It’s December, so that means many foodservice professionals are trying to wrap up the year while they simultaneously take a look ahead to see what 2020 will bring. Well, our friends at the National Restaurant Association went one better. Actually, the association went 10 better, and by that I mean it took a look at what the restaurant industry might look like by 2030.

First, let’s start with the big numbers: The NRA projects restaurant industry sales will total $1.2 trillion by 2030. To put this growth projection into context, restaurant industry sales will total $863 billion in 2019, per NRA estimates.

The shadow cast by off-premises consumption of food, which accounts for 60 percent of all restaurant occasions today, per data from the NRA, will remain a key factor in the restaurant industry over the coming decade. This trend will continue to impact the evolution of restaurant design. For example, more restaurant layouts will include areas dedicated to delivery and carryout, the NRA projects. And the typical restaurant footprint will be smaller. And packaging designed exclusively for delivery and carryout will be more sophisticated and effective.

Some of this is already coming to fruition in today’s industry. Take, for example, Captain D’s. In developing its latest prototype, the quick-serve seafood concept spent time studying how customers use its restaurants. Realizing groups visiting the restaurants were smaller than in the past and lingered less led the Captain D’s team to reduce the average unit size to 2,000 square feet from 2,800 square feet. In the new prototype, which FE&S profiled in May of this year, the kitchen is 400 square feet smaller and now splits the overall restaurant space 50-50 with the front of the house. These simple changes reduced the chain’s real estate requirements by a quarter acre — a big savings that introduces more flexibility when Captain D’s casts a net for new locations.

Other notable nuggets about the NRA’s vision of the restaurant industry of the future include: more facilities designed to reduce the use of energy and water, while minimizing waste; computerized cooking equipment becoming more common in restaurant kitchens and restaurant space utilization being more flexible.

Coincidentally, FE&S will tackle these topics and more in the coming year as part of the magazine’s 2020 Vision series. This six-part series kicks off in January by taking a look at where the industry stands today before moving on to examine the role of technology in restaurant design and equipment selection, the evolution of the front of the house, the evolution of eco-friendly restaurants and packaging and the emerging role of automation and robotics. The series culminates with a closer look at what the restaurant of the future might look like as the industry prepares for The NAFEM Show in 2021.

Without question, the foodservice industry finds itself at a crossroads as it prepares to deal with shifting consumer demographics, changes in the labor pool and customers changing the way they want to use restaurants. How will this all shake out? To quote the rock band Asia: “only time will tell.” In the interim, though, it should make for interesting times, and we at FE&S look forward to reporting on all of it for you.