Given the tumultuous tone of 2020, everyone seems ready to turn the page and start fresh in 2021. If only it were that easy. Here are my 10 foodservice-related predictions for the coming year.
1. Off-premises sales will slow down.
Sales in this area will be slower than in 2020, when off-premises became the only game in town for months at a time, but much higher than 2019. Of course, a wild card here is how we are able to deal with COVID-19, but being that I am an optimist, I would like to think that there is light at the end of the tunnel and people will want to start heading out.
2. Digital ordering will continue to grow.
The convenience of smartphones will drive this. And the convenience cuts both ways, meaning operators find digital ordering as convenient as their customers. I would not be surprised to see more concepts ceasing to take orders over the phone entirely.
3. Technology acceleration will continue.
This applies to all aspects of the business, including restaurant and foodservice design. With more states approving the $15 per hour minimum wage, generating the proper return on investment from automation becomes more feasible. An increase in automation will give surge to other positions at the unit level. The question is whether concepts will really reallocate labor to provide higher-touch service, as many have suggested they would do. I often wonder what will be the impact of $15 per hour to the economy.
4. Virus mitigations will be around for a while.
COVID-19 will finally come under control but it will not go away entirely. People will still need to wear masks, practice social distancing and more. As full-service concepts open up, they will still need to show their operations take safety seriously. Look for tables to remain separate and a greater use of QR codes instead of printed menus. Additionally, extensions of smartphone-enabled technology will expand rapidly to include more ordering in advance or at the table for on-premises customers. Along with tableside payment. Not only does the latter provide consumers with additional safety blankets, but it also gives them more control of the order and pay process.
5. 2021 could be a pivotal year for kiosks.
The verdict is still out on kiosks inside QSR restaurants. Some customers are willing to use them, but since ordering from inside restaurants in2021 will be lower than 2019 and 2020 levels, the lines at the registers may be shorter, thus eliminating a main reason consumers like to use kiosks. With shorter or no lines inside restaurants – even for to-go orders – customers may just head straight to the register to order.
6. Lacking brand recognition, some virtual brands will disappear.
Lots of brands with no physical storefronts came to life in existing kitchens that had excess capacity due to the pandemic. Those concepts unable to market themselves to the restaurants’ target audiences, however, will likely struggle in 2021. Fortunately, since the cost of entry should have been low, even during a very short life, the investors could/should have made a good return on these virtual restaurant concepts.
7. Dark kitchens will remain prominent but will not grow as fast as they did in 2020.
Potentially higher real estate costs will play a key role in this development. Dark kitchens remain a lower-cost approach for many chains to enter new markets, and that won’t change.
8. People will continue to work remotely, which will increase the need for restaurants and other forms of foodservice outside of urban downtown areas.
Companies now understand that when managed correctly, the output of the employees working remotely should/could increase by eliminating their commutes and other interruptions typical of working in office spaces. Employees will be less stressed since they don’t have to deal with as much traffic but they will still need to eat and will want convenient options closer to their home offices. This will necessitate a change in the design of the concepts serving both suburban and downtown areas to ensure they can drive good unit economics at lower volumes, since the density of the demand will likely be less. Breakfast and lunch periods will be longer and less high on the peak. The latter would allow restaurants to be able to staff better, since they will not need to have such high swing in the labor demand for the one- or two-hour peak periods.
9. Virtual meetings among members of foodservice project teams will slow down a bit from the 2020 levels we all experienced.
Still, these meetings will occur at a much greater rate than was the case in 2019. Over the course of the pandemic we have learned how to work collaboratively when remote. Although many say they miss being in the same physical space, some may say that virtual socializing has become a new “business normal” way to run the show.
10. The supply chain, both food and equipment, will evolve to better fit the needs introduced by automation.
This includes how ingredients arrive ready to work with automated equipment solutions. The reality is that suppliers can offer value-added products that can help reduce the labor costs. With the big push for $15/hour, concepts will be looking for these ideas.
On to a great 2021!