11 Experts Share The Top Restaurant Industry Trends For The Next 3 to 5 Years

This article is part of Raydiant’s Future of The Restaurant Industry series, which aims to share restaurant industry trends with business owners and executives in order to help them monitor trends that may take hold in the coming years.

What are the top trends you see shaping the future of the restaurant industry in the next 3-5 years?

Candace MacDonald, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Carbonate

"Over the past few years, cross-cultural cuisine has taken a new form as Americans adopt flavors from immigrant communities and as chefs pay tribute to their mixed-race upbringings. Generation Z, coming of age now, is the most diverse generation yet. American food and the restaurants we crave are about to get much more diverse. And while the restaurants and the food available will get much more diverse, restaurants’ menus will get shorter, in order to operate more efficiently and lower costs. This in large part due to the way COVID-19 brought to light all of the inequalities and inefficiencies in restaurants to this point."

Kelly Richardson, Founder of Venone

"The next wave of trends for the restaurant industry will be driven by COVID. You are going to see a continued dependence of customers that prefer take-out meals, but also restaurants will find alternatives to the larger companies that provide delivery services. I expect to see restaurants designed with expansive outdoor dining, as well as opening without dining rooms. Restaurants will continue to embrace small bodega type stores inside their spaces offering basic household items and ingredients, as well as “take and bake” items for customers to take home. Marketing to a hyper-local audience will continue to be at the forefront."

Meaghan Brophy, Retail Analyst at FitSmallBusiness

"Ghost kitchens: Online ordering was becoming increasingly popular before COVID. Operating a ghost kitchen, where you’re only open for takeout or online orders, has much smaller startup and maintenance costs than operating a traditional restaurant. Plus, you can even share commercial kitchens with other chefs, bringing the price down even further."

Farm to table: More consumers and therefore more restaurants are placing a focus on local, fresh ingredients. Some restaurants are even using ingredients from gardens that they manage on-site.

Mocktails: More and more members of the millennial Gen Z generations are choosing not to drink alcohol. Restaurants will need to get creative to make up for the profits that they typically generate from high-margin cocktails.

Contactless Dining: Though a few restaurants were going cashless before COVID, the pandemic is forcing all restaurants to move towards cashless operations. Investing in new POS and payments technology is pricey, so it’s likely that contactless payments, QR code menus, and scan-to-pay technology is here to stay.

Brad Brooks, Sales & Marketing Director with Speedline Solutions Inc.

"In the next few years, more restaurants are going to start offering delivery. Even before the pandemic, there was an increase in delivery options, and we expect many restaurants to continue offering it post-pandemic." 

Consumers are used to the convenience and are beginning to expect it from quick service and fast-casual restaurants.

Ingrid Hoffmann, Author, Chef and Host of Top Chef Estrellas and Simply Delicioso

"COVID has changed all this. While the path ahead looks challenging to say the least, for the restaurant and food industry in general, the real bulk of the damage is to the independent operators that will not recover which is estimated at one in five. During the pandemic, new habits have been formed, cooking at home or ordering in will stay and stick with us for sure.  Some businesses fared better than others, for example, pizza restaurants, food delivery services, and grocery stores. The businesses that were set up for delivery prior to the pandemic were obviously better prepared than those that had to adapt in the middle of a crisis. I do believe pivoting is key. Moving forward, accommodating for deliveries, and doing it right, will be a common trend amongst restaurants from fast food to high end. Also, menu offerings will have to incorporate value options for main courses to entice people, then they can upsell with side items and desserts to round out a ticket."

Another common trend I see is the adaptation/reinvention of interiors and exteriors for both, safe indoor dining and the streamlining of flow for pick up and delivery. This impacts the interior of restaurants but also the street curbside situation. I also think that new restaurant build-outs will focus a lot on the access to outdoor space. All of this will create patron ease as well as expansion of the business. 

Josh Lang, Founder of Pink Cloud Media

"In the next 3 to 5 years you will see the Chelsea Market-style food hall concepts continue to pop up all over the world. The reason for this is, the cost to build out a 300-seat restaurant is extremely expensive." 

If you take that same space and create an environment that houses multiple concepts that are easily interchangeable the consumer is left feeling satisfied and they will come back to try a different concept the next time. Win/win

David Litchman, Founder of BellyMelly

"Given the way COVID-19 has impacted our world and the scars it will leave, consumers will make restaurant choices based on how safe they feel. This will require operators to adopt technologies that limit physical interaction." 

Contact-free dine-in ordering will reduce server interaction and curbside pickup with order and payment online are some of the trends that will increase as customers look to protect themselves.

Rodion Yeroshek, Co-Founder & CEO of Poster

"Online ordering and delivery will be the main industry-shaping trends for the next few years. Millennials’ demand for fast, convenient food anywhere and quarantine restrictions on restaurant visits make these technologies an ideal approach for these new circumstances."

However, the rules of the game in this market are constantly changing. Nowadays restaurants are increasingly looking to develop independent delivery services, to avoid paying commissions to third parties platforms. But the latter are also constantly trying to come up with new creative ways to attract more users. Food ordering platforms started to propose new subscription models that eliminate shipping charges in favor of a flat-rate subscription, which could give them a true competitive advantage.

Rom Krupp, Founder and CEO of OneDine

"The continuous growth of people using their own device is going to have a drastic change on how restaurants operate, from faster table turns to reduced staffing needs. In addition, as revenue from third-party delivery increases as a percentage of sales, restaurants will need to change their building designs—we’ll see larger kitchens and smaller dining rooms."

Chris Boyles, VP of Food Safety for Steritech

"Ghost kitchens allow you to order from multiple brand menus at a single location." 

  • Robots flip burgers and deliver meals to your table. 

  • Drones deliver to your house.

  • Self-driving cars deliver you to our chosen destination.

  • Grocery stores allow you to shop without going through a checkout process.

  • Voice-activated apps allow you to order without touching anything. 

  • Artificial Intelligence bots manage customer service interactions, asking clarifying questions to gather the necessary details. 

Chuck Cooper, CFE and President of Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken

"Double drive-thrus (where possible) to better accommodate online ordering with an outside lane for peak time order ahead with the addition of staffing outside, pre-orders, and tablets."

  • Future parking will be designed to accommodate curbside delivery and increase safety and security for customers and staff

  • Future staffing will focus resources on drive-thru.

  • Speed of service even for large, family-style orders that serve as a valuable home meal option.