The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we dine. For a time, people were confined to their homes, relying on food delivery apps for their favorite restaurant fare. When economies finally reopened, food establishments had to implement safety protocols that promote sanitation and physical distancing. Some of these changes are bound to stick as societies embrace normalcy amid the ongoing pandemic. Foremost of which is the use of technology like restaurant management software and safety practices.
A study suggests that, on average, it takes 66 days for an activity to become a habit (Healthline, 2019). The global populace has been dining with the pandemic for nearly two years and counting. With this, certain practices have become new norms for both restaurants and the dining public. And the latest trends focus on either maintaining these practices or building on them. To go with those, a shift in menu options and sizes is also expected.
We have compiled 10 of the latest restaurant software trends that industry experts believe will define today’s global dining scene.
The food and beverage industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 110,000 restaurants in the United States closing long-term in December 2020 (Seattle Times, 2020). Fast forward to the last quarter of 2021 and the National Restaurant Association predicts that the total 2021 food and beverage sales in the US will reach $789 billion, a 19.7% increase from the previous year (National Restaurant Association, 2021). It is safe to say that the dining scene has rebounded from the damage caused by the pandemic.
Globally, the dining scene follows the same upward trend. From an estimated $3 trillion in 2020, the market size of the global foodservice industry is projected to reach $4.1 trillion in 2026, with an annual growth rate of 5.4% (Global Industry Analysts, 2021). Food delivery comes as a major driver of that growth, as it forced full-service restaurants to adapt and offer the service if they are to survive.
Moreover, the reopening of global economies affords restaurants revenue streams from reservations and walk-in consumers, on top of their income from deliveries. The dining public is now used to the COVID-related health and safety protocols, so following them has become second nature. Likewise, the habits they have formed in procuring food have become the standard.
The restaurant software trends and industry expectations in 2022 are shaped by these experiences. Existing processes stand to receive upgrades while newer ones are expected to appear in lieu of those changes.
Limiting face-to-face interactions is key to keeping diners safe from COVID-19, which is why some establishments have opted to go contactless. There are several ways to reduce human contact, and the most prevalent one is contactless ordering. Restaurants go about it in a variety of ways, from accessing the menu through a scannable QR code to ordering through a website or a mobile app. Some even leverage technology for both ordering and payments.
Besides keeping diners safe, the presence of contactless ordering grants customers peace of mind. In fact, 81% of customers feel safer with it and 82% feel the same about contactless payments (Datassential, 2020). As such, the demand for contactless processes has grown considerably, and many restaurants, in turn, have responded to the call.
In a recent report by Square, it was revealed that 94% of US restaurants offer contactless payment options (Square, 2021). And its adoption affected operations positively. 78% of food establishments claim that there are significant benefits to using digital menus. Meanwhile, an equal share of diners enjoys ordering through QR codes.
As contactless schemes gain popularity, we can expect services to improve over time. After all, an easier ordering and payment process is the biggest area where diners want to see more technology leveraged, with 52% of adult customers asking for it (National Restaurant Association, 2021). This is higher than the demand for improved customer service (51%) and more convenient takeaway and delivery options (49%).
In any case, going contactless is poised to become the new norm.
Source: Datassential 2020, Square 2021, National Restaurant Association 2021Designed by
Food delivery is probably one of the most significant restaurant trends during COVID. Fastfood restaurants heavily relied on it while their full-service counterparts were likewise obligated to offer food delivery options. As such, the global market of food delivery services is valued at over $150 billion, more than three times larger than what it was in 2017 (McKinsey, 2021). What’s more, sales from digital ordering platforms grew by a staggering 313% after the onset of COVID-19 (Paytronix, 2021).
Aside from sales, the userbase of food delivery apps also experienced tremendous growth. From having 36.4 million in 2019, the number of US users has increased to an estimated 44.1 million in 2021 and is poised to reach 53.9 million by 2023 (eMarketer, 2020). Food delivery has become almost synonymous with dining for a growing number of consumers.
