The restaurant industry is barreling ahead as always, and the next decade is likely to revolutionize our industry even more than the previous one did. From the Beyond Meat fast food battles to the delivery app wars, the 2020s will see even more restaurant operators reacting to the pressure of consumer trends. Today’s restaurateurs have to pay close attention to the different spending habits of Millennials, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and the newest adults on the scene: Centennials. If they don’t, they will be out marketed and ultimately, out dined.
While there are trends that differ by generation, there are also trends that aren’t tied to a particular demographic, and those are what we’ll be talking about today. By speaking to these broader trends and then breaking them down as necessary, restaurant owners can increase profits and prevent competitors from taking their diners.
Here are 11 universal consumer trends that will shape the next decade.
#1 Delivery, takeout, and online ordering reign supreme
According to research via the National Restaurant Association, around 60% of restaurant experiences are now off-premise across all forms, including drive-thru, takeout, and delivery, and that is only expected to rise.
That puts more pressure on restaurant owners to improve their delivery experience. There’s a lot to keep track of, but the most competitive restaurants are using modern POS systems to ensure they don’t make food early, carefully selecting the best delivery apps or working to develop their own solution, and even keeping track of how weather affects diner demand, with 28% of consumers saying weather is a key deciding factor when ordering delivery.
Delivery and takeout are a tricky game. One cold or even average food order can lose you business, and too many of those and you’ll lose your regulars’ trust entirely. Your best bet is to keep it simple: if you go the third-party delivery app route, you should focus on offering one of those options, developing a smart system to accommodate them, and then deciding if you’d like to work with more. If you want to increase online orders, look into a POS that features an online integration. This will tie all of your back-end communication together and remove most of the headaches. Steady and strategic expansions are the key to success.
#2 Convenience doesn’t mean cheap and unhealthy anymore
Consumer behavior changes dramatically when eating at a fast-casual restaurant compared to a more traditional, slower dining experience. When it comes to trying a new Indian spot downtown, diners don’t want to be rushed. They can even prefer taking extra time with those experiences, but that changes in the world of fast food and fast casual. Quick bite spots are bound to convenience, and what are the key components of convenience? Speed and ease of access.
Focus on speed and ease of access led companies like Moe’s to install digital-only kiosks, Chipotle to roll out Alexa voice ordering, and a slew of businesses to increase their takeout and delivery options. If you want to compete in the convenience arena, you have to focus on speed, but today’s diners are also demanding something else: health-oriented menu choices.
To compete in 2020, you need to have lighter options available in your delivery, dine-in, and takeout menus. Just ask Panera’s new grain bowls or Just Salad’s decision to stop serving steak and use Beyond Meat instead.
Think critically about your ideal diner from both a revenue and marketing perspective, and then make sure your restaurant is doing everything it can to make their desired experience as convenient as possible.
#3 The demand for supply chain and waste transparency is rising
Good food and a nice brick & mortar atmosphere aren’t enough these days. Diners want to understand how your restaurant interacts with its community and see that you’re promoting local business and sustainability. If they don’t see evidence of food transparency, they’ll assume you aren’t doing what you could and will devalue your restaurant accordingly. In other words, your fundamental brand decisions around sustainability will affect you even more in the 2020s.
Ingredient sourcing and waste are the two main avenues of restaurant sustainability. Diners want to know where you got your ingredients, why you chose those sources, and what you will do with them after they’ve finished eating. There are limitless ways to incorporate sustainability into your restaurant, but establishing a more robust waste strategy is a good place to start.
#4 Diners are searching for value menus and deals
Value menus that include healthy options are catching the eyes of diners around the U.S, especially in a fast-food context. If a millennial doesn’t have time to eat out or make a meal at home properly, they want to pick something up that won’t make them feel unhealthy or experience buyer’s remorse. This means healthy, cheap options are expected at virtually all breakfast and lunch locations. If appropriate, make sure your menu speaks to this trend by offering at least a few healthy and budget-friendly breakfast and lunch items.
#5 Breakfast all day, every day
The battle over breakfast is expanding. With companies like Wendy’s hiring 20,000 workers for their upcoming breakfast debut and Panera offering breakfast delivery, the traditional breakfast time slots are a fierce battle. Still, consumers are also looking for breakfast later on in the day. Having eggs and hashbrowns isn’t just a morning thing anymore. “Breakfast all day” style restaurants have done well over the past decade, so if you operate in the cafe-style side of the restaurant business you should look into opening up a portion of your breakfast menu to these night-time egg eaters.
