those that focus on BBQ and health (source 7).

Steakhouses are seeing customers wanting more experimentation with new tastes (source 12). Over half of people surveyed say they are more interested in ethnic flavors and cuisines (source 12). Brazilian Churrascaria, or Brazilian Steakhouses, have seen a surge in America because of the style in which they serve their meats. These places usually have large salad bars that have vegetables and fruits, with other sides like black bean stew and different types of bread (source 13). The Roast is a prime example of this.

One of the cuisines that have seen a surge is Middle Eastern. Jewish deli items have seen a resurgence as centuries-old meats like latkes, blintzes, smoked meats, and cured meats are being used in newer food concepts like bowls and melts (source 11). Ethnic tastes seem to vary by gender. Women tend to go for more Spanish and Greek tastes, while men are going for more Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Lebanese, and Turkish tastes (source 12). Other cuisines that Americans are increasingly interested in include Hawaiian, Caribbean, Jamaican, Mediterranean, and Cuban (source 12).

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Trends of Steakhouses & BBQ Restaurants: Competitors

Based on an analysis of similarities and differences between Smokey Bones and its competitors and in line with their adoption of trends in the BBQ restaurant space, it has been that found Smokey Bones, along with its competitors, Texas Roadhouse, and Brinker International offers a wide variety of kids menu options. However, one of its competitors, LongHorn Steakhouse, provides minimal options for the kids' range. Also, while Smokey Bones offers a gluten-free menu option, and its competitor, Texas Roadhouse, also offers limited gluten-free options, LongHorn Steakhouse does not offer exclusive gluten-free food. Below is a deep dive of the differentiation between Smokey Bones and its competitors.


To find the differentiation of Smokey Bones' competitors, we scoured through articles and case studies published by food and restaurant industry magazines and any trends identified and shared by fast-casual steakhouses and/or BBQ restaurants in the United States. We looked through sources such as MBA Skool, The Food Business, Food Business News, Devery's Smokehouse, and Huff Post. Based on these sources, we have identified healthy kid menus, gluten-free options, green grills, wooden grills, and mix 'n' match as trends in the casual steakhouse and/or BBQ restaurant space. At least two sources corroborated these trends.

We then looked for the competitors of Smokey Bones, including LongHorn Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse, and Brinker International and compared their activities against the identified BBQ trends mentioned above to identify the differences and similarities between Smokey Bones and its competitors.

DIFFERENTIATION of Smokey Bones' competitors


One of the popular trends that is likely to remain is healthy menu options for kids. Fast-food chains offer many healthy food options such as grilled chicken wraps, yogurt, and apple slices. Different options for kids is one of the most important ways to attract kids and parents as well. "According to a survey commissioned by Walmart Canada, 98% of parents with a BBQ enjoy barbecuing, but nearly half (47%) of kids aged 6-11 dislike at least one aspect of foods cooked on the BBQ." So, parents have raised concerns about adding different flavors for kids friendly food option at BBQ restaurants.


  • Smokey Bones offers kids menu to kids aged ten years and below such as Kid's BBQ Pork Sammy, Kid's Chicken Fingers, Loaded Chicken Fingers, Kid's Mac & Cheese.
  • LongHorn Steakhouse also offers kids menu like Grilled Chicken for kids only.
  • Texas Roadhouse offers a wide range of kids menu options such as All-Beef Hot Dog, All-Beef Hot Dog with Chilli, Grilled Chicken, and Chicken Tenders.
  • Brinker International, through its restaurant Chili's, offers a kids menu that includes Pepper Pal Cheese Burger Bites, Pepper Pals Burger Bites, Grilled Chicken Bites, and Cheese Quesadilla.


Another emerging trend is gluten-free, which has transitioned from niche to mainstream. In order to improve their health, many people are ready to go for gluten-free options. These people prefer to eat BBQ meat served in a lettuce wrap that is gluten-free instead of the same meat in a bun.


  • Smokey Bones offers a gluten-free menu option.
  • LongHorn Steakhouse does not offer exclusive gluten-free food. However, it takes care of all customers' dietary needs and provides all menu suggestions made without gluten-containing ingredients.
  • Texas Roadhouse offers limited gluten-free options and has instructed the customers to consult a qualified medical professional before their consumption.
  • Maggiano's restaurant, a unit of Brinker International, offers gluten-free pasta and all sauces that are handcrafted without gluten-containing ingredients.


Vegetarian foods are also appearing at BBQ restaurants. The vegetarian BBQ trend has grown very popular and is surprisingly delicious. For example, cauliflower has been increasingly used as a substitute for many types of meat, including chicken wings. Smoked beet salads, shawarmas, wood-roasted carrots, and even vegan Philly cheesesteaks are some vegetarian BBQ options.


  • Smokey Bones offers a non-vegetarian menu for BBQ such as Hand-Pulled Pork, Texas-Style Beef Brisket, Sliced Smoked Chicken Breast, Smoked Baby Back Ribs, and Smoked St. Louis Ribs. The restaurant does not serve vegetarian grilled menu options.
  • Longhorn Steakhouse offers limited vegetarian options like Sweet Corn Fritters, Spinach Dip with Chips, Strawberry Pecan Salad with Dressing, among others.
  • Texas Roadhouse offers minimal vegetarian options, and their menu is based mostly on non-vegetarian ingredients.
  • Chili's offers a vast variety of vegetarian options like Tostada Chips & Salsa, Fresh Guacamole & Chips, Fried Pickles, White Spinach Queso & Chips, and TD Fried Pickles.