The popularity of food delivery has also influenced consumer behavior to go digital. In fact, 57% of adult consumers view restaurant menus online and 44% place orders for delivery (National Restaurant Association, 2021). In addition, 65% of orders at the height of the pandemic came from first-time consumers (Paytronix, 2021). This opens up the possibility for restaurants to offer better food packages for delivery in the near future. Meanwhile, full-service restaurants will make food delivery option a critical component of their operations.
Food delivery is not the only aspect of the restaurant industry that experienced tremendous growth. Curbside pickups have been a go-to means of ordering food in all corners of the globe, especially North America. If we go by the numbers, the usage 0f curbside pickups in North America grew by 190% at the height of COVID-19 while the global average growth is 159% (Astound Commerce, 2021). It has outpaced the growth of other means of picking up food.
Now if we look at it from a financial perspective, the 2020 sales of curbside pickups and click-and-collect orders reached a whopping $72.5 billion in the United States alone (Retail Brew, 2021). Two of the reasons for curbside pickup’s success are its ease and versatility. Any retailer from any industry, including food and beverage, can adopt it without incurring major costs, particularly delivery expenses. Meanwhile, customers can pick up their orders at a convenient time and location. Moreover, a curbside pickup is a guaranteed delivery, unlike actual retail deliveries.
Given the popularity of this sales option, the US sales from click-and-collect schemes are projected to reach $140.96 billion by 2024 (eMarketer, 2021). Its adoption has also become widespread, with 43.7% of the top 245 retailers offering the mode of service (Digital Commerce 360, 2021).
With these promising figures backing up its viability, the once-humble curbside pickup option is now a certified moneymaker. It is sticking around for a long time.
Source: eMarketer 2021
Despite its recent gains in view of the onslaught of COVID-19 in 2020, the US restaurant industry is still faced with an unemployment rate of 7.5% (CNBC, 2021), far higher than the national average of 4.8%. It is not only because of the lack of jobs, but a lot of workers are also not willing to work, given that unemployment benefits are better and COVID-19 is still around. To deal with this concern, a lot of restaurants turned to smart technology to keep their operations running, and it has paid them dividends.
According to recent restaurant trend data, almost three out of four owners believe that smart technology is part of the solution to address the labor problem (Square, 2021). In addition, nearly two out of three owners say that having an automated system fills the gaps in online ordering workflows. With seamless operations comes an increase in orders, and such is the case for Blaze Pizza, which saw a 150% increase in online orders after upgrading its tech (QSR, 2019).
With the benefits of smart tech established, 32% of restaurants think that they might need more technology (Beekeeper, 2021). After all, with the vast range of restaurant management applications available, they can digitize in-store and online orders, shorten process times, and monitor employees, among many others.
Diners have also taken a liking to smart restaurant technology. Seventy-nine percent of them prefer to use online kiosks instead of coursing their orders through a human server (Square, 2021). Moreover, 18% of diners use mobile pay to settle their meals and 17% have experienced using tablets to order in-store (National Restaurant Association, 2021).
In a nutshell, anything that benefits both producers and consumers is bound to become a permanent solution.
The ubiquity of food deliveries birthed a trend that is gaining popularity among chefs and restaurant owners—ghost kitchens. These operations feature multiple brands preparing food in a shared compound for food deliveries. Having a ghost kitchen allows restaurants to focus more on serving in-store customers, potentially reducing wait times and order errors. As such, it has gained a lot of traction globally.
Valued at $43.1 billion in 2019, the global cloud kitchen industry is projected to be worth $71.4 billion by 2027, with a staggering annual growth rate of 12% (Valuates Reports, 2021). The impressive projection speaks volumes on the popularity of food deliveries because ghost kitchens are reliant on food delivery apps. Moreover, it is a phenomenon that is taking place around the world, with the Asia Pacific posting the highest growth rate among all regions.
