As mask mandates lift and a glimpse of our “new normal” is on the horizon, many restaurant owners are cautiously optimistic to see what that means for their restaurants. After being pelted with changes and mandates including creating outdoor spaces, social distancing areas, cleanliness protocols, supply chain disruptions, soaring prices, staffing shortages, and a wide variety of pandemic-related measures, many restaurant owners are curious about the future industry landscape. And while uncertainty and change can cause unease, there are plenty of upcoming trends for restaurateurs to be excited about.
Ghost Kitchens and New Business Models
The ongoing demand for to-go meals has many restaurant owners rethinking how to maximize their physical space. Ghost kitchens offer a solution. A ghost kitchen is a professional food operation set up for the preparation of delivery-only meals via takeout or drive-through with no on-premises seating. Currently, 34 percent of Americans order takeout or delivery at least twice a week. And by 2030, ghost kitchens are predicted to hold a 50 percent share of the global drive-through and takeaway foodservice markets. This suggests that the ghost kitchen model is here to stay.
Ghost kitchens are already a $43 million industry. That number is expected to rise to $71.4 billion by 2027. The rise of ghost kitchens means limitless opportunities and possibilities for restaurateurs and brands alike.
And while some entrepreneurs are opening ghost kitchens, other restaurant owners are pivoting to an expanded back-of-house space and more BOH staffing rather than the more traditional model that focuses more space, staff, and attention on FOH. Additionally, more restaurants, including some upscale establishments, will offer drive-through options in the coming months. As new business models for restaurants open up, restaurants have a variety of options to choose from that suit their needs.
The Dining “Experience”
Customer dining preferences are changing. One study done by Single Platform revealed that 75 percent of people say they would spend more money for a unique experience. Whether it’s ambiance, decor, performers, or a unique theme or menu, diners are looking for creative or special experiences. With the return of indoor dining and ease of travel restrictions, people are excited to have new experiences again.
By adding an experience factor, restaurants can create a memorable dining encounter that builds memories and gains word of mouth attention, as well as returning customers. After being cooped up during the pandemic, consumers are ready to return to social activities with friends. By adding adventurous, unique, strange, calming, or other experiential factors to your restaurant, you can bring value to customers and fuel recognition.
Streamlining menus is not a new concept. Places like In-N-Out have a notoriously small list of menu items. Not only does this make the decision-making process easier for consumers but it also simplifies inventory management. Menu streamlining also allows restaurant managers the ability to focus on the most profitable products and items best suited for delivery. A smaller menu also makes for more efficient staffing. Chefs no longer need to learn new items and will get more efficient cooking the items on the menu. And a limited menu also makes it easier for cashiers by simplifying the POS selections.
For example, when McDonald’s cut all-day breakfast along with some of their lower-selling items, they were able to reduce drive-thru time by 15 seconds. Menu simplification happening in quick-service and fine-dining restaurants alike. By simplifying menus, many restaurants are able to increase efficiency and profits. Menu streamlining is a trend we expect to see continue throughout 2022 and beyond.
Integrated Technology and AI to the Rescue
In late 2021, a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs—and 1 million of them were restaurant and hospitality workers. In a recent study by the National Restaurant Association, 7 out of 10 restaurant operators reported having issues with staffing. Restaurant owners have increased pay, added benefits, and implemented new programs to retain employees. In order to offset costs, restaurants must rely on tech tools to better manage food and labor costs and increase margins.
We’ll see more adoption of AI and automation in 2022. Labor shortages will likely accelerate the adoption of automation, such as robotics, in restaurants. For example, “robochefs” have the ability to cook safe, high-quality food without the added labor costs. And some major cities have started using robots to deliver meals, a trend that’s expected to grow in other geographies.
The restaurant industry has lagged in technological advances historically. Moving forward, adopting integrated restaurant technologies will be critical. Using manual systems or fragmented software makes it impossible to get a good handle on your data or a comprehensive look into business operations. As brands continue to adopt digital solutions to boost visibility, efficiency, productivity, accuracy, safety, and quality, they’ll make better, data-informed decisions.
The “new normal” will bring about a lot of new opportunities, changes, and possibilities for restaurateurs. Embracing the trends and shifts within the industry will help restaurant owners continue to delight customers.
Greg Staley is the CEO of SynergySuite, a back-of-house restaurant management platform. Greg focuses on facilitating better visibility and increased profitability for restaurant chains through the use of intelligent, integrated back-of-house technology. For more information, please contact Greg at email@example.com.