Many BBQ restaurants now have access to the grilling alternative of wooden grills. 2019 has been considered as the year of the unique and irreplaceable flavor of wood-smoked steaks, burgers, seafood, and veggies on wooden grills. According to a Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) report, wood pellet grills are "one of the hottest trends in the industry, offering consumers the primal flavor of wood smoke coupled with the turn-of-a-knob convenience of gas."



All BBQ restaurants follow different mouth-watering flavor combinations, which has become a trend for the year. BBQ restaurants have tangy and sweet to straight-up spicy and many more "mix 'n' match" products on the shelves that favor flavor as the "true king" of BBQ this year. Mix 'n' match or fusion is one of the main barbecue trends where customers are given different combos in their menu options.


  • Smokey Bones gives an option of mix 'n' match where BBQ Chicken is used with Smoked Beef Brisket.
  • LongHorn Steakhouse offers different flavors from Peak Season and Chef's Showcase menu, or signature entrees like Parmesan Crusted Chicken, or LongHorn Salmon. It offers 30 different combinations, including LongHorn salads and Steakhouse burgers.
  • Texas Roadhouse offers different combos including Grilled BBQ Chicken Combos, Chicken Critter Combos, Ribeye Combos, and Sirloin Combos.
  • Chili's offers fusion options in its barbecue platters like combinations of Baby Back Ribs, Cheesy Bacon BBQ Chicken, Smoked Brisket, Jalapeño-Cheddar Smoked Sausage, or Chicken Crispers.

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From Part 01
  • "Pulled pork and ribs might be what most people think of when you’re talking BBQ, but every now and then, cooks bring a new cut to the table that begins to gain favor. This year is no exception. According to Clay Cowgill, pit hand at Lexington, Texas-based Snow’s BBQ, there are a few new trends that have taken hold as of late."
  • "Somewhere between the celery root “schwarma” served at Yotam Ottolenghi’s new ROVI restaurant in London, and the wood-roasted carrots and charred Chioggia beets at Vedge in Philadelphia (the same people who brought us an absolutely amazing vegan Philly “cheesesteak” at their fast food joint Wiz Kid), meatless grilling got street cred."
  • "Though you might not personally know anybody serving “vegan BBQ,” there are a restaurants and food carts around the country doing just that. In Portland, Ore., home to a number of vegan-friendly restaurants, there’s Homegrown Smokers which is getting local acclaim for their “tempeh ribs” and smoked “soy curls.” There’s even a vegan BBQ place smack-dab in the center of a celebrated BBQ Mecca. BBQ Revolution in Austin, Texas, makes their “No Bull Brisket” from a “wheat roast” that includes peanut butter. "
From Part 03
  • "Healthy Kid Menu Options A popular trend that is likely to remain is healthy menu options for children. Fast food chains now offer many healthy food options such as grilled chicken wraps, yogurt, and apple slices. Think of ways to update your own children's menu, so it appeals to parents as well as to kids. It should balance popular kids' foods with nutritious alternatives that parents will appreciate."
  • "According to a survey commissioned by Walmart Canada, 98 % of parents with a BBQ enjoy barbecuing, but nearly half (47%) of kids aged six to 11, dislike at least one aspect of foods cooked on the BBQ"
  • "A combination of trends continues to give momentum to consumer interest in gluten-free products. Meeting the needs of consumers who have celiac disease or may be gluten intolerant is a primary driver, but consumer interest in free-from products and the adoption of specific eating patterns are two others"
  • "Most gluten-free alternatives just aren’t quite the same. Instead of sacrificing the taste, skip the buns altogether."
  • "Opting out of eating a bun with your BBQ is a great way to lower your caloric intake if you’re looking to eat healthier. You can swap your bun out for a lettuce wrap instead—trust us, it’s delicious"
  • "The year 2018 is all about the flavour! If your mouth is watering just thinking about all the different flavour combinations out there, this trend is for you! From tangy and sweet to straight-up spicy, you’ll be able to find more recipes and more products on the shelves that favour flavour as the true king of the BBQ this year."
  • "Who said vegetarians couldn’t throw an amazing BBQ? Clearly these people have never had a pulled jackfruit sandwich. Taking the internet by storm, vegetarian BBQ trends have been popping up left, right, and centre, and they’re surprisingly delicious. The new pulled jackfruit trend caused an increase of 131 % of jackfruit consumption in 2017."
  • "Cauliflower is also giving meat a run for its money, acting as a substitute for many meats including chicken wings"
  • " You know there's a revolution brewing when three tony new restaurants with massive wood-burning grills as their focal point open within 8 square city blocks in your home town"
  • " It’s what happens when traditional American barbecue meets authentic ethnic cuisine and it’s happening more and more across the country. Case in point: the brisket ramen (Japanese noodle soup) served at Kemuri Tatsuya in Austin, Texas. "
  • "Foodies are constantly craving new flavours, and lately, one emerging trend concerns the increasing number of vegetarians around the dinner table"