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10 Restaurant Trends for 2020: Top Forecasts & What Lies Beyond?

Category: B2B News

Restaurants have always played host to numerous major life events. From the simplest dinners to the grandest of weddings, people hold celebrations in these festive venues. This makes restaurant trends important to everyone.

Beyond providing food and drink, restaurants play a crucial role in the lives of people. They help fulfill the basic human need to connect with others and to shape social relationships.

From sci-fi-like robot chefs to cutting-edge self-service kiosks, we’ve compiled a dozen savory trends that experts think will impact the restaurant industry in 2019.

key restaurant trends

The sharing of food had defined us as a human race. It forms the bedrock of family, religion, and relationships everywhere. Which is why restaurants will always have that critical, timeless role in society.

The world continues to become more urbanized and digitized. More and more people dine outside their homes. Many yearn for the social experience of dining.

Being historically central to human civilization, restaurants remain at the forefront of technological advancements. This latest Restaurant Technology Ecosystem captures how restaurants and technology collaborate continuously. This collaboration seeks to make foodservice better, faster, and safer for everybody.

Restaurant Tech Eco-System 2018 Chart

Source:  TechTable MixingBowl Restaurant Tech, 2018

The expanding global economy and high consumer outlook are driving the restaurant industry toward new heights. Experts anticipate further growth in overall sales for 2018, to reach US$863 billion.

Restaurateurs should step up their service and marketing innovations to surpass guest expectations and win over competitors.

Let’s now take a look at restaurant industry trends that gives the most delectable offerings to today’s meticulous diners.

People value transparency and health more

Transparency has become one of the biggest forces impacting consumer purchase behavior nowadays. Our restaurant trends data indicate that consumers are demanding total transparency, not simply about sourcing information.

People now want complete details about pricing, corporate performance, and how food products affect them. Consumers now think more about the impact of what they purchased.

Part of this massive transparency initiative is sustainability, which consumers now value. In fact, 6 out of 10 American consumers say that they only buy or eat food that used sustainable production.

Sustainability initiatives are translating into actual positive outcomes. Since 2014, sales of sustainable food products had increased by 20%!

The first to exit restaurants are plastic straws. Next came the exit of styrofoam and plastic containers. Today, zero waste kitchens are becoming the “it” trend for conscientious establishments.

Is America eating healthier?

For 2019, 25% of American adults are actively trying to manage their health by being very meticulous with what they eat or drink.

45% of younger adults–those between 18 to 24–are more determined to healthy food consumption.

More and more people are consuming food as medicine. This health initiative pushes people to consider food as a way to stop, manage, and hopefully cure illnesses.

This indicates a significant shift. Nowadays, the typical U.S. consumer is already altering his or her behavior to prevent potential illnesses from emerging.

The Increasing demand for transparency

Food transparency trends highlights

  • Food transparency and sustainability increasingly become more important to consumers.
  • Adherence to sustainable practices actually results in positive sales.
  • More American consumers shift to healthy buying and eating behavior.

The fast-casual restaurant market will boom more

Current restaurant food trends indicate that the fast-casual chains will expand more. For 2019, this segment is expected to reach US$863 billion in total sales.

Fast-casual restaurants are booming today. They serve better-tasting food in a limited-service style. They’re among the leaders in technology use in the food-service industry.

Since 1999, fast-casuals like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill had grown by 550% until today. Experts expect the segment to continue growing.

Why are fast-casual restaurants popular today?

From 2018’s Top 500 chains in the U.S., 80% are using a fast-casual format.

Three things—taste, value, and convenience—are pushing diners to regularly eat at fast-casual restos. Dining at fast-casuals is cheaper (37%), more convenient (33%), and offers better value (31%).

Across the U.S., 85% of diners tend to make dinner decisions within the same day. This is why convenient meal services across foodservice segments and consumer groups had grown immensely.

Top 5 Fast-Casual Restaurant Chains in the U.S. 2018

Ranking in terms of Sales (in US$ billions)

Panera Bread

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Panda Express

Five Guys Burgers and Fries


Source: Technomic's Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report 2018

Designed by

Fast-casuals trends highlights

  • Fast-casual restaurants will continue to grow bigger.
  • They serve better-tasting food versus fast foods.
  • They offer great convenience and better value.

