2015: A Year in Review for the Restaurant Industry

restaurant industry 2015

As you look towards the trends that shape the upcoming year, you can’t help but look back on the biggest changes and innovations for restaurant industry in 2015. This year has revealed many innovations as well as changes in preferences for consumers in general. Technology has always been a major factor, but this year, technology has become a huge player in the restaurant industry. Let’s take a look at the highlights from 2015 for the restaurant industry.

Impacts of the Affordable Care Act

New conditions to Obamacare started to play a bigger role in restaurants across the U.S., especially chain restaurants with larger employee groups. Under the Affordable Care Act starting in 2015, if restaurants have 100 or more full-time employees (FTE), you are required to offer them what is referred to as “minimal essential” health insurance coverage.

9 in 10 restaurants have 50 employees or less, meaning they are not subject to the Affordable Care Act in terms of providing their employees with health insurance. Those restaurants with 25 or fewer FTE, however, can  qualify for a tax credit if they make health insurance available to their workers through the Small Business Health Options Program.

Increasing Minimum Wage

One of the biggest rifts this year occurred when minimum wage hikes began to impact restaurants and tipped employees. National Restaurant Association research shows that on a national level, median hourly earnings for servers range from $16 to $22, depending on experience. This includes median tip earnings of $12 to $17 an hour, plus a median employer-paid wage of $4 to $5 an hour. In 2015, employers in 20 states and the District of Columbia were required to pay more to minimum-wage employees. Twenty-nine states and DC all now have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25. For many, this meant adjusting menus, reevaluating costs, and even removing tips from their setup altogether.

New Credit Card Technologies

October 1, 2015 was the deadline issued by major credit card companies for all U.S. retailers to be EMV compliant. These new “EMV” cards (aka) “smart cards” are the latest in credit card technology. EMV credit cards are embedded with a chip that significantly reduces credit card fraud. Though not required by law to accept EMV credit cards, after the October 1st deadline if a fraudulent card transaction takes place in your restaurant, you are now liable to pay the payback charges, NOT the credit card company (if you are not EMV compliant).

Converting traditional payment terminals to accept EMV cards can cost between $200 and $600 per terminal. Despite the costs associated with updating technology, the benefits of EMV compatible terminals are heightened security for your customers and protecting yourself from paying back expensive fraudulent charges.

Menu Labeling/Nutrition Info

Starting now, restaurants and retail food stores with 20 or more locations must include calorie counts on menus and food labels. The Food and Drug Administration says the counts must be clear and prominent on menus and signs placed next to self-service foods and foods on display. These items include:

  • Meals from sit-down restaurants
  • Takeout food
  • Food from salad bars
  • Hot food bars
  • Bakery shop items (muffins, bagels, etc)
  • Movie theater popcorn
  • Alcoholic beverages

And more. The new menu and labeling requirements are spelled out on the FDA website.

Fortunately, while these changes may have caused a stir in your restaurant, the restaurant industry itself saw a 1.5% increase in sales this year (and that’s including adjustments for inflation). 2015 marks the 6th consecutive years for the restaurant industry since the economic recession in 2008.


Something to expect in 2016:

New legislation is likely to take effect in the coming years affecting paid sick leave, as some states have already adopted paid family and medical leave for all employees.

April G.

April G.

Graphic Designer/Content Strategist at QSROnline.com
Part Graphic Designer, part Content Strategist - April creates infographics and other marketing materials for QSROnline's lead generation and content strategy. When she's not working in Photoshop, she's practicing her vocals as the lead singer in her church's band.
April G.