The restaurant industry is on the verge of substantial change. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the sector, forcing more than 10% of establishments to close permanently and the remainder to evolve quickly.
As the pandemic fades, it will leave a lasting mark. Shifting consumer sentiment and forced changes have revealed a new way forward, reshaping the future of restaurants. For many establishments, embracing these trends may be the secret to success in the next few years.
Here are eight of these emerging trends and how restaurateurs can capitalize on them.
The Digital Revolution
In an age of remote work and minimal physical contact, digital technologies have skyrocketed. Restaurants are going digital, from QR code menus to online ordering services, and this trend is here to stay. In many cases, these digital services make the restaurant experience more efficient and convenient, so they can be a profitable undertaking.
To make the most of this trend, restaurants should avoid digitizing for digitizing’s sake and instead focus on what brings the most value to customers. Creating a dedicated app where customers can reserve tables, order and pay from one service is an excellent idea. Alternatively, partnering with popular services like OpenTable and DoorDash can make things more convenient for digital-native customers.
Self-service has been steadily growing for years but has skyrocketed recently. In this digital age, consumers want options that are as efficient as possible, and self-service options often provide that. If a customer has to rely on an employee for every part of their dining experience, that restaurant won’t likely succeed for long.
Easy areas to apply this principle include ordering apps and kiosks, customer-facing drink stations and on-table card scanners. It’s important to remember, though, that not everyone wants self-service. Restaurants should always have alternatives for those who want a more traditional dining experience, leaving the choice to the consumer.
One non-pandemic-related trend is a growing preference for sustainability. As the threat of climate change has grown more prominent, customers have become more concerned about the environment. Restaurants that can claim their operations are sustainable could gain more business and loyalty in the future.
Offering sustainably sourced food is an excellent way to appeal to these customers. Buying ingredients from smaller, local farms or growing produce in-house helps reduce ingredients’ carbon footprint. Other options like powering the restaurant through renewable energy are also effective.
Some sustainability improvements can come from small workflow changes. For example, using a six-inch pot on an eight-inch burner wastes 40% of the heat, so appropriately sized cookware can reduce energy consumption.
Healthy Food Options
A similar trend is customers’ rising desire for healthier options. As health information has become more widely accessible, consumers have started to take their diets more seriously. The pandemic spurred this trend further, with 85% of global consumers changing their eating habits.
Providing low-calorie alternatives to popular dishes can help cater to this audience without alienating the rest. Perhaps surprisingly, Taco Bell sets a good example for another alternative. Customers can customize virtually any dish to be vegan or vegetarian. Customization options not only appeal to consumers’ different tastes, but they let them eat healthier easily.
Unsurprisingly, consumers have also grown more concerned about cleanliness amid the pandemic. After COVID-19 revealed how unsanitary many common practices are, these feelings will likely last far into the future. Restaurants can adapt to this trend by being transparent about their hygiene practices.
Having an open kitchen can show customers how much care goes into creating clean, safe dishes. Keep in mind, though, that this strategy only works if kitchen practices are, in fact, hygienic. Other measures like having accessible hand sanitizing stations and promptly wiping down tables can help, too.
It’s important that a restaurant appear clean, not just be clean. Today’s consumers won’t want to eat anywhere that doesn’t seem hygienic, regardless of what the truth may be.
Another one of the most impactful trends affecting restaurants today is the ongoing labor shortage. An astounding 85% of restaurant owners say they’re having difficulty finding workers. This is a complex issue with multiple possible solutions, but one specific trend emerging from it is the rise of restaurant robots.
Robotic chefs and servers can help mitigate worker shortages and attract customers who are interested in the technology. Restaurateurs should consider that these systems are expensive, so they require careful implementation to generate a positive ROI. Repetitive, precision-based tasks like chopping and pouring are the most easily automatable, so restaurants should start with these before automating other processes.
Unique Dining Experiences
The rise of delivery services and at-home cooking means that restaurants must offer something more than food to entice in-person diners. Customers will increasingly look for an experience they can’t find at home. According to one survey, 75% of customers would spend more on unique dining experiences.
There are multiple paths to that goal. Extensive technology use, like at-table ordering through tablets, robot chefs and conveyor belts, can attract customers before they become widespread. Other restaurants have seen success by creating hybrid indoor/outdoor spaces, making dining rooms feel more open and fresh.
Generally speaking, the more creative the dining experience, the better. However, gimmicks should never interfere with things like quality food, responsive service and efficiency.
Social media has been affecting the restaurant industry for years, but it’s starting to reshape it. As customers use these platforms more heavily, restaurants can capitalize on their popularity. Food and dining areas that are more easily shareable on social media will likely succeed more.
Customers today don’t just want something that tastes good. They want something they can post on Instagram or TikTok. Creative food presentation, bright colors and indoor lighting that suits photography will all help restaurants gain more business. Even if an establishment’s food and service are top-tier, it won’t likely grow as fast as one that’s bait for social media posts.
Capitalizing on Trends Can Help Restaurants Succeed
After a prolonged period of hardship, restaurants must adapt to ensure future success. These eight trends represent some of the most promising opportunities to evolve and meet a changing market’s needs and demands. These are not the only changes that could prove effective, but they hold some of the highest potential.
The restaurant industry is changing, and for the better. Capitalizing on these trends will make restaurants more efficient, safe, engaging and healthy. While they may cause some initial disruption, they’ll push the industry into the future.