By 2030, ghost kitchens are expected to gain a significant share of the foodservice market; specifically, 50% of drive-thru food service, 50% of takeaway food service, and 35% of ready meals (PDFCOFFEE, 2020). Moreover, ghost kitchens would likely account for 21% of the US restaurant industry by 2025 (CBRE, 2021).
In a global society still haunted by a virus, it is only natural for diners to look for healthier meals. Unfortunately, not everyone views restaurant fare as healthy food. In the US, 40% of diners believe that the dishes they eat in restaurants are less healthy than those they consume at home (The Hartman Group, 2021). As such, 32% of consumers practiced healthier eating habits in 2020 (International Food Information Council, 2020).
This partly led to an uptick in the popularity of plant-based foods. From 2018 to 2020, sales of these items grew 2.5 times faster than food in general (Good Food Institute, 2021). Some restaurants, in turn, have responded to the call for healthier options. One such example is the surprising 149% increase in fermented foods on restaurant menus in 2020 (Upserve, 2020).
Interestingly, another reason why restaurants are expected to serve healthier meals has less to do about health and more about costs. The prices of “unhealthy” commodities have skyrocketed, led by fat and oils (42.2%), beef (41.4%), pork (32.7%), and processed poultry (27.4%) (National Restaurant Association, 2021). At a time when returns have yet to reach pre-pandemic numbers, food places are likely to serve meals with more affordable ingredients.
Furthermore, the plan to eat healthy goes in line with a common problem work-from-home employees face—the lack of physical activity. In having a sedentary lifestyle, they are more likely to pack up the pounds, which in turn, can make them more prone to serious diseases.
Source: National Restaurant Association 2021
The front pages of food delivery apps have a habit of displaying food items of various cuisines, especially those that have promos. As a result, users develop an interest in these meals, including those that they didn’t normally crave for prior to the pandemic. This is where ethnic cuisine enters the picture. For instance, Pan Asian and Middle Eastern dishes have been generating attention lately and could likely trend in 2022. In lieu of this, restaurants could expand their menus to accommodate more ethnic dishes.
In 2020, Mexican food was the leader of the pack as the favorite in 27 US states, followed by Chinese food (22), and Thai food (2) (Chef’s Pencil, 2020). However, when it comes to search popularity, Chinese was at the top with a score of 64, followed by Mexican (59), Italian (38), Thai (24), and Indian (11). Restaurants are seen to bank on the popularity of these cuisines in creating new items.
Another source of inclusive food options is the ongoing trend of catering to specific eating habits. A slew of diets has become newsworthy in 2020, led by plant-based diets, which gained the attention of 22% of consumers, gluten-free diets (16%), ketogenic diets (15%), low carb diets (14%), and vegan diets (13%) (International Food Information Council, 2020). This would make diners gravitate toward cuisines that fulfill these diets’ requisites. For example, Vietnamese and Greek meals are heavy on vegetables and other natural ingredients while Japanese cuisine is known for its scintillating seafood dishes.
Source: International Food Information Council, 2020
Being environment-friendly has been in fashion in the restaurant industry for several years now, and it would likely continue to be one of the prevalent restaurant trends in 2022. The surge in food deliveries meant that dining places would have to prepare disposable containers for their products as opposed to serving them on washable plates and glasses. This contributed to a 30% increase in residential waste (Republic Services, 2020). Moreover, 60% of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s have been discarded in landfills or in nature (UN Environment Programme, n.d.).
Thankfully, the green trend has already started as 23% of startups recognize the significance of earth-friendly practices following COVID-19 (SmartBrief, 2020). The preference for environment-friendly practices also extends to consumers, with 67% of customers thinking that it is important for product packaging to be recyclable (Trivium Packaging, 2021). Younger consumers account for a large share of those who advocate for green practices. In fact, 83% of young patrons are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.
