Change swept through the restaurant industry in 2019 and it’s not about to stop. Among the many developments in 2019 were a large decrease in meat consumption (and subsequent plant substitutes), major waste reduction strategies and non-traditional business models like ghost and virtual kitchens and food halls.
So, what’s on the horizon for 2020? Continued momentum in the developments of 2019, a reflection of snowballing health concerns among consumers, and the centralization and reigning in of restaurant operations.
Consumer health concerns drives menu strategy
It used to be much easier to ignore the difference in fat, calories and nutrients between a meal eaten at a restaurant and one cooked at home - but not anymore. Today, restaurants are much more likely (and sometimes required) to provide accessible nutritional content for consumers.
Health-conscious restaurant patrons are more aware of what and how much they to want to put into their bodies. And with the increase in food allergies over the past 30 years, the stakes of not knowing what’s in your food are even higher.
At the same time, many consumers are looking to food - either to include or exclude in their diet - to cure their ailments. According to the National Eating Trends Health & Wellness Service, roughly 25% of respondents report that they are actively managing a medical condition through food consumption.
Examples abound in the mainstream media, like husband-and-wife nursing team Karen and Steve Wickham. Both semi-retired nurses, the Wickhams teach locals in Grundy County, Tenn., how to manage and reduce their Type 2 diabetes with dietary changes and the introduction of exercise
Overhauling kids’ menus
For one, restaurants in 2020 will start offering healthier options on their childrens’ menus. Hudson Riehle of the National Restaurant Association predicts that kids’ menus in 2020 will begin to shift towards whole grains.
Children can explore more diverse flavors and get higher nutritional value from their food - a must for many health-conscious parents. And this isn’t just a prediction: in a handful of communities across the U.S., more healthy childrens’ menus are now mandated by law.
Reducing portion sizes
Those “healthier” menu items like bowls and salads can still pack in as many calories as a traditional burger or sandwich. A seemingly-innocuous house salad at Sbarro will set guests back 950 calories, with the same fat content as 5 ½ Twix bars (!). Panera’s Baja and Mediterranean grain bowls, both with calorie counts clocking in at 690 or less, each pack in half of daily recommended sodium content.
And ingredients aside, look out for the increased food prices expected in 2020. Joanna Fantozzi of Nation’s Restaurant News predicts that portion sizes at many fast-casual restaurants will shrink to cut calories, costs and food waste.
Expanding non-alcoholic beverages
Almost half of consumers want to reduce their alcohol consumption due to health concerns, and the restaurant industry is adapting. Introducing the sober bar: a place where you can grab a drink and socialize, sans alcohol.
With the rise of the wellness mindset, consumers are evaluating the role of alcohol in their lives. The “sober curious” don’t aim to eliminate alcohol entirely, but to make more conscious choices around their usage of it. Restaurants and bars are jumping on the bandwagon, offering mocktails in addition to alcoholic beverages, sometimes going alcohol-free, and generally helping to destigmatize those who choose to abstain from alcohol.
Restaurants leverage technology to strengthen bonds with patrons
In the past few years, the explosion of meal delivery services like GrubHub, Favor and Doordash has transformed the restaurant industry. Not only are these companies providing much-needed delivery services, they’re now branching out in the restaurant space and creating branded ghost kitchens.
Direct-to-consumer trumps mainstream meal delivery
However, restaurant owners are not particularly keen to relinquish the guest experience to a meal delivery company. It severs ties with consumers and can make for a poor guest experience if food arrives late, cold or with incorrect items, not to mention the enormous impact to the restaurant’s bottom line. And yet, with 51% of patrons ordering directly from a restaurant’s website, it appears that the connection is quickly eroding.
Noah Glass, founder and CEO of Olo[NF1] , predicts that restaurants will put more energy into driving patrons to their own websites, where they can keep tabs on the relationship and avoid the commission fees.
Point-of-sale (POS) becomes unified command control
In addition, restauranteurs are looking to centralize all of their guest data, inventory, and process management into one system. The foundation for that one unified system is the already-entrenched point-of-sale (POS), which is transforming into command control of restaurant operations, according to Saleem Khatri, CEO of Lavu[NF2] .
POS systems are gobbling up smaller platforms that perform functions like business intelligence, inventory management, payroll, data analytics and marketing. POS manufacturers are also doubling down on R&D in the next five years, with digital ordering as a key component of that unified strategy.
In 2020, restaurants will continue to play a part in a healthier, more connected lifestyle.
This concept of “healthy” includes both people and the planet. In addition to reduced portion sizes, more well-balanced kids’ menus and the overall reduction of alcohol consumption, expect to see greater food transparency across the board.
That means more open kitchens in restaurants, an increased desire to eat locally (while reducing our carbon footprint), and more precise food tracking throughout the supply chain. And the connected part means that restaurants will continue their focus on maintaining and strengthening their bonds with their guests.
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