10 Restaurant Trends for 2022: Top Forecasts & What Lies Beyond?

A new version of this article, featuring the latest data and statistics, is available. Check out our report on Restaurant Software Trends for 2022/2023.

The restaurant industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with numerous stores closing down temporarily or folding up entirely. This has led establishments to ramp up their efforts online and apply dining measures that adhere to safety protocols. In this way, they can curb the spread of the disease while receiving returns in the process.

These are challenging times for restaurants, but, as many have reopened, establishment owners have tapped their creativity to make the situation more manageable. These creative pursuits could set the standard in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, budding food entrepreneurs saw this unfortunate event as an ideal time to serve their creations to their immediate communities. And this has worked for them given that food is a basic need.

From the continuing surge of food deliveries to the emphasis on sanitation, we’ve compiled ten restaurant trends that experts think will impact the restaurant industry in 2021.

key restaurant trends

The sharing of food had defined us as a human race. It forms the bedrock of family, religion, and relationships everywhere. This is why restaurants will always have that critical, timeless role in society. As such, with the pandemic still uncontained, restaurants have turned to other resources to increase the likelihood of their survival. After all, more than 110,000 dining establishments have become casualties of the pandemic in the United States alone (Seattle Times, 2020).

The world continues to become more urbanized and digitized, and the food and beverage industry has leveraged this to the hilt. Nowadays, people prefer to have food delivered to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19, which paved the way for several trends for established and budding restaurateurs alike.

A bit of good news came when many cities around the world have permitted the reopening of industries, including cafes and dining places. However, the manner in which foodservice is conducted has been altered to promote the safety of diners. In fact, the CDC has released a safety guideline for food establishments to follow (CDC, 2020).

decline of full-service restaurants

Despite the reopenings, many restaurants struggled, with 90% of full-service establishments reporting sales declines and a revenue drop of 36% on average (Seattle Times, 2020). Not everyone is keen on dining out unless a stronger assurance of their safety is implemented. But this does not mean that the food and beverage industry is doomed.

From these dilemmas springs new trends that could very well tide over dining establishments through the pandemic.

People value sanitation and health more

Sanitation is of utmost importance, given the spread of COVID-19. The National Restaurant Association has released safety guidelines for restaurant reopenings, and sanitation is one of the report’s focal points (National Restaurant Association, 2020). The workstations of kitchen staff, restaurant seats and tables, restrooms, and other restaurant fixtures should be thoroughly sanitized.

Furthermore, the drive for sanitation extends to the personal hygiene of kitchen staff. Besides handwashing regularly, members of the kitchen crew are advised to use hand sanitizers with alcohol content not lower than 60% (National Restaurant Association, 2020). The sanitizers should also be readily available to all guests, on top of social distancing measures, to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.

These safety policies actually go in line with the sentiments of diners. In a survey by OpenTable, it was discovered that 72% of customers believe that strict cleaning policies in restaurants are extremely important (OpenTable, 2020). Furthermore, diners are more predisposed to health and sanitation, with 93% putting a high premium on handwashing and 58% valuing the use of hand sanitizers (OpenTable, 2020).

With COVID-19 sticking around for a while, this drive for sanitation and safety will be prevalent in restaurants in the next few years.

cleaning policies in restaurants

Sanitation trends highlights

  • Sanitation and safety have become more important to consumers.
  • Adherence to safety practices would promote the safety of guests and the kitchen staff.
  • Proper sanitation could influence a larger influx of diners.

The fast-casual restaurants will continue to thrive

Current restaurant food trends indicate that the fast-casual chains are set to thrive even with the ongoing pandemic. By 2027, this segment is expected to rake in $931.7 billion in total sales (Business Wire, 2020).

However, this is not without changes. For starters, fast-casual restaurants are now expected to serve better-tasting food in a limited-service style. Moreover, as 32% of customers order for carryout, 9% order for pickup, and 10% order via delivery services, it is safe to assume that these restaurants are slowly moving toward making it more convenient for consumers to take their favorite meals home with them.

Since 1999, fast-casuals like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill had grown by 550% (Technomic, 2019). Moreover, experts expect the segment to continue growing. And it will grow even further should it fully leverage online delivery services to counteract the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Why are fast-casual restaurants popular today?

Of 2018’s Top 500 chains in the US, 80% are using a fast-casual format (Restaurant Business, 2019).

