The restaurant industry is about to change dramatically. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in the sector, forcing more than 10% of establishments close permanently and the rest evolve quickly.
As the pandemic fades, it will leave a lasting mark. Evolving consumer sentiment and forced changes have revealed a new path forward, reshaping the future of restaurants. For many establishments, embracing these trends could be the secret to success over the next few years.
Here are eight of these emerging trends and how restaurateurs can take advantage of them.
The digital revolution
In the age of remote working and minimal physical contact, digital technologies have exploded. 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, making it a profitable business.
To make the most of this trend, restaurants should avoid digitizing for the sake of digitizing and instead focus on what brings the most value to customers. Creating a dedicated app where customers can book tables, order, and pay from a single service is a great idea. Alternatively, partnering with popular services like OpenTable and DoorDash can make things more convenient for digital-native customers.
Self-service has grown steadily for years, but has recently exploded. In the digital age, consumers want options that are as efficient as possible, and self-service options often allow this. If a customer has to rely on an employee for every step of their dining experience, this restaurant is unlikely to be successful for long.
Areas of easy application of this principle include application and kiosk control, customer beverage stations, and tabletop card scanners. It’s important to remember, however, 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.
A trend unrelated to the pandemic is a growing preference for sustainability. As the threat of climate change has grown, customers have become more concerned about the environment. Restaurants that can claim that their operations are sustainable could gain more business and loyalty in the future.
Providing food from sustainable sources is a great way to win over these customers. Buying ingredients from smaller local farms or growing produce in-house helps reduce the carbon footprint of the ingredients. Other options such as powering the restaurant with renewable energies are also effective.
Some improvements in durability can come from small changes in workflow. For example, using a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner wastes 40% of the heat, therefore, suitable size kitchen utensils can reduce energy consumption.
Healthy food options
A similar trend is the growing desire of customers for healthier options. As health information has become more widely available, consumers have started to take their food more seriously. The pandemic has further fueled this trend, with 85% of global consumers change 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 practically any dish to be vegan or vegetarian. The customization options not only appeal to different tastes of consumers, but it also makes it easier for them to eat healthier.
Not surprisingly, consumers are also increasingly concerned about cleanliness amid the pandemic. After COVID-19 reveals how unsanitary many common practices are, these feelings will likely last a long time into the future. Restaurants can adapt to this trend by being transparent about their hygiene practices.
Having an open kitchen can show customers the care taken in creating clean and safe dishes. Keep in mind, however, that this strategy only works if the cooking practices are, in fact, hygienic. Other measures like having hand sanitizer stations accessible and wiping down tables quickly can also help.
It is important that a restaurant looks clean, not just that it is clean. Consumers today won’t want to eat somewhere that doesn’t seem hygienic, regardless of the truth.
Another of the most impacting trends affecting restaurants today is the continuing labor shortage. An astonishing 85% of restaurateurs say they are having difficulty finding workers. This is a complex problem with multiple possible solutions, but one specific trend emerging from it is the rise of catering robots.
Robotic chefs and servers can help alleviate labor shortages and attract customers interested in the technology. Conservators should consider these systems to be expensive, so they require careful implementation to generate a positive return on investment. Repetitive and precision-based tasks, such as hashing and pouring, are the most easily automated. Restaurants must therefore start with these before automating other processes.
Unique culinary experiences
The rise of delivery services and home cooking means that restaurants must offer something more than food to attract diners in person. Customers will increasingly seek an experience they cannot find at home. According to a survey, 75% of customers would spend more on unique culinary experiences.
There are several paths to this goal. Extensive use of technology, like ordering at the table via tablets, robot chefs and conveyor belts, can attract customers before they become mainstream. Other restaurants have found success by creating hybrid indoor / outdoor spaces, making dining rooms more open and cooler.
Generally speaking, the more creative the dining experience, the better. However, gadgets should never interfere with things like quality food, responsive service, and efficiency.
Social media has affected the restaurant industry for years, but it’s starting to reshape it. As customers increasingly use these platforms, restaurants can capitalize on their popularity. Food and beverage areas that are more easily shareable on social media are likely to be more successful.
Today’s customers don’t just want something that tastes good. They want something they can post on Instagram or TikTok. Creative food presentation, bright colors, and interior lighting suitable for photography will help any restaurant win more business. Even if an establishment’s food and service is top notch, it probably won’t grow as fast as one that is bait for social media posts.
Capitalizing on Trends Can Help Restaurants Succeed
After an extended period of hardship, restaurants must adapt to ensure their future success. These eight trends represent some of the most promising opportunities to evolve and meet the needs and demands of a changing market. These aren’t the only changes that might prove to be effective, but they hold one of the highest potentials.
The restaurant industry is changing, and for the better. Capitalizing on these trends will make restaurants more efficient, safe, attractive and healthy. While they may cause initial disruption, they will push the industry into the future.