Food delivery soars high in the sky

In recent years, food delivery service—mainly from third-party providers—is on an upsurge. In the U.S., pizza, led by Domino’s, accounts for some 60% of the American food delivery market.

By 2020, the National Restaurant Association predicts that 70% of customers will be ordering food outside the restaurant premises.

Millennials are spearheading this trend. 74% of this customer age group express their preference for food delivery service.

The rising number of delivery options is pushing this increase. These include new food delivery providers, mobile apps, and online ordering systems. Integrating a top-notch POS system with your delivery operations will be key to success in this environment.

Are drones ready to deliver our food?

Is it time to forget about heavy traffic, great distance, dilapidated roads, and the like? With today’s generation of food delivery firms, late deliveries can virtually be a thing of the past.

In the near future, online restaurant orders will be delivered through delivery vehicle sharing, autonomous vehicles, or drones. Several testing had been made, and many are on the works.

Leading the upcoming segment of food-delivery drones are Uber Eats and Dialexa. Uber Eats. which now acts as a third-party delivery partner, earned a total of US$7.9 billion in gross bookings for 2018.

Drone delivery offers its biggest advantages over other options—speed and cost. On average, cars need 10 to 30 minutes to deliver food. Drone delivery only takes 5 to 10 minutes, or a 500% increase in volume for restaurants.

Third-party services typically charge restaurants 15%-30% in delivery fees. Drones will likely charge lower rates.

Food delivery trends highlights

  • Third-party online food delivery services will continue to increase.
  • Many consumers prefer to have their food delivered versus eating outside.
  • Drones and next-iteration driverless vehicles for delivery are in their testing phase.

Robochefs now cook in our kitchens

Now, let’s up the ante on how technology is changing how food is prepared. Welcome AI-powered machines that can really cook any cuisine, better.

Actually, robochefs—like Moley, Cooki, and Chef Cui—are already making delicious meals since the early 2010s. It’s only recently that their commercial application intensified.

The process involved automated cooking. It’s similar to other automation technologies, just like when using marketing automation solutions. It involves a novel, intricate human activity–cooking.

Sophisticated robots perform automated cooking. These robochefs can cook with high accuracy, taste quality, and cleanliness. This revolutionary concept aims to provide safer, clean food fast, without any manual work.

What can robot chefs do that a human cook can’t?

In 2018, Moley elevated cooking into new heights by introducing a fully-automated robot chef. It’s expertise? Unlimited international cuisine. (You only need to upload the recipe and procedure into its AI).

With this breakthrough, anything that can be cooked, Moley can prepare in virtually every kitchen in the world. It even cleans the kitchen after preparing the food. This saves a lot of time, aside from achieving culinary expertise without the usual training and experience requirements.

The California-based Creator made a robot that can easily cook thousands of burgers, consistent in taste and appearance. In a single hour, it can assemble up to 4,000 burgers.

Aside from these advantages, cost savings can allow the restaurant to bring down its price. In its South of Market store in San Francisco, it seels one burger starting at $6.

Robot chefs trends highlights

  • Robot chefs use automated cooking technology to cook and do other kitchen tasks faster and more efficiently.
  • They can cook with high accuracy, taste quality, and cleanliness.
  • These AI-powered robots offer a host of advantages that make them practical for commercial deployment.

Staffing gets more challenging

For 2019, overall restaurant and foodservice employment is expected to reach 15 million. This significant trend makes employee recruitment and retention as major challenges that restaurateurs must address.

On average, the industry’s yearly turnover rates range from 100% to 130%.

Turnover costs, according to experts, are more than $2,000 per staff.

Most operators consider filling-up back of the house (BOH) positions most challenging. Chefs, kitchen managers, expeditors, and dishwashers comprise BOH posts.

What causes high employee turnover?

The extended economic growth had caused a tight labor market for businesses a whole. That’s not the case for restaurants and other hospitality industry players.

Historically, restaurant owners don’t fret much about replacing anyone of their staff. Most positions are usually easy to fill. Restaurants had been using this turnover-proof jobs HR model for decades.