#6 Today’s best restaurants tell stories
A trend that is very much aligned with sustainability is the importance of story and authenticity. Your story directly affects how and why customers interact with you. Are you a bread artisan who spent six years in France learning how to make the best baguettes in the world, or are you employing local students in an attempt to bridge income gaps? Those distinctions matter, so think critically about what parts of your story are compelling and highlight them accordingly.
#7 Meat alternatives and vegetarian foods are exploding
63% of millennials seek plant-based, unprocessed food, and restaurants who are listening are winning: Burger King upped their traffic by 18% after unveiling their Impossible Whopper, and KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken sold out in less than 5 hours.
It’s impossible to deny the plant alternative fervor sweeping the U.S, but that doesn’t mean you should carelessly jump in the race. You need to be careful when introducing meat alternatives in your restaurant and make sure you have the capabilities to do so. Otherwise, you may end up like Burger King, who is being sued for cooking their new Impossible Whopper on the same grill as meat.
#8 Healthy substitutions are expected
Just like consumers want to see healthy options on value menus all day, consumers also want variability within those options. It’s not always a decision of healthy vs. unhealthy. Sometimes consumers prefer to be slightly healthier without changing their meal dramatically, so whether that’s offering vegetarian patties or cauliflower rice, restaurants that make substitutions accessible, tasty, and healthy will succeed.
#9 Cauliflower is king of the farm
Chicago-based Grubhub’s “Year in Food” report, which analyzed “tens of millions of orders placed by more than 21 million diners on its platform,” found cauliflower pizza claimed the top spot, rising 650% in popularity throughout the year.
“If 2019 was the year of zucchini noodles, 2020 is the year of cauliflower,” Yelp said on its blog. “People are increasingly searching for healthy-swaps for their favorite comfort foods — cauliflower mashed potatoes and cauliflower pizza are just two of the creative dishes we’re seeing added to menus and searches.”
Take a look at your menu and see where cauliflower could fit in. This is a great way to check off the healthy substitution, angle as well.
Some other rising food stars, according to GrubHub, include:
- Spicy brussels sprouts
- Portobello empanadas
- Black bean & sweet potato taco
- Miso pork ramen
- Chicken burger
- Bone broth
- Bubble tea
- Vegan pad thai
- Impossible burgers
#10 Diners want shareable experiences
While this is typically skewed toward younger demographics, even Baby Boomers these days love the opportunity to share an interesting experience on Facebook or directly with their families. Restaurants that offer exciting, worldly experiences without sacrificing flavor will win out in 2020 because their diners will earn social capital by talking about the restaurant experience.
#11 Hot chicken, alcoholic kombucha, Korean BBQ, and more
It’s not all about branding and internal restaurant decisions. What about flavors?
Here’s a crash-list of some of the other popular food trends in 2019 to be aware of via Nation’s Restaurant News:
Non-alcoholic happy hours: It’s not just about beer and liquor anymore. Cafes and restaurants are introducing non-alcoholic happy hours on items like iced teas, coffee, and smoothies.
Nashville hot chicken: Supposedly originated by a Nashville wife trying to punish her husband by making his chicken too spicy, hot chicken is rolling out in restaurants and chains around the country.
Ube: Hailed as the new matcha, this purple yam is cropping up in ice cream stores around the country.
Boozy kombucha: After hard seltzer comes hard kombucha. It was a natural progression, and the kombucha craze has arrived.
Korean cuisine: Korean dishes are expected to be a top player in 2020.
Souffle pancakes: These fluffy Japanese pancakes are taking over breakfast spots by a storm.
- Butter cake
- Chocolate shake
- Fruit crepe
- Caramel churro
- Vegan carrot cake
We recommend picking one or two trends to start focusing on, take a look at your business holistically, and look for opportunities to speak to these trends across the entirety of your restaurant. The thing is, there are so many trends, and even with a list like this, it can feel a bit overwhelming.
If you want a complete guide that offers specific action items on how to succeed at this decade’s consumer trends, our Restaurant Trends 2020 Guide has your back.
Our guide goes into depth on the benefits of introducing sustainable food practices in your restaurant, what modern inventory management systems will look like, and generational divides that will have an impact on your marketing in 2020. You’ll finish the guide knowing what steps you need to take.
Give your restaurant the edge above your competitors — download the Restaurant Trends 2020 Guide to see where our industry is headed next.