Restaurant Industry Trends You Need to Watch Out For in 2021

Serine Alejandro

October 21, 2021
restaurant industry trends


Key Takeaways

  • The restaurant industry has been gravely affected by lockdown measures during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • These restaurant business trends for 2021 will serve as an eye-opener for owners who are still struggling to adapt to the new normal.
  • With 110,000 restaurants permanently shutting their doors in 2020, chefs will either start their own business or become personal chefs to prominent individuals.

When the COVID-19 health crisis started, many businesses struggled to support their daily operations. The government’s call to enact lockdown measures hit the vulnerabilities of brick-and-mortar stores, forcing them to shut down longer than expected.

In the case of restaurant businesses, owners who survived months of financial distress were able to find ways to deliver their commitment to customers. Now, even as certain lockdown implementations are being lifted, restaurateurs are getting creative to find ways to adapt to the new normal and effectively manage their finances.

The new restaurant trends listed below are some of the most up-to-date insights on how owners can recalibrate their strategies to keep afloat during this incredibly challenging time. From improving in-house sanitation to adding food delivery services, these current trends in the restaurant industry will help restaurateurs map out their next course of action as they fight to stay in business.

What are the new restaurant industry trends?

1. Consumers continue to become more health-conscious

The New Food Magazine online cited a study conducted by global market research firm FMCG Gurus, that revealed 73% of consumers said they plan to eat and drink healthier because they are concerned about getting ill during the coronavirus pandemic. Consumers are eating healthier to boost their immunity and prevent forms of illness.

According to a 2020 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, 54% of all consumers and 63% of people aged 50 and above said they care more about their diet in 2020 than they did ten years ago.

Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan, President of Sloan Trends, Inc. and Contributing Editor to Food Technology and Nutraceuticals World magazine, has said that there’s a widespread fad for the “food as medicine” movement.

In a piece from International Food Technology (IFT) titled, “What Food Trends will Define 2021,” IFT deduces that, “Buying foods for specific health benefits will continue to outpace selecting foods with more passive health positionings – such as organic, clean, local, etc. With younger consumers embracing functional foods, new and unique health-promoting ingredients and superfoods will be a strong draw for consumers.”

2. Ghost kitchens and on-demand food deliveries will be game-changers

Restaurant businesses saw the opportunity to reduce occupancy costs as well as labor by pivoting to takeout, delivery, or curbside pickup models. Fast-food chains such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have eradicated their dining rooms to pave the way for a more seamless drive-through-heavy approach.

Research by Technomic revealed that 40% of residents in the United States utilized takeout and curbside delivery during the pandemic; two-thirds of the respondents highlighted that they will continue to do so even if lockdown measures or any form of dine-in restrictions are lifted.

Use McDonald’s as an example. The fast-food giant went all-in on implementing drive-through protocols to eliminate in-store dining and reduce operational costs – all while keeping customers safe. McDonald’s was able to get back on its feet after shutting its doors when the pandemic started.

To date, McDonald’s is reporting strong fourth-quarter earnings, with tremendous same-store sales growth in 10 years. This comes after the retail food giant became a more digitally enabled organization through the roll-out of mobile ordering.

McDonald’s also engaged in a strategic partnership with Uber Eats and utilized AI technology to keep up with demands.

As the restaurant industry continues to take advantage of food delivery services, more restaurants are expected to use ghost or virtual kitchens where there are no dine-in options. These facilities are set to produce food that is only available for curbside, pick-up, or delivery purposes only.

A separate study conducted by Euromonitor titled, “Ghost Kitchens, Virtual Restaurants, and a Delivery-Optimized Future,” predicts that ghost kitchens have the potential to create a $1 trillion global market by 2030.

As more brands tap into food deliveries and online ordering services, there’s a possibility for restaurants to further shrink in size and focus on creating better digital services for demanding customers.

3. Grocery shopping is also evolving

Grocery store owners who have not pivoted to a more digital model should consider it. A recent survey from Good Eggs, Inc. found that 68% of consumers ordered their goods online and had them delivered to their homes between March and August of 2020.