With the changing business and labor market landscapes, no position is turnover-proof anymore.

Restaurateurs should stop using quick, band-aid solutions and start initiating HR best practices to directly reduce staff turnover. They should start offering competitive compensation and benefits packages, a stable environment, and opportunities for growth.

It’s also good to integrate analytics in your HR operations as this offers efficiency in planning and managing manpower requirements.

Turnover Rates for Restaurant Positions 2018

Cashier/counter service


Support staff




Kitchen staff


Bar staff




Source: Upserve's 2018 State of the Restaurant Industry Report

Designed by

Staffing trends highlights

  • The restaurant industry continues to suffer chronic staff turnover rates.
  • It is more difficult to fill up BOH positions like chefs and kitchen managers.
  • Operators now discover that their businesses are turnover-proof no more. It’s time to make drastic HR management changes.

The self-service kiosks take-over

Here’s another hot automation tech trend for restaurants: self-ordering kiosks. These touch-screen machines speed up lines and provide a host of benefits mostly for QSRs, fast-casuals.

This innovative touch-screen technology aims to hasten the ordering process. It offers customers a novel way to order food as well. This provides them more control to personalize food exactly how they want it.

These self-service kiosks could boost sales up to 5 or 6% during its first year of deployment. After McDonald’s launched its $2.4 billion “Experience of the Future” designs in 2018, others had followed suit.

Worldwide demand is increasing. The global kiosk market is predicted to reach $30.8 billion by 2024

How do self-serving kiosks help restaurants?

A major aspect of these kiosks is its use of facial recognition technology. If you’re a regular in that resto, the machine knows your name, order history, and other personal details. There’s no need to wait to order your favorite desserts, apps or drinks.

Those who had deployed the technology already report of achieving business objectives. These include speeding up service provision and enhancing check size.

McDonalds and Panera say that they will never replace their people with kiosks. They assure that affected employees will perform other customer service tasks.

Self-service kiosks trends highlights

  • Self-service kiosks hasten the ordering process and offer other benefits mostly to fast-service format restos.
  • These touch-screen machines boost sales and quick ROI.
  • These technologies function to help and not replace restaurant workers.

Wellness champions conquer dining venues

More and more people are opting for healthier eating options when they dine outside. A growing number of consumers prefer healthy foods that fill-up their tummies and boost their immunity.

Functional foods are now going mainstream as more restaurant menus start bearing their names. It’s a niche segment no more. From US$153.6 billion in 2018, the worldwide functional foods market will grow to US$260.4 billion by 2025.

Factors behind their meteoric rise are compelling. These include aging, increasing interest in diet-based wellness, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and technological advances.

What functional foods should you eat?

In 2018, fermented foods, which is good for a healthy gut, saw a 149% increase in restaurant menus. Consumers love fermented flavors like kimchi, organic meat, and handcrafted beers.

The same goes for CBD-infused food and drinks experienced a 99% rise among dining establishments.

There are numerous healthy juices in the market today. The popular ones are cold-pressed juice and kombucha, which some consider as the new orange juice.

Importance of Organic on Restaurant Menus infographic

Wellness champions trends highlights

  • More consumers turn to healthy foods for daily sustenance and protection against diseases.
  • Functional foods had gone mainstream.
  • Fermented foods and CBD-infused food and drinks top today’s functional food and beverage choices.

Limited-time-offers becoming more frequent

Perhaps it was Cheesy Bacon Fries at McDonald’s that caught your attention. Or it was Tie-Dye Frappuccino at Starbucks?

Lately, many LTOs are successful among today’s consumers. This is why operators are using them more frequently.

Over the past five years, 64% of the top 500 restaurant and retail chains increased their limited-time menu items.

LTOs have become effective at driving more traffic. Many restaurants conduct LTO-related market studies to explore ways to roll out more limited menu items.

How to best launch LTOs?

Operators know that LTOs are risky, stressful operationally, cumbersome, and expensive. Despite these, more LTOs are being issued more regularly and at a faster pace.

There’s really no proven recipe for a successful LTO. Top restaurant brands must formulate innovative production and marketing that elicit positive outcomes.

