7 Restaurant Trends That Shaped the Industry in 2019 (and What to Expect in 2020)
Restaurant trends are continually evolving. Whether it’s because of improvements in payment technology or due to the ever-changing public perception of food and health, there is a shift in customer demands.
Trends become popular for many reasons, but there’s usually some merit in their reputation. While your restaurant doesn’t have (or need) to cater to every trend, you do want to pay attention to what’s going on in the industry – this is one of the best ways to make improvements your customers will love.
How Restaurant Trends Shape the Industry
It can be easy to ignore updates like your point-of-sale systems and menu. Still, as technology and food and beverage preferences change, it becomes almost necessary to keep up with your competitors. Sure, your most loyal customers will stick around, but to thrive, you need to see growth in your business.
Restaurant trends have changed many aspects of dining in the last decade. These are some common areas that trends tend to follow:
- Food preferences: The way people approach health and nutrition is always changing. As we learn more about how diet impacts our physical and mental well-being, food preferences adapt to healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.
- How people pay: Where cash was once king in the restaurant industry, it’s more common for people to use digital methods of paying, like credit cards or apps on their phones. Online ordering is more common today than it was a decade ago.
- Worker’s rights: Our values have shifted over the last decade, and people demand better working conditions and pay for employees in the restaurant industry. The minimum wage has become a controversial topic within the last ten years.
Some trends are recurring, like advancements in technology and improvements in nutrition. Other restaurant trends follow the ebb and flow of culture and society.
7 Popular Restaurant Trends in 2019
Between efforts to improve the sustainability of food sources and expanded interest in plant-based meat options, 2019 was a big year for restaurant trends.
1. Emphasis on Gut Health
Gut health is a focus of many nutritionists and budding microbiologists. Your gut contains almost 1,000 different species of bacteria that all work together to regulate your microbiome. Probiotics (and prebiotics) are thought to nourish that microbiome and keep it healthy. Restaurants are jumping on board by including fermented foods in their menus, which contain probiotics.
Another trend is the rise in gluten-free menu options. Whether for medical or health reasons, many people have adopted gluten-free lifestyles and want to see menu options that they can enjoy.
2. Heavy Reliance on Technology
Your customers are always looking for ways to increase their service time, and pay-at-the-table systems like SkyTab offer a convenient solution. In-house digital ordering kiosks – which you can find at McDonald’s – are another way technology has changed restaurant services. People can even use mobile apps to order and pick up without even interacting with employees at the restaurant.
Many brands are also using social media to reach a bigger audience. For instance, Wendy’s regularly uses Twitter to poke at competitors and engage with their followers, much to the delight of the internet.
3. More “Instagramable” Experiences
Social media is not going away anytime soon – your restaurant needs to work this trend into your marketing plan. Instagram users share photos of drinks with elaborate garnishes and foods that have been prepared and served in exquisite arrangements on unique dinnerware. All of these “shares” are free advertising for your restaurant, so take advantage of the attention.
Restaurant décor is another way you can up your Instagram game. People love things like chalk art and murals. Neon signs are another way to capture people’s attention to social media.
4. Pop-up Restaurants and Themed Cafes
While not a new concept, pop-up restaurants have become popular again recently. Cities like Austin have dozens of opportunities for people to experience dinner with famous local chefs like Damien Brockway and Kate Rousset.
Johnny Rockets, a popular 50s-style diner chain, pulled off a limited pop-up in their original diner to much fanfare; they didn’t even serve a full menu.
Themed cafes are another popular restaurant trend. Avocaderia in New York City features an exclusively-avocado menu, and DŌ is a cookie dough-themed café for those with a sweet tooth.
5. Online Ordering and Delivery
Though dining in a restaurant is still a widespread practice, more people are turning to delivery services for their dinner. The four most popular food delivery apps are Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Postmates. Also, most people have two food delivery apps on their phone, which they use about three times per month.
Online ordering systems are also more common now than in the past, and 34 percent of people spend more than $50 per order when they order online.
6. Expanded Vegan and Vegetarian Options
Plant-based meat options have become more commonplace as well. Fast food restaurants like Burger King, Little Caesars, and White Castle have added meat alternatives like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to their menus. Even Denny’s added a veggie burger to their lineup.
Chipotle expanded its vegan/vegetarian menu to include tofu, and Taco Bell has included menu options so vegan and vegetarians can build their custom menu choices.
7. Focus on Sustainable Efforts
The foodservice industry is one that can always improve its sustainability efforts. In 2019, activists pushed to eliminate or reduce the use of plastic straws and take-home bags. These are being replaced with more sustainable options like paper straws and cardboard containers. Some restaurants are even turning to reusable containers for takeout items.
Another big trend is the increase in zero-waste cooking. Restaurants can see improvements in their bottom line by serving smaller portions and purchasing produce more frequently.
Restaurant Trends to Expect in 2020
There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020 for restaurant owners. From dining experiences that thrill patrons to restaurants that offer full insight into their operations, big changes are coming next year.
Interactive Dining Experiences
A newer concept on the horizon for 2020 is interactive dining experiences. This might be an open kitchen where you can see everything that’s happening, or it might be a chef’s table at a local farm restaurant where you can watch the experience up close.
Cities like Los Angeles have restaurants with unique interactive experiences. The Magic Castle is an invite-only restaurant with magicians and talking mechanical owls.
Healthier, More Transparent Kitchens
People want more information about where their food comes from. This means they want more transparency around pricing and corporate performance. Sustainability has become a driving factor in many Americans’ food choices.
In fact, about 60 percent of Americans prefer to exclusively buy food that is grown, harvested, and packaged sustainably.
Minimum Wage Increases
Workers’ rights have become a hot-button issue in the restaurant industry. Strikes in the past lead to many states pushing for a $15 minimum wage, which is significant for the industry. While the debate is still out on how it impacts restaurants, changes are coming.
While McDonald’s hasn’t made any policy changes with respect to their corporate minimum wage policy, they have ended their efforts to oppose the legislation.
As people dine out more often and want quality food without spending a ton of money, fast-casual restaurants are becoming more popular. They typically offer limited service but higher quality ingredients than fast-food restaurants.
Modern Market, a deli-style eatery, and Twisted Root, a specialty-burger joint, are two fast-casual restaurants that have recently expanded their national presence.
How You Can Use Technology to Improve the Customer Experience
You don’t need to take on every restaurant trend you read here, but you do need to figure out where you can make improvements in your restaurant. Technology and menu options are great starting points that can improve your restaurant’s performance and increase customer satisfaction.