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Restaurant Industry Faces Significant Changes Over the Next Decade

Restaurant industry sales will reach $1.2 trillion by 2030, according to a report entitled Restaurant Industry 2030: Actionable Insights for the Future. To put this growth projection in context, restaurant industry sales will total $863 billion in 2019, per the National Restaurant Association.

In addition, the restaurant industry workforce will exceed 17 million by 2030, per the NRA’s study. Overall employment in the U.S. will increase at a rate of .5 percent.

Over the next decade, technology and data will become a greater focus for restaurants as they adapt to growing consumer expectations in the on-demand world, per the NRA. Guests will expect a seamless digital experience and want their preferences known at each interaction with a restaurant. The acceleration of off-premises traffic and sales will result in consumers placing a heightened importance on experiential dining for on-premises occasions, the NRA noted. Areas to watch, as noted by the NRA, include:

  • A greater proportion of meals will no longer be cooked at home, lending to the continued rise in delivery, virtual restaurants, subscription services, and grab-and-go at retail locations.
  • Cloud kitchens will continue to grow, fueled by the expansion of centralized kitchens and the growth of online, delivery-only brands.
  • Consumers may grow increasingly loyal to third-party delivery apps, impacting loyalty to individual restaurants.
  • Governments are likely to impose further regulation on third-party delivery.
  • Drive-thrus could need to accommodate interactions with self-driving vehicles.
  • The restaurant of the future will be smaller in size. Smaller restaurants could incorporate more automated kitchen equipment and the typical kitchen layout may change.

“The restaurant industry is at a crossroads as it finds ways to respond to consumer demand for meal and snack solutions away from home,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. “Restaurant owners are swiftly adapting across their businesses to meet the wants and needs of guests. The radical transformation of the last decade will change the way the industry operates going forward.”

Sustainable sourcing and transparency will continue to grow in focus for consumers over the next decade, the NRA predicts. In order to remain competitive, restaurants will need to adapt to evolving dietary restrictions and consumer preferences. Food trends and menus will naturally evolve to reflect the increasingly health-conscious, ecological mindset of the consumer.

Areas the NRA suggests watching include:

  • Single-use restaurant packaging, including in delivery, will evolve.
  • Artificial intelligence with knowledge of cooking techniques, food chemistry, recipes, and alcohol could produce unexpected new culinary and beverage experiences.
  • Advanced genetic knowledge and the rising incidence of lifestyle diseases are likely to create growing demand for meals that provide specific health benefits to diners.

Population growth at an expected annual rate of 0.7 percent between 2018 and 2030, accompanied by changing demographics in the next decade, are expected to lead to an average labor growth rate of 0.5 percent annually between 2018 and 2028, per the NRA. With slower labor-force growth, restaurants will continue to compete against other industries for talent, making recruitment and retention vital to success in the coming decade. Restaurant employers will adopt career-focused mentalities as operators enhance retention by offering benefits and long-term career paths to success.

Key statistics and areas to watch include:

  • The number of adults in the labor force 65 and older is expected to reach a record high of 16.1 million by 2028.
  • The number of teenagers in the labor force is expected to decline to 5.1 million by 2028, its lowest level in 65 years.
  • Operators will automate more routine back-of-house tasks to enhance productivity and efficiency.