10 Restaurant Trends You Must Adopt To Stay Competitive

Nearly every industry in the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Business owners are continually seeking ways to break even and survive, but many others are finding ways to profit and flourish. While restaurants and hotels are facing some uncertainty at present, silver linings amidst the cloud are keeping them positive and profitable.

The F&B industry has historically been slow to adopt innovative digital solutions and technology. This changed in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced food and beverage outlets to rethink their practices. Recently, many restaurants have turned to technology, even if reluctantly, to adapt to a new reality that involves off-premise and al fresco dining, table dividers, masks, gloves, and ofcourse sanitization.

The time is ripe for restaurateurs to create their brands and reinvent their businesses. Businesses of all sizes can take advantage of the change in branding trends and reach a wider clientele.

Below are the top 10 restaurant trends in 2021 every restaurant owner should consider to stay competitive.

Single-service Packaged Meals

Between family, work, and personal life, modern consumers have gravitated toward on-the-go meals. Single-serve packaging options play an important role in the success of single-serve foods. The option gives consumers a quick choice and quick decisions save their time. There is a wide variety of single-serve packaging you can offer to customers to grab their attention. Pre-blended smoothies and wrapped sandwiches are becoming popular among regular customers. Even some eateries have been offering lunch box-style packaged meals with a main dish, an appetizer, a soup, and a dessert.

If you plan to introduce this service, you have to ensure you have high-quality packaging - there should not be any leaks or spills. Eco-friendly packaging also works very well here. The option continues to increase, and restaurant owners should plan to introduce this to their customers.

Curbside Pickup

Everyone knows the popularity of drive-through options in restaurants. The curbside is the new drive-through. Curbside allows customers to order and pay through the app, make a quick stop at the restaurant and collect the food. It is very convenient, there is no touch, and it is convenient, less time-consuming and safe.

Post-Covid, the focus of consumers is on convenience, curbside pickup is the option that provides that. It increases customer loyalty and satisfaction and hence you should consider this option. The restaurant chain, Target, makes about 4 to 5% of its sales from the curbside and expects higher revenue in the future. Other popular restaurant chains like The Cheesecake Factory, Potbelly, Taco Bell, Starbucks and Dunkin’ have gradually introduced Curbside Pickup. Learn more about setting up a successful Curbside Pickup here.

Virtual Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens

Virtual kitchens meet the demand of a digital world. The delivery option is on the rise, and if we trust the statistics, the delivery demand has increased by 150% between 2019 and 2020. Experts believe the numbers will increase much faster from here. Ghost kitchens are capitalizing on the rising popularity of delivery options.

Another reason why the ghost kitchen will grow is because of lower overhead costs and low space requirements. For all the above reasons, you will see a lot of ghost kitchens in the coming years. With more than 220 ghost kitchens, Nathan's Famous is now more popular than ever. Nathan's Famous has doubled the number of ghost kitchens it operates in just 13 months.

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Customized Meal Kits

One of the most innovative ideas that the restaurant industry has seen in the past couple of years is meal kits. This option makes it a lot easier for consumers to cook and enjoy meals as per liking. At the start of the concept, the meal kits sent the recipe and ingredients, and customers had to cook everything themselves.

Now, pre-made meal kits have become popular that come with pre-cooked food and require no or minimal preparation from customers' end. Customers prefer meal kits as it gives the option to have diverse, delicious, and interesting dinners without much effort. There is also no leftover as the kits are highly customized. Customers also get ingredients that are otherwise hard to find.

Social Media Presence

Whether you are from the restaurant industry or any other industry, having a social media presence is something you cannot afford to miss. Being on social media is different from having a strong presence. A lot of restaurants are using social media to become a brand and they are using the customers to do that for them. You have to use social media to have an edge over your competition. Popular restaurant chains like Dominos, Starbucks, and McDonald’s put huge effort into social media marketing.

Through their social media accounts, McDonald's advertises new products, promotes sweepstakes, and gets reports on community engagement. By leveraging the speed of social media, they're able to keep in touch with their customers through timely and relevant campaigns. Through Instagram, McDonald's offers a forum for its customers to share their McDonald's experiences.

