The end of the year is always an important time for the restaurant industry to take stock of the forces, preferences, and developments that are expected to shape the sector in the new year. Now that 2020 is upon us, read on to take a look at some of the major trends, as identified by the online magazine Nation’s Restaurant News, that restaurant industry professionals need to have on their radar.
Reusable takeout containers
Today’s consumers love takeout, but they don’t love the wasteful, one-time-use containers these meals are usually packaged in. In the past year, the use of plastic straws sparked a huge debate around sustainability in the foodservice sector, and this scrutiny is likely to increase in the months ahead, but this time with takeout containers, cups, and utensils.
As a result, 2020 is expected to be a breakout year for new packaging materials and solutions that offer sustainable alternatives to one-time-use containers. For example, some chains are experimenting with pilot programs where reusable takeout bowls, tracked by an app, can be rented and returned by customers. On the legislative side, states are exploring regulations such as the recently adopted law that allows customers in California to have takeout food packaged in their own containers.
Smaller portion sizes
At traditional restaurants, quick-service outlets, and fast-casual eateries alike, there are now more fresh and healthy options available than ever before. But when it comes to health and wellness, there is still one final frontier to be addressed: portion size.
Even though ingredients have become healthier and more functional across the board, portion sizes at most foodservice establishments have not gone down. This means that even healthy and nutritious meals can still take a much bigger chunk out of the average diner’s calorie budget than they should. However, in response to rising food costs, issues around food waste, and an ever-increasing focus on health, experts predict that 2020 will be the year in which portion sizes finally start to shrink, as a way of keeping both waste and waists under control.
Speaking of functional, healthy food, more and more restaurants are experimenting with food and beverage offerings that do more than simply fuel the body. Today’s consumers are looking for food that offers health and wellness benefits (such as probiotics for good gut health or ingredients that boost mood and productivity) as well as energy, and all kinds of foodservice brands are rising to the challenge of delivering these varied qualities in one appetizing package.
In particular, restaurants are looking to capitalize on beverages, which can sometimes integrate functionality more easily than other food types. One example is the intriguingly named moon milk. Connected to the ancient natural healing system of Ayurveda, moon milk is made from a blend of animal- or plant-based milk and adaptogenic herbs, resulting in an elixir that both tastes and feels good.
Restaurants without addresses
Now that more diners than ever are choosing to have food delivered rather than go out to a sit-down establishment, it’s not always necessary for restaurants, particularly quick-service style brands, to have a physical location. The idea of a “restaurant without an address” can be an effective way for new foodservice companies to establish themselves, as well as for legacy operators to test drive new menu items and expand their customer base.
New tech options, as well as new business models, are making this kind of experimentation highly feasible. For example, third-party delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash are helping some operators through the “virtual restaurant” process by sharing their data on customer locations, while a growing market of commissary kitchens is springing up to provide “virtual restaurants” with the physical support they need.
On the subject of delivery, the third-party versus native delivery debate continues to be a major preoccupation for restaurants of all kinds. Delivery as a whole has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, and that growth is only expected to increase throughout 2020. (In fact, the NPD Group predicts that restaurant digital orders will triple in volume by the end of the year.)
However, as competition in the delivery sector becomes increasingly fierce, more restaurants are expected to develop their own native delivery solutions in order to keep consumer data in their own hands, protect their profit margins from high third-party fees, and build customer loyalty and long-term relationships.
The rise of the chicken sandwich
It’s always fun and surprising to see what meal or menu item becomes an unexpected industry-wide hit from year to year. In 2019, the sensation of the year was the humble but beloved chicken sandwich, which is featured on nearly half of all restaurant menus and is liked or loved by almost 80 percent of consumers (as reported by Datassential).
In 2020, the battle for chicken sandwich supremacy is expected to continue at full tilt, with quick-service brands across the board experimenting with new and innovative ways to feature this sought-after sandwich, such as breakfast variations.