Three things—taste, value, and convenience—are pushing diners to regularly eat at fast-casual restos. Dining at fast-casuals is cheaper (37%), more convenient (33%), and offers better value (31%).

Across the US, 85% of diners tend to make dinner decisions within the same day (Acosta, 2018). This is why convenient meal services across foodservice segments and consumer groups had grown immensely.

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Top Casual Dining Restaurant Chains in the US

(in terms of sales, in millions USD)

Top Casual Dining Restaurant Chains in the US
Olive Garden : 4.287

Olive Garden

Top Casual Dining Restaurant Chains in the US
Applebee’s : 4.086


Top Casual Dining Restaurant Chains in the US
Buffalo Wild Wings : 3.670

Buffalo Wild Wings

Top Casual Dining Restaurant Chains in the US
Chili’s Grill and Bar : 3.564

Chili’s Grill and Bar

Top Casual Dining Restaurant Chains in the US
Texas Roadhouse : 3.016

Texas Roadhouse

Source: Technomic; Restaurant Business, 2020

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Fast-casuals trends highlights

  • Fast-casual restaurants will continue to grow bigger.
  • They serve better-tasting food versus fast foods.
  • They offer great convenience and better value.

Food delivery soars high in the sky

Instead of dining in restaurants, people have picked up the habit of having food delivered since the pandemic brought about lockdowns and limited mobility. 62% of consumers prefer food deliveries, which is a spike of 52% compared to pre-pandemic levels (OpenTable, 2020). Moreover, food deliveries have become so popular that the industry is expected to be valued at a whopping $154.34 billion by 2023 (Business Wire, 2020).

In lieu of this, restaurants have started to migrate their focus from the traditional dining experience to bringing food over to the abodes of their customers. The share of the restaurant market dabbling in food deliveries is at 14% and it is seen to grow to 21% by 2025 (Morgan Stanely, 2020). This means restaurants that aren’t known for food deliveries, say, pubs and classy establishments, are likely to venture into the fast-growing food delivery industry.

The rising number of delivery options is pushing this increase. These include new food delivery providers, mobile apps, and online ordering systems. Integrating a top-notch POS system with delivery operations will be a key to success in this environment.

Are drones ready to deliver our food?

Is it time to forget about heavy traffic, great distance, dilapidated roads, and the like? With today’s generation of food delivery firms, late deliveries can virtually be a thing of the past.

In the near future, online restaurant orders will be delivered through delivery vehicle sharing (Forbes, 2019), autonomous vehicles, or drones. Several tests had already been conducted, and many are in the works.

Leading the upcoming segment of food-delivery drones are Uber Eats and Dialexa. Uber Eats. which now acts as a third-party delivery partner, earned a total of $7.9 billion in gross bookings in 2018 (Skift Table, 2019).

Drone delivery offers its biggest advantages over other options—speed and cost. On average, cars need 10 to 30 minutes to deliver food. Drone delivery only takes 5 to 10 minutes, or a 500% increase in volume for restaurants.

Third-party services typically charge restaurants 15%-30% in delivery fees. Drones will likely charge lower rates.

Food delivery trends highlights

  • Third-party online food delivery services will continue to increase.
  • Many consumers prefer to have their food delivered versus eating outside.
  • Drones and next-iteration driverless vehicles for delivery are in the testing phase.

Robochefs now cook in our kitchens

Now, let’s up the ante on how technology is changing how food is prepared. In recent years, AI-powered machines have been developed to cook any cuisine.

Actually, robochefs—like Moley and Cooki (Herox, 2021)—are already making delicious meals since the early 2010s. It’s only recently that their commercial application intensified.

The process involved automated cooking. It’s similar to other automation technologies, just like when using marketing automation solutions. It involves a novel, intricate human activity—cooking.

Sophisticated robots perform automated cooking. These robochefs can cook with high accuracy, taste quality, and cleanliness. This revolutionary concept aims to provide safer, clean food that’s fast, without any manual work.

What can robot chefs do that a human cook can’t?

In 2018, Moley elevated cooking to new heights by introducing a fully-automated robot chef. It’s expertise? Unlimited international cuisine. (You only need to upload the recipe and procedure into its AI).

With this breakthrough, anything that can be cooked, Moley can prepare in virtually any kitchen in the world. It even cleans the kitchen after preparing the food. This saves a lot of time, aside from achieving culinary expertise without the usual training and experience requirements.

