From national chains to local mom-and-pop operators, the pandemic has been partciularly hard on the restaurant industry. While some restaurants were able to adapt to changing consumer preferences for takeout, curbside, and delivery, others found themselves without customers and were forced to shut their doors.
As a result, many consumers no longer have a favorite restaurant and are now open to trying new concepts, new delivery methods, and new ideas. Because of this, dining trends are still evolving.
Here are three more restaurant trends that will stick around long after the pandemic ends.
New Global Cuisines
The pandemic curtailed travel and the chance to experience cultures around the world, but that hasn’t stopped consumers from indulging their cravings by exploring global cuisines in neighborhood restaurants.
According to the 2022 survey, produced in partnership with the American Culinary Federation and Technomic, global fare dominated several categories. Restaurants give diners an opportunity to “travel” and “experience” the adventure and excitement of exploring new places by offering access to international cuisine. Southeast Asia (e.g. Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore) ranks as the #1 region influencing global food trends.
Two examples of brands bringing new flavors to American palates: Marugame Udon, the world’s No. 1 udon concept, and Koibito Poké, the fast casual concept known for its award-winning, build-your-own Hawaiian poké bowls.
Younger generations view restaurants as a partner in their at-home meal prep. It’s no longer a simple binary choice between a restaurant meal and home cooking.
More than half the adults surveyed for the 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report say they are more likely to incorporate restaurant-prepared items into meals made at home than they were before the pandemic. This is particularly popular with Gen Zs and millennials, with more than 70 percent indicating increased reliance on mixed meals.
Millennials and Gen Zs also hunger for make-at-home meal kits that contain pre-measured ingredients, along with cooking instructions. Eight in 10 of them are inclined to purchase a meal kit if offered by one of their favorite restaurants, compared with 47 percent of Gen Xers and 33 percent of baby boomers.
Roughly 75 percent of consumers say restaurant foods provide flavor and taste sensations that just can’t be easily replicated at home, which is a great opportunity for restaurant operators hoping to build off-premises business by supplementing customers’ meals at home.
Some new restaurant owners are skipping tables and chairs altogether and just leasing kitchen space to prepare food. These kitchens, often known as dark kitchens, ghost kitchens, or virtual restaurants, have no dining rooms or wait staff and sell their meals through third-party delivery app services such as DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats.
Ghost kitchens and delivery services were already on a steep growth trajectory before the pandemic, and the virus accelerated their growth. Recently, Simon Property Group – the largest mall owner and operator in the U.S. – partnered with ghost kitchen startup, Kitchen United, to offer “Grab, Go, Eat.” This startup allows shoppers at select Simon-owned centers to order from multiple restaurants in a single-transaction for in-mall pickup or home delivery. Moreover, customers can have the food delivered to any store within the center or pick up food from on-site lockers.
Facilities like these can operate in smaller locations with smaller staffs, making them a cost-effective alternative to a traditional restaurant.
The Bottom Line
The pandemic changed some dining behaviors drastically and accelerated others. Keeping up with these changes is how restaurant owners and operators can successfully navigate their path forward.
Curious about other COVID-era dining trends? Check out Three Restaurant Trends That Will Outlast the Pandemic.