The trend-driven nature of restaurants means that restaurateurs are often forced to look up from their long to-do lists and keep a pulse on what’s happening in the industry. With the global pandemic that is currently hitting small businesses hardest, and restaurants and bars in particular, it’s more important than ever to keep up with the restaurant industry trends customers are looking for.

2020 Restaurant Industry Trends

1. The Rise of Online Ordering

According to the National Restaurant Association, three in five U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout at least once a week. 

Statista has pulled data that shows that this number will only grow, projecting online ordering for restaurants to be a 32.2 billion dollar segment by 2024. They also predict:

  • Revenue in the online food delivery segment will reach $26.5 billion by the end of 2020.
  • The market’s largest segment is Restaurant-to-Consumer Delivery with a projected market volume of $15.6 billion in 2020.
  • 25-34-year-olds will be the largest segment to use online ordering (32%) with 34-44-year-olds in second (24%).

While direct delivery from restaurants still reigns supreme, the crowded third-party app space is getting creative with their approach to attract new diners to their platforms. According to Restaurant Business, subscription models that eliminate per-delivery fees in favor of a flat-rate subscription will emerge to present a clearer value proposition for consumers. This restaurant industry trend could provide a true competitive edge for third-party delivery apps that need to make an impression on those interested in ordering delivery.

2. Consumers Spending Consciously

In 2020, the word transparency holds a different meaning than it has in recent years. Instead of simply sharing the local farm where you buy your beef and chicken, your guests are interested in a transparency message that goes beyond sourcing details.

This multi-faceted approach will start with manufacturers and operators, which Restaurant Business expects will have customers demanding full transparency on:

  • Health and sanitization practices
  • Pricing, revealing true net costs and unbundled costs as well as corporate performance
  • Emphasizing fair trade, diversity, living wages, and executive compensation
  • Publicizing their real environmental impact, conservation initiatives, and progressive stance on animal welfare 
  • Eco-friendly restaurant industry trends like zero waste kitchens and plant-based menu items will attract conscious consumers that are willing to spend their hard-earned cash in like-minded establishments

3. Wellness Warriors Enter the Industry

While functional foods have been all the rage in the wellness industry, they have recently become a mainstream trend in the restaurant industry. Functional ingredients that are naturally present in foods—like the gut-healthy probiotics in kombucha or calming derivative in CBD oil—have consumers interested in healing from the inside with every meal.

Ben Aalvik is the co-owner of Fully Rooted, a raw cold-pressed juice and kombucha company based in Providence, Rhode Island. Ben has been brewing his own kombucha since 2010, but didn’t introduce it to his pressed juice business until 2017. “We started selling cold-pressed juices in 2013. When a lot of markets started carrying kombucha in 2016, we knew it was a good time to start,” he says.

Guests eating a big meal at a restaurant

4. Cultivating Culture to Fight Employee Turnover

Before his passing in 2018, Anthony Bourdain bestowed some wisdom onto a group of Culinary Institute of America students in a December 2017 commencement speech. The restaurant industry icon acknowledged the abusive systems that are present in many restaurant kitchens where hazing is commonplace.

“The quality of life has to, has to, improve,” Bourdain told the students about to enter the workforce. “As chefs, as leaders, as employers, we are going to have to address this in a serious way.”

The official Bureau of Labor Statistics turnover rate for the restaurant sector was 81.9% for the 2015–2017 period, but industry estimates are over 150%, and as most restaurant owners know, the problem had only been getting worse, even pre-COVID-19. As the #MeToo movement hit the industry in 2018, there’s no more “that’s just how it is” in response to harassment and lack of benefits for workers. From high profile restaurant empires to small town dining establishments, tolerance has decreased and expectations are higher than ever for workplace culture in restaurants.

High Street Hospitality offers tools for career growth for all levels at its restaurants, Fork Restaurant, A.Kitchen, and High Street, including mentoring, training, and formal coaching programs. The group focuses on hiring from within, but co-founder and CEO Ellin Lin told Skift Table that they provide aid for new recruits who are entering the industry for the first time.