Of that 68%, 43% (nearly half) ordered groceries online two or more times per month. 81% of this group said they will continue to shop for groceries online even once the pandemic is over.

The survey added that preference is not the primary motivation of consumers when ordering online. People were found to have their groceries delivered online mainly because it’s the more convenient option for them, especially during lockdown periods.

How a company values its employees is a driving factor when choosing where to get their groceries online.

Bentley Hall, CEO of Good Eggs, said: “There is an enormous market opportunity for companies that deliver convenience, peak quality, and have authentic values. Customers are eager to move beyond the services that appear to be increasingly indifferent about their people and the integrity of their food.”

This study is backed by another research conducted by Coresight Research, which stated that 52% of its 1,152 U.S. consumer respondents bought groceries online, which is more than double the number of shoppers from two years ago.

The report added that there is also greater cross-category shopping in 2020 where consumers bought an average of 5.0 grocery categories online. Last year’s average was only at 4.4. What this means is that consumers are exploring more products in other categories and slowly moving away from occasional one-off purchases.

4. Personal chefs are growing in demand

As people were enforced to stay home due to lockdown implementations, they were given the opportunity to use their cooking skills as they are forced to prepare their meals at home. Furthermore, the high rate of restaurant closures paved the way for out-of-work chefs to start their own ventures and deliver pre-made meals to stuck-at-home consumers.

The United States Personal Chef Association estimates that there are at least 5,000 personal chefs working across the country who bring in-home dining experiences to customers.

Personal chefs who have been in the practice even prior to the pandemic might soon find more competition for customers as more restaurants shut down.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 128,190 chefs and head cooks employed in the United States last year. With more than 110,000 restaurants having to shut down permanently due to the impact of the health crisis, more experienced chefs are eyed to offer their services to home dining enthusiasts or set up their own meal prep businesses.

Does this mean that personal chefs will be replacing fine-dining experiences in brick-and-mortar restaurants? Probably not. But as long as the coronavirus pandemic is still here, people will turn to outsource their meals from personal chefs who could offer them a slice of what a luxurious dinner looks like–at a place where it’s safer to dine: at home.

5. Online meal kit deliveries are in

Many food business owners have started offering online meal kit delivery services to hungry consumers. In a study conducted by Statista, meal kit revenue is expected to grow to more than 7.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2024, which is a three-fold boom from 2.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2017.

Online meal delivery services offer a convenient way for consumers to eat healthy food while eliminating the need to shop for groceries. This is particularly helpful for people who have no time to prepare their meals at home or even plan their weekly groceries.

The concept is not entirely new: meal kit delivery services have been around since 2012 and it’s only until the pandemic when people started recognizing the need to enjoy its services. Not only that, more entrepreneurs tried their knack at producing pre-cooked meals to consumers without hurting their budget.

While almost a third of the respondents in a Bloomberg News and Morning Consult survey said that they plan to cook at home even once home orders are lifted, a separate study by OnePoll on behalf of meal kit company Sun basket revealed that 55% of its 2,000 U.S. respondents left consumers feeling fatigued after cooking so many meals at home.

Is the restaurant industry growing?

With a new kind of normal taking shape in the food and restaurant industries, it’s expected for business owners to adapt to the changes to keep themselves afloat. These changes bring with them tremendous growth challenges, but these can be addressed as soon as food operators pivot their business to a more digital model.

As consumers continue to stay at home and prefer a more digital approach to getting their needs–may it be groceries or meal packages–restaurant owners should be able to take advantage of stricter home rules and slowly revamp their business to adapt to the changing times.

Serine Alejandro
Serine is a graduate of Journalism from one of the most prestigious universities. She has broad experience in public relations and marketing communications for the lifestyle, travel, tech, and banking industries. She is now a co-owner of a growing condiments business, a manager of her family’s pharmacy, and a full-time writer for SMB Compass.

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