The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has further enforced that the only constant element in the restaurant industry is change. At the start of each year a new set of trends emerge that prompt restaurant owners to quickly evaluate and decide which ones make sense for their business. It’s important that restaurants always remain nimble enough to adapt to changing consumer preferences relating to dining experience, delivery service, menu items, and other business models. Staying ahead of the curve and on the pulse of these ever-shifting customer expectations can help to drive steady revenue during a very unpredictable time for the industry.
Takeout and delivery
It’s become apparent that the demand for takeout and delivery from restaurants is here to stay for the foreseeable future. With revenue in the online food delivery segment projected to reach $26.527 million in 2020, it’s a savvy move for owners and operators to continue to make this arm of their business a high priority in the upcoming year. No-contact meal pickups and deliveries are an option that many customers have come to expect from restaurants during COVID-19. If doable, place tables inside your restaurant’s entrance area where customers can pick up their online orders in a contactless (not interacting with any other person) environment. Other health initiatives can include cashless payments, hand sanitizing stations at the front door, and limiting the amount of people allowed inside to pick up their order at any one time.
Even when indoor dining capacity restrictions lift or change, many people may be wary to dine inside a restaurant right away, so it’s a good idea to plan for increased off-premise orders well into 2021. This means offering expanded to-go menu options—selecting your best-selling dishes that travel well—that are cost effective and revenue inducing, while remaining true to your brand. Consider releasing seasonal specials that tie in specific flavors and iconic dishes people enjoy around that time of year to tap into the emotions and nostalgia that’s associated with certain foods. The more seamless and stress-free of an experience you can make ordering peoples’ favorite dishes for them, the more apt they are to forgo the cooking and support local restaurants.
Another revenue generator that has been highlighted amidst the pandemic is to-go meal kits and online “grocery stores.” With many people still hesitant to enter the grocery store on a regular basis, it’s a smart idea to carve out a new revenue stream with these options in 2021. Even throughout this year, restaurants have garnered success with offering meal kit options for takeout/delivery. The key is to keep it simple by offering ingredients and dishes that you know will travel well and will be fairly straightforward for customers to recreate in their own homes. For example, if your steak tacos and house-made guacamole are one of your best sellers, consider offering a take-home taco night kit complete with all the portioned fresh ingredients and toppings. Also, throughout 2021 customers will continue to enjoy special milestones and holidays during coronavirus, although their gatherings may look a bit different than usual, good food will still be at the heart of the celebration. Consider solving for this customer pain point by curating and selling celebration and holiday inspired takeout family meal kits. Check out our blog, “Prepare for the holiday season during COVID-19,” for holiday-focused to-go meal kit inspiration.
Similarly, other restaurants have tested launching online grocery stores that sell prepared foods, cocktails, fresh produce, eggs, meat/seafood, and more directly to customers. Offering curbside pickup for orders on specific days can make it quick and easy for customers to purchase and obtain pantry and household staple items. Pair this tactic with other health initiatives such as cashless payments, hand sanitizing stations at the front door, and limiting the amount of people allowed inside to pick up their order at any one time. Many consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic appreciate that restaurant owners are modifying the usual on-premise restaurant interactions and will continue to look for these health/safety measures when choosing a restaurant next year.
Food and beverage trends
As we look to food trends in the upcoming year, healthy and sustainable options are taking center stage. Possibly influenced by the increased stress and anxiety that comes along with a global pandemic, consumers are predicted to shift their priorities to a more healthful and wellness-driven diet. In fact, a survey found that 54% of all consumers care more about the healthfulness of their food and beverage choices in 2020 than they did in 2010. This knowledge will be key for restaurant owners as they plan their 2021 dine-in and takeout/delivery menus. Consider adding more veggie-forward foods and alternative proteins to your menus since 56% of global consumers are trying to eat more plant-based foods and beverages. On the flipside, some restaurants are seeing success with offering comfort food options during this uncomfortable time such as sandwiches, mac and cheese, and fries. These foods are sure to remain a customer favorite in the year to come as a recent study found that two in three Americans are reverting to childhood food favorites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. Plus, these types of foods travel well for takeout/delivery.
The ingredients that are predicted to be trending next year—mushrooms, herbs, roots, chickpeas, and unique cooking oils—also lean heavily on the health benefits. By making these types of foods and ingredients a focus of the new year, you may open your business up to a whole new potential pool of patrons such as flexitarians, vegetarians, pescatarians, and vegans. Beverage trends in 2021 continue to hinge on flavorful craft mocktails. As more people adapt a sober-curious lifestyle, restaurants are getting creative behind the bar by curating decadent booze-free cocktails that feature an effervescent mixture of herbs, fruits, florals, and spices.
Sustainability will be another key factor in peoples’ decisions on where to spend their money next year. With more and more consumers becoming conscious of supporting businesses that positively impact the environment, it’s crucial for restaurants to adopt sustainable practices. Perhaps you can invest in biodegradable and recyclable to-go containers and utensils. Or maybe you aim to make 2021 the year of low waste at your establishment by drastically reducing any frivolous packaging and repurposing food scraps when possible. Whichever way your restaurant chooses to implement this trend, it’s clear that customers are paying attention to their and the environment’s wellbeing now more than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited many challenges for the restaurant industry, which have led owners and operators to adopt innovative ways of remaining lucrative during these trying times. As you look ahead to 2021 it’s important to remain aware and on top of the upcoming trends so that you can plan to capitalize on these changes right away. An increased demand for takeout/delivery options is becoming a must for restaurants to generate revenue during the pandemic. Specifically, to-go meal kits and online markets have seen heightened success and are a creative means to garner extra dollars when on-premise dining is no longer your main source of income. And, as consumers begin to prioritize their mental and physical wellness, along with our planet’s health, restaurants should seriously consider implementing more plant-based and sustainable menu options and business practices. As you enter the new year, don’t shy away from testing different trends and strategies to discover what initiatives spur the largest spike in revenue and brand awareness for your business.
Be sure to regularly visit our free resource section dedicated to advising restaurants on how to navigate the changing rules and regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.