Online Ordering and Delivery

As mentioned in one of the earlier points, the top priority for today's consumers is convenience and you have to ensure you are offering it to them. Online ordering and delivery make it very easy for consumers to have outside food in the comfort of their homes. Moreover, with the COVID still around, a lot of customers will want to stay home and have minimal contact with other persons. Online ordering does exactly that for them. It is not just about the customers, even restaurant owners have many advantages with this system and hence more and more owners are adopting it.

The owners can easily manage the order through an efficient customer and order management system. As most consumers are still hesitant about a dine-in option, restaurant owners need to have online ordering and delivery services for their customers. One such popular online ordering system is Restolabs which offers important features like Multiple Delivery Controls, Real-time Order Notifications, Custom Branded Ordering options, QR Code Ordering and more.

Simple Menus

A very basic but important point that can increase your sales significantly. Having simple menus is in trend now. Almost all menus cram far more dishes on the table than diners want. Columbia University conducted a study that revealed that people actually prefer fewer choices to make the selection process simpler. With repeat customers accounting for nearly 70% of sales in this industry, getting diners to return is paramount.

Too many choices not only create 'diner confusion' for diners, but also overwhelm the staff and make it difficult for the chefs to keep up with varying orders. Chipotle and Five Guys are two good examples of successful fast-casual chains that focus on a particular cuisine. Similarly, LongHorn Steakhouse, over time eliminated nearly 30% of its menu offerings, and focused on what it did best i.e. steak, and saw a 3.8% increase in same-store sales at the steakhouse in one quarter alone.

Drive-In Restaurant Service

Drive-in restaurant is one where customers can drive into the restaurant's space and order food. Customers have a menu board next to their car. They can use the intercom system to order food and pay using the credit card machine. As business owners seek creative and innovative ways to survive during the new normal, drive-in restaurants are gaining a significant resurgence in the US.

As customers are more comfortable in their own space, the drive-in restaurant service is something that is surely going to pick up in the coming years. One of the many fast food companies that benefited from the shift to drive-ins was Checkers and Rally's. The company has more than 800 locations throughout the country that feature double drive-thrus. The company set a record for same-store sales gains in 2020, setting the stage for significant growth.

Meal Subscription Services

This is quite similar to the meal kit option we have discussed above. It allows the customer to choose the meals from their favourite restaurants for 5 to 7 days of the week. They can either get the meal delivered at home or pick it up from the restaurant. The customers get fully prepared food in meal subscription services. As most people are busy maintaining a work-life balance, the option comes in very handy. Consumers prefer this option since they only have to choose a plan as per their taste and then not worry about what to have for the next week or even a month.

Southeast Asian restaurant Gado Gado offer takeout meal subscriptions and they had a lot of success with meals that weren’t really a regular on the menu. The restaurant served around 30 people during its first round of subscriptions, in December 2020.

QR Code Menus

Again on the line of convenience and Covid, this option is gaining popularity like no other. When you give QR code menus to customers, they don't have to wait for someone to share the menu card. Also, it reduces their contact with external objects and hence increases safety. Many restaurants have already started doing it and the number will increase as customers have really liked the concept.

According to Jack Serfass, CEO of food and beverage software company Uptown Network, the future is digital and more sustainable, he said in a conversation with Digital Trends. “I don’t think paper menus are coming back. Post-pandemic, I think we will see more tablet menus with guests having a choice of a sanitized tablet or their phone.”

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It is always possible to find a silver lining in a crisis. Despite the disruption in business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this disruption has also awoken many F&B professionals to re-imagine the restaurant industry by accelerating technology trends, fast-tracking change, and delivering different restaurant experiences.

For restaurants, technology presents a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to operate their businesses efficiently. Therefore, it allows restaurateurs, whether in-house or off-premise, to focus on delivering delicious food and new dining experiences. This certainly turns out to be a win-win situation in the long run!