The California-based Creator (Tech Crunch, 2018) made a robot that can easily cook thousands of burgers, consistent in taste and appearance. In a single hour, it can assemble up to 4,000 burgers.

Aside from these advantages, cost savings can allow the restaurant to bring down its price. In its South of Market store in San Francisco, it sells burgers starting at $6.

Robot chefs trends highlights

  • Robot chefs use automated cooking technology to cook and do other kitchen tasks faster and more efficiently.
  • They can cook with high accuracy, taste quality, and cleanliness.
  • These AI-powered robots offer a host of advantages that make them practical for commercial deployment.

Staffing gets more challenging

For 2019, overall restaurant and foodservice employment was expected to reach 15 million (RAMW, 2019). This significant trend makes employee recruitment and retention major challenges that restaurateurs must address. However, an even bigger challenge surfaced due to COVID-19. In January 2021 alone, 372,000 restaurant employees in the US lost their jobs (Restaurant Business, 2021).

On average, the industry’s yearly turnover rates range from 100% to 130% (CNBC, 2019). Meanwhile, turnover costs, according to experts, are more than $2,000 per staff (Blackbox Intelligence, 2019). This made high employee turnover one of the biggest operational challenges for restaurants in 2020 (Zenput, 2020)

Most operators consider filling-up back of the house (BOH) positions that are the most challenging. Chefs, kitchen managers, expeditors, and dishwashers comprise BOH posts.

What causes high employee turnover?

The extended economic growth had caused a tight labor market for businesses as a whole. Although that’s not usually the case for restaurants and other hospitality industry players, COVID-19 exacerbated the situation to shake up the entire food and beverage industry.

Historically, restaurant owners don’t fret much about replacing anyone of their staff. Most positions are usually easy to fill. Restaurants had been using this turnover-proof jobs (CNBC, 2019) HR model for decades.

With the changing business and labor market landscapes, no position is turnover-proof anymore.

Restaurateurs should stop using quick, band-aid solutions and start initiating HR best practices to directly reduce staff turnover. They should start offering competitive compensation and benefits packages, a stable environment, and opportunities for growth.

It’s also good to integrate analytics in your HR operations as this offers efficiency in planning and managing manpower requirements.

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Top 5 Operational Challenges for Restaurants

Top 5 Operational Challenges for Restaurants
Rising Labor Cost: 48

Rising Labor Cost

Top 5 Operational Challenges for Restaurants
High Employee Turnover: 44

High Employee Turnover

Top 5 Operational Challenges for Restaurants
Untrained Store Employees: 39

Untrained Store Employees

Top 5 Operational Challenges for Restaurants
Operational Procedure Inconsistencies: 36

Operational Procedure Inconsistencies

Top 5 Operational Challenges for Restaurants
Recruitment of Qualified Talents: 37

Recruitment of Qualified Talents


Source: Zenput

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Staffing trends highlights

  • The restaurant industry continues to suffer chronic staff turnover rates.
  • It is more difficult to fill up BOH positions like chefs and kitchen managers.
  • Operators now discover that their businesses are turnover-proof no more. It’s time to make drastic HR management changes.

Best Restaurant Management Software

  1. Toast POS. This multi-function POS lets you process payments, oversee the kitchen, and make sure your restaurant always has plenty of ingredients in the pantry. Discover more of the software’s capabilities in our Toast POS review.
  2. TouchBistro. It may mainly be a POS system but it has robust functionalities that let you manage other aspects of your restaurant like menu planning. See what else this application has to offer in this TouchBistro review.
  3. Oracle Food and Beverage. More than just a POS, this application optimizes your kitchen processes. Our Oracle Food and Beverage review can show you what else it can do.
  4. Lavu. This smart mobile POS gives you full control over every facet of restaurant operation. But that is not all there is to it; you can find out more in this Lavu review.
  5. Restaurant Inspection. This solution utilizes forms and automation to help you ensure that your restaurant meets industry standards in cleanliness and others. Our Restaurant Inspection review discusses this comprehensively.

The self-service kiosks take-over

Here’s another hot automation tech trend for restaurants: self-ordering kiosks (Forbes, 2019). These touch-screen machines speed up lines and provide a host of benefits mostly for QSRs, fast-casuals. This goes well with the current social distancing policies. The only thing that changed about the use of self-service kiosks is that 40% of restaurants have decided to clean their kiosks more often (Technomic, 2020).