“It’s great you make people know you are there to support them, but it’s not that easy,” Lin said. “So we’ve looked at all different programs. For example, one of our chefs believes if you’re bringing in young CIA grads to a new city, you have to indoctrinate them into adult life and find that family support system, because it doesn’t really exist for them.”

In addition to healthcare, job listings for restaurants in the group tout “an open environment where mutual respect to all members is essential.” More benefits that are often unheard of in the industry are also offered to workers: 401(k), transportation, and a women’s roundtable to help support careers of all staff—men included.

This progress in the restaurant industry means that owners and managers will feel the pressure to put culture first and offer their hard workers benefits, a stable environment, and opportunities for growth.

Upserve POS on Android

5. The Restaurant Tech Takeover

As restaurants strive to provide a frictionless experience for consumers, restaurant technology companies are aiming to do the same for restaurant operators. All-in-one restaurant management platforms have become more than just a restaurant industry trend, but are now considered an essential valuable tool for restaurant owners and managers to integrate point-of-sale, analytics, online ordering, inventory management, and more, allowing them more time to pay attention to their guests and watch for emerging trends that could make their business the next big thing.

As chef and owner of COPA, the nation’s first farm-to-table living wage-certified Cuban restaurant, Roberto Copa Matos knows the importance of cultivating quality in all areas of business.  The strategy of sustainable agriculture that the former biochemist practices at the full-service Durham, North Carolina, restaurant he owns with his wife, Elizabeth Turnbull, trickles down to the way the couple manages all aspects of the restaurant from staff to menu to technology: Reduce waste of both product and time, and provide guests with the highest quality experience possible.

Aside from expanding responsibilities with a farm and sustainable practices to support a larger menu of both lunch and dinner, plus cocktails, Copa Matos and Turnbull also had to tackle the new ownership and management duties that came with opening a full-service restaurant that doubled seating and added a full bar.

To keep up with new demands, upgrading their restaurant management platform was a top priority. They chose Upserve, a cloud-based restaurant management platform that boasts point-of-sale, inventory, online ordering, loyalty programs, a mobile app, and payment processing.

“We had worked with a couple different options at our previous location, but we knew that this concept was bigger, it was more complicated, we had more moving parts, and we needed something that could really address each of those needs,” Turnbull says. “Roberto, in his previous life, was a biochemist. So what he does best of all is research and gather information and sort through that. When he did, he just really felt like Upserve products would be able to meet all of our needs at a price point that we would be able to afford.”

The investment was a no-brainer.

“Starting a restaurant is hard enough,” she says, “so anything you can have that makes your life easier, I think is worthwhile.”

COPA in Durham, NC

How to Keep up with Restaurant Industry Trends

While some aspects of this business are evergreen, restaurant industry trends are always on the horizon and the most successful restaurants seek out ways to stay ahead of the competition. By keeping up with new and emerging restaurant trends, restaurateurs have the opportunity to offer their regulars a new experience and attract new diners looking for adventure.

1. Read restaurant industry blogs

There are hundreds—possibly thousands—of restaurant industry blogs that are eagerly waiting to be read by restaurateurs like you. We made a list of some of our favorite restaurant management blogs that give us the insights we need when we’re exploring the latest trends in the restaurant industry.

2. Stay active on social media

With 77% of the United States population active on social media today, there is no better place to keep up with restaurant industry trends than the bustling platforms of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Restaurant owners and their hungry diners are constantly sharing their experiences from all over the world, giving you access to millions of emerging experiences and food and beverage trends.

3. Talk to other restaurant owners, managers, and chefs in your community

Although social media gives you access to people from all over the world, sometimes the best knowledge is available right around the corner. Stay connected with the members of your community—both in and out of the restaurant industry—to stay inspired all year long.

The restaurant industry is fast: we move quickly, think on our feet, and adapt to the ever-changing needs of our guests. Stay up to date with the latest trends on menu items, staff turnover, and more in our latest report.

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Written by   |  
Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve's Content Marketing Coordinator she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. When she's not writing, Stephanie is most likely traveling, cooking, or trying new restaurants.