As for the recycling rate of items used for food packaging, metal leads the way with 64%, followed by glass (32%), liquid cartons (26%), and plastic (14%) (Trivium Packaging, 2021). This means metal straws and carton containers will continue to be popular items in 2022 and beyond.
Furthermore, the presence of earth-friendly materials has been influencing consumer purchases. Two-thirds of customers changed their buying habits in relation to sustainable packaging (Food Dive, 2020). How so? Food Dive’s report details that 58% of consumers are likely or very likely to buy goods with recyclable or reusable packaging.
Source: Trivium Packaging 2021
Big menus cost more and lead to more food wastage. To limit expenses at a time when the global restaurant industry is still recovering from the pandemic, smaller menus will be in season. Besides bigger savings, a shorter list of offerings allows cooks to refine their techniques to improve the quality of dishes.
Quality is a big deal in the food and beverage industry. A study by Toast shows that 50% of customers cited it as the leading factor for them to return to a restaurant, more than attention to cleanliness and safety (43%), value (31%), and menu options (27%) (Toast, 2020). While physically returning to a food establishment might not be possible for some countries or cities, these restaurant statistics can translate to consumer behavior when ordering food online.
Restaurants would likely keep fast-moving items and those with fewer and simpler ingredients to keep costs low and profitability high. In addition, some of the ingredients found in one dish are also used in others, reducing wastage and spoilage in the process. Chefs can even create new dishes out of versatile main ingredients to generate excitement while maintaining a utilitarian approach to meals.
As restaurants and their customers turn to the virtual realm for dining due to the pandemic, it makes the most sense for food establishments to focus their promotions on social media. With this, 92% of restaurants intend to increase their community engagement efforts (Square, 2021), central to which is their social media presence. After all, 27% of guests discover restaurants through Facebook, 25% through social media overall, and 18% on Instagram (Toast, 2020).
Besides Facebook, food establishments are projected to increase their usage of Instagram. Recent restaurant trends reveal that 35% of millennial diners shy away from food sellers with a weak Instagram presence (Social Media Today, 2020). In addition, 50% of Instagram users showed increased interest in a brand after seeing an ad on the platform (Boston Hospitality Review, 2021). It goes to show that investing in appetizing food photos is a good idea in this day and age.
More than Instagram, however, it would be wise for fast-casual restaurants to leverage the most downloaded app of 2021, TikTok, for their promotions. According to a recent survey by MGH, 36% of diners have ordered or visited a restaurant after viewing a TikTok video about the establishment (MGH, 2021). What’s more, 55% of users plan to go to a restaurant after seeing an appealing TikTok food video. Likewise, 51% of users intend to visit a food establishment upon seeing new menu items on the platform.
Source: Square 2021, Brand Hospitality Review 2021, MGH 2021, Toast 2020Designed by
COVID-19 has been the world’s most impactful disruptor as it changed the face of operations in various industries—and the food and beverage industry is no exception.
The boom in food deliveries in 2020 will not only persist in 2022 but will lead restaurants to offer or bolster delivery menus and packages as well. From this trend comes the rise of other innovations like ghost kitchens and curbside pickups, both of which foster efficiency and reduce costs. Meanwhile, the increased demand for delivered goods has resulted in an uptick in residential waste, which springs up the need for environment-friendly packaging.
In-store dining will also receive its share of changes, from contactless processes to the contents of meals. Restaurants are foreseen to leverage technology and add healthier options to menus to keep diners safe from COVID-19. In addition, meals will be planned with cost-effectiveness in mind to maximize returns and minimize liabilities.
So, in a nutshell, the latest restaurant software trends and industry data tap into the benefits of the digital realm while maintaining or coming up with new ways to keep us and the environment healthier. Since many of these have already brought success to establishments, they will likely stay even after the pandemic.
In lieu of the digital realm, technology has been developed to enhance a restaurant’s sales and ordering workflow. These platforms also potentially improve staff management and customer service. That said, you might want to check out our guide on choosing the best restaurant point of sale software.
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