CHICAGO — Making efforts to get around high beef prices will be one of the major trends impacting the restaurant industry during the next year, according to Mintel.

Significant increases in beef prices and low consumer confidence have led the food service industry to look for ways around such high costs, including offering smaller steaks and premium chicken positioning, Mintel said. There was a 52% increase in chicken breast being used as a menu item from the third quarter of 2009 to the third quarter of 2012 and a 22% increase in vegetarian menu items during the last several years.

Other food service predictions for the year include more innovation in beverages. Beverages always have helped boost profit for restaurants, but consumers are expanding their tastes beyond traditional beverages and are looking for gourmet cocktails, craft beers and super-nutritional juices and smoothies, Mintel noted. Cocktail menu items are up 55% in recent years, shake menu items are up 15% and 71% of consumers like to customize coffee.

In addition, consumers are concerned about food quality, processing and safety after recent food safety scares, and operators need to be transparent about ingredient sourcing. Mintel said choosing the right menu language such as “cage-free eggs” or “made-on-premises” is as important as choosing the right ingredients. Twenty-three per cent of diners see no additives/preservatives as important to healthful dining and 11% of consumers believe nitrate-free and hormone-free items are important.

Also, food trucks, self-service coffee kiosks and better vending machines mean more high-quality food is available in more places whenever consumers desire. This means restaurants need to adjust business models to find ways to keep up with the new ways consumers find foods and beverages. Convenience stores are stiff competition with prepared food sales up 11%, and 41% of consumers making casual dining choices based on curbside pick-up options.