This innovative touch-screen technology aims to hasten the ordering process. It offers customers a novel way to order food as well. This provides them with more control to personalize food exactly the way they want it.

These self-service kiosks could boost sales up to 5% or 6% during their first year of deployment (Big Think, 2018). After McDonald’s launched its $2.4 billion “Experience of the Future” designs in 2018, others had followed suit.

Worldwide demand is increasing. The global kiosk market is predicted to reach $30.8 billion by 2024 (Tillster, 2019). 

How do self-serving kiosks help restaurants?

A major aspect of these kiosks is their use of facial recognition technology. If you’re a regular in that resto, the machine knows your name, order history, and other personal details. There’s no need to wait to order your favorite desserts, apps, or drinks.

Those who had deployed the technology already report achieving business objectives (Tillster, 2019). These include speeding up service provision and enhancing check size.

McDonalds and Panera say that they will never replace their people with kiosks (Futurism, 2018). They assure that affected employees will perform other customer service tasks.

Self-service kiosks trends highlights

  • Self-service kiosks hasten the ordering process and offer other benefits mostly to fast-service format restos.
  • These touch-screen machines boost sales and provide quick ROI.
  • These technologies function to help and not replace restaurant workers.

Wellness champions conquer dining venues

More and more people are opting for healthier eating options when they dine outside. A growing number of consumers prefer healthy foods that fill-up their tummies and boost their immunity. After all, a stronger immune system could help in the fight against COVID-19.

Functional foods are now going mainstream as more restaurant menus start bearing their names. It’s a niche segment no more. From $177.77 billion in 2018, the worldwide functional foods market will grow to $267.92 billion by 2025 (Allied Market Research, 2020).

The factors behind their meteoric rise are compelling. These include aging, increasing interest in diet-based wellness, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and technological advances.

What functional foods should you eat?

In 2020, fermented foods, which are good for a healthy gut, saw a 149% increase in restaurant menus (Upserve, 2020). Consumers love fermented flavors like kimchi, organic meat, and handcrafted beers.

The same goes for CBD-infused food and drinks (Upserve, 2020) which experienced a 99% rise among dining establishments.

There are numerous healthy juices in the market today. The popular ones are cold-pressed juice and kombucha (Ordermentum, 2017), which some consider as the new orange juice.

Source: IFT 2020

Wellness champions trends highlights

  • More consumers turn to healthy foods for daily sustenance and protection against diseases.
  • Functional foods had gone mainstream.
  • Fermented foods and CBD-infused food and drinks top today’s functional food and beverage choices.

Limited-time-offers becoming more frequent

Perhaps it was Cheesy Bacon Fries at McDonald’s that caught your attention. Or was it Tie-Dye Frappuccino at Starbucks?

Lately, many LTOs are successful among today’s consumers. This is why operators are using them more frequently.

Over the past five years, 64% of the top 500 restaurant and retail chains increased their limited-time menu items (Restaruant Business, 2019). As a result, LTOs have become effective at driving more traffic. Many restaurants conduct LTO-related market studies to explore ways to roll out more limited menu items.

How to best launch LTOs?

Operators know that LTOs are risky, stressful operationally, cumbersome, and expensive. Despite these, more LTOs are being issued more regularly (Restaurant Business, 2019) and at a faster pace.

There’s really no proven recipe for a successful LTO. Top restaurant brands must formulate innovative production and marketing that elicit positive outcomes.

The most crucial initial step is finding a great LTO concept. From this, an extensive combination of diverse activities follow. Industry experts suggest these (Restaurant Business, 2019):

  • the elements of novelty and freshness
  • graphic photography that makes the item appealing
  • unique ingredients or typical recipe used differently
  • the right, affordable price

It also helps to have reliable restaurant management software to more efficiently roll out your LTOs.

Limited time offers trends highlights

  • Restaurants use limited menu items more frequently today.
  • LTOs are proving to be effective in driving high customer traffic.
  • There’s no proven formula for a successful LTO. It boils down to creativity, hard work, and perfect timing.

The massive online ordering boom

In the US, the National Restaurant Association says that for every five consumers, three order delivery or takeout once a week (Nation’s Restaurant News, 2016). And given COVID-19’s presence and the lockdowns that ensued, the sales of online stores have jumped by 54% (Digital Commerce 360, 2021).