The most crucial initial step is finding a great LTO concept. From this, an extensive combination of diverse activities follow. Industry experts suggest these:

  • the elements of novelty and freshness
  • graphic photography that makes the item appealing
  • unique ingredients or typical recipe used differently
  • the right, affordable price

It also helps to have a reliable restaurant management solution to more efficiently roll out your LTOs.

Limited time offers trends highlights

  • Restaurants use limited menu items more frequently today.
  • LTOs are proving to be effective in driving high customer traffic.
  • There’s no proven formula for a successful LTO. It boils down to creativity, hard work, and perfect timing.

The massive online ordering boom

In the U.S., the National Restaurant Association says that for every 5 consumers, 3 order delivery or takeout once a week.

With a predicted annual increase of over 20%, worldwide food delivery sales could reach $365 billion by 2030. These massive revenues will come from various sources, including food pick-up, restaurant delivery, and third-party delivery firm.

Key to this trend is the changing retail market landscape. As more people turn to retail deliveries, off-site dining will continue to boom.

More offsite dining

In 2018, the industry is still dominated by in-house or restaurant-to-consumer platform, representing around 81%. The platform-to-consumer delivery segment–only at 19%–is catching up.

The third-party delivery’s low user penetration is a promising sign for growth potential. In five years, the gap between these two segments is likely to decrease.

Niche leaders like Uber Eats and Grubhub plan to continue the aggressive expansions of their delivery coverage. They’re succeeding in enhancing the ordering experience and offering innovative delivery modes.

The relatively high delivery fees and commission rates will be crucial to their growth. Market players must improve this to allow continuous growth.

Online restaurant delivery market 2018 annual graph

Online food delivery trends highlights

  • More customers increasingly prefer to have their food delivered versus eat in restaurants.
  • Restaurant-to-customers delivery remains the segment leader.
  • Platform-to-customers firms are fast catching up.

The dining experience experimentations

The restaurant industry already overflows with delicious menus and awesome dining ideas. Diners today are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and harder to please each passing day.

How can existing and start-up restaurants set themselves apart from the competition?

For this year, expect more restaurants will continue to gravitate to offering out-of-the-box experiences for their guests. Sure, LTOs and daily specials have become big hits. Consumers always welcome something new and unconventional that can surprise them.

Welcome to the hottest trend in the dining universe: dining as an experience.

What is immersive dining?

As our society continues to evolve, diners are starting to set their eyes away from food. Many of them, especially Millennials, are searching for new experience whenever they go to restaurants.

Many people consider eating outside to connect with others and make it a social experience. Others are looking for rare items in the menu that will help them undergo the emerging immersive dining experience.

One recent study revealed that 75% of people say that they’ll likely spend more for unique dining experiences.

Immersive dining experiences are actually vast, which include off-menu secrets and experimental ideas. Only creativity and imagination limit them.

diners want more unique dining e

Dining experience trends highlights

  • More people are searching for unique dining experiences nowadays.
  • An increasing number of restaurants will be offering unconventional immersive dining.
  • Diners will pay more for a totally unique dining experience.

How to keep pace with these restaurant trends

Some things like great food and good customer service will always be fashionable in as far as restaurants are concerned. Trends always emerge on the horizon. Restaurateurs continuously search for ways to keep those cash registers busy.

People had pushed the ante by demanding more transparency about restaurant operations. Healthy eating continues to be trendy as many now eat food as medicine. Wellness food champions had joined the fray.

Speed, quality, and convenience matter as evidenced by the fast rise of fast-casuals and food delivery. LTOs and immersive dining experience are booming.

New technologies–like self-service kiosks and robochefs–prove to be effective among restaurant habitués. Using mature technologies like some of today’s best restaurant management software will also be critical.

To sustain the success of these exciting trends, operators must effectively address the severe staff turnover.

Restaurant owners must keep up with new and upcoming trends to thrive and succeed. It’s the best way to offer regulars exceptional dining experience and entice potential customers searching for a new dining adventure.

By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. No stranger to small business hiccups and drama, having been involved in a few internet startups. Prior to his for-profit ventures, he has had managed corporate communications for a Kansas City-based Children International unit.

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