We all have our fingers crossed that we have come through the worst of the pandemic. It certainly feels like better days are ahead for the restaurant industry. Restaurant owners seem to be coming out of a survival mode mindset and are beginning to evaluate what’s next.
What changes that might have seemed temporary should be made permanent? What trends should be adopted to better serve customer preferences? How is technology shaping the future of restaurants and giving brands a competitive edge?
Let’s take a look at some of the challenges facing the industry and how changing trends are helping operators work towards a better future.
The challenge: Changing customer preferences for off-site dining.
The spike in takeout and delivery orders that began with covid makes it all too easy to forget that before March 2020, customers had already started heading in this direction. Covid has certainly provided a temporary boost, but even though many guests are dining again, the trendline for off-prem continues to rise.
The trend: Ghost kitchens and changing restaurant design cater to off-premises customers.
To respond to this evolution, restaurateurs are investing in new and reinvented spaces. Ghost kitchens seem to be all the rage right now, but for good reason. These commercial kitchens, without any traditional FOH space or staff, make it easy to streamline delivery. Although they currently represent only $43 million of the restaurant industry, they are growing so rapidly that it is expected to reach $71.4 billion in five years.
Additionally, operators are redesigning existing locations and looking to invest in more space to accommodate delivery, take-out and drive-thru orders. Restaurants that already use drive-thru have started considering adding more lanes, and even table service brands that never thought of it before are seeing drive-thru as a smart investment. Additionally, they are revamping the flow and layout of the BOH to serve more drive-thru orders, as well as shrinking some dining areas to add a dedicated area where customers or delivery drivers can pick up orders.
The Challenge: The increase in restoration technology has led to disjointed results.
Carriers have added to their technology stacks over the past five years or more, but solving one problem can create another if your technologies aren’t well integrated. Managing your various technologies shouldn’t feel like an unmanageable juggling act, but it can happen when you don’t know where to look or which system to trust.
The trend: brands are focusing on refining their tech stacks.
With something created to make your work life easier, there’s no excuse if it doesn’t. Tech budgets are coming back after covid, but one of the things I’ve seen is that IT departments are spending more wisely than ever.
Restaurant owners know they can’t afford to miss out on key visibility into their operations and are reassessing the technology they have to make sure it integrates well. They also make it a high priority for new vendors.
Good integrations make reports easy to understand and use, save money by allowing employees to be more productive, and create a safer work environment. Tech for tech’s sake is out, and operators are thinking carefully about how each piece will work together and meet their business needs.
The Challenge: Strong competition for labor makes it difficult to find and retain employees.
It’s no secret that hospitality workers have been leaving the industry at a high rate over the past two years. This has resulted in a dearth of institutional knowledge and experience. At the same time, competition for labor has intensified, making it harder than ever to recruit, train and retain employees.
The trends: AI and automation will help fill labor shortages, while better wages and benefits will help fill those shortages.
We’ve been talking about artificial intelligence and automation for a few years, but recently we’ve seen the pace of their acceleration start to pick up. Catering systems are getting smarter, helping managers and employees take care of tasks like scheduling and inventory. And robots are seen in more places, both for delivery and in the BOH, while kiosks increase FOH. There are plenty of jobs humans are even better suited for, but we can’t rely on machines when it comes to filling the gaps, especially when the job market is tight.
Then, to become more competitive in this market, we’re already seeing restaurants increasing salaries and adding more benefits, two changes that I see sustainable in the long term. The combination of better recruiting and automation allows operators to find new ways to run their business and stay profitable.
I’m thrilled with the blue skies I see for the restaurant industry. We’ll always have a few clouds, but these trends show that restaurant people are some of the most innovative and adaptable people in the world, ready for what’s to come.