With a predicted annual increase of over 20%, worldwide food delivery sales could reach $365 billion by 2030 (Digital Commerce 360, 2021). These massive revenues will come from various sources, including food pick-up, restaurant delivery, and third-party delivery firms.

The key to this trend is the changing retail market landscape. As more people turn to retail deliveries, off-site dining will continue to boom.

More offsite dining

In 2018, the industry is still dominated by in-house or restaurant-to-consumer platform (Statista, 2018), representing around 81%. The platform-to-consumer delivery segment—only at 19%—is catching up.

The third-party delivery’s low user penetration is a promising sign of growth potential. In five years, the gap between these two segments is likely to decrease.

Niche leaders like Uber Eats and Grubhub plan to continue the aggressive expansions of their delivery coverage. They’re succeeding in enhancing the ordering experience and offering innovative delivery modes.

The relatively high delivery fees and commission rates will be crucial to their growth (Forbes, 2019). Market players must improve this to allow for continuous growth.

Source: Statista 2020

Online food delivery trends highlights

  • More customers increasingly prefer to have their food delivered versus eat in restaurants.
  • Restaurant-to-customers delivery remains the segment leader.
  • Platform-to-customers firms are fast catching up.

The dining experience experimentations

The restaurant industry already overflows with delicious menus and awesome dining ideas. Diners today are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and harder to please each passing day. Regardless if they are on lockdown or at a restaurant, these creative takes on food induce pleasure.

How can existing and start-up restaurants set themselves apart from the competition?

For this year, expect more restaurants will continue to gravitate to offering out-of-the-box experiences for their guests. Sure, LTOs and daily specials have become big hits. Consumers always welcome something new and unconventional that can surprise them.

Welcome to a hot trend in the dining universe: dining as an experience (Single Platform, 2021), at least prior to COVID-19.

Creative experiences amid the pandemic

One recent study revealed that 75% of people say that they’ll likely spend more on unique dining experiences (Single Platform, 2021). While it’s true that staying home is the ideal thing to do to keep safe from the coronavirus, those who do venture out will be surprised to find out how some establishments have creatively incorporated social distancing and other safety policies.

For instance, al fresco dining has become a trend in London (LS Retail, 2020) and the US has followed suit with this setup (USA Today, 2020). Classy establishments are also literally popping up in new regions through pop-up stores with fresh menus (LS Retail, 2020). Furthermore, many restaurants are featuring contactless ordering and payments to keep COVID-19 at bay while others have revamped their design to stylishly accommodate the social distancing policy (Architectural Digest, 2020).

Of course, this is vastly different from the traditional, pre-pandemic definition of unique dining. But considering that people are mostly stuck at home and are now used to delivered meals, venturing out to dine at the aforesaid establishments is in and of itself a unique dining experience, punctuated by the creative tweaks the restaurants applied.

delivery and carry out meals

Dining experience trends highlights

  • More people are searching for unique dining experiences.
  • An increasing number of restaurants will be offering unconventional immersive dining.
  • Diners will pay more for a totally unique dining experience.

How to Keep Pace with These Restaurant Trends

Some things like great food and good customer service will always be fashionable as far as restaurants are concerned. Trends always emerge on the horizon. Restaurateurs continuously search for ways to keep those cash registers busy despite the presence of COVID-19.

People had pushed the ante by demanding more transparency about restaurant operations. Healthy eating continues to be trendy as many now eat food as medicine. Wellness food champions had joined the fray.

Speed, quality, and convenience matter as evidenced by the fast rise of fast-casuals and food delivery. LTOs and immersive dining experience are booming.

New technologies–like self-service kiosks and robochefs–prove to be effective among restaurant habitués. Using mature technologies like some of today’s best restaurant management software will also be critical.

To sustain the success of these exciting trends, operators must effectively address the severe staff turnover.

Restaurant owners must keep up with new and upcoming trends to thrive and succeed. It’s the best way to offer regulars an exceptional dining experience and entice potential customers searching for a new dining adventure.



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Nestor Gilbert

By Nestor Gilbert

Nestor Gilbert is a senior B2B and SaaS analyst and a core contributor at FinancesOnline for over 5 years. With his experience in software development and extensive knowledge of SaaS management, he writes mostly about emerging B2B technologies and their impact on the current business landscape. However, he also provides in-depth reviews on a wide range of software solutions to help businesses find suitable options for them. Through his work, he aims to help companies develop a more tech-forward approach to their operations and overcome their SaaS-related challenges.

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