Strong demand for restaurants will continue in 2024, but dining experiences may look a little different as operators power through an ongoing staffing shortage and sharpen focus on profitability. Whether dining in person, ordering online, or calling to make a reservation, consumers can expect to interact with smart technologies at more restaurants this year. They can also expect to see more special offers and discounts and menu options that are easier on the wallet. This is according to recent studies of 1,000 consumers and 461 restaurant operators across the U.S. by Popmenu, a tech leader serving more than 10,000 restaurants.

Read the full report here.

“Restaurant operators are entering 2024 with a positive, yet watchful, outlook as inflationary pressure somewhat subsides and consumers’ appetite for dining out remains strong and steady,” says Brendan Sweeney, CEO and Co-founder of Popmenu. “Most feel optimistic about business prospects and more than a third plan to open a new location or expand an existing one in the next 12 months. However, intense competition for labor and guests persists, prompting restaurants to rethink marketing and operational strategies. Getting back to basic best practices to manage and grow their business—with a greater reliance on new and established technologies for execution—is a key theme that emerged in this year’s study.” 

Consumer Dining Trends

Restaurant sales rose steadily in 2023 with consumers prioritizing dining experiences over other budget items. In 2023, consumers spent more on restaurants than the following:

  • Streaming services (Hulu, Netflix, Prime, etc.) – 36% of consumers
  • Ride services (Uber, Lyft, etc.) – 33%
  • New clothes – 32%
  • Gym membership – 27%
  • Sports events – 25%
  • Travel – 24%
  • Entertainment (concerts, movies, etc.) – 22%
  • Personal grooming – 21%
  • Home furnishings – 21%
  • Mobile devices – 19%

Three in four consumers (75%) dine out at least once a week; 26% plan to increase their restaurant spend this year while 61% expect to maintain their current spend.

Restaurant Outlook

Tech adoption trends

Although nearly half of restaurant operators say they have jobs they can’t fill, 33% still feel very optimistic about their business prospects in 2024 while 56% feel cautiously optimistic.

To bridge labor gaps and improve financial results, 56% plan to automate more online functions this year while 48% plan to automate more on-premise functions. Among technologies being implemented are applications of artificial intelligence to answer phones with custom responses and to create brand-specific marketing content and calendars. A growing number of operators (38%) are also turning to social influencers to help promote their restaurants.

In addition to adopting new tech, operators are returning to tried-and-true best practices such as consistently reaching out to guests via email, text, and social (55%), ensuring their website is optimized for Google (48%), and keeping online ordering on their own website (41%).

Menu trends

When it comes to menu prices, 31% of operators feel food costs are more under control compared to a year ago. Although 71% of operators say they will raise menu prices in 2024, 47% plan to provide more special offers and discounts to guests and 20% are adding less expensive menu options. Consumers can also expect more rotating menus, more beverage options, and more refined kids meals.

Operators also plan to increase revenue with specialized menus: 44% expect to host online ordering events with limited-time menus to drive quick spikes in sales while 85% plan to increase their catering business.

Consumer Trends, Industry News