Like style trends, what's popular in restaurants evolves over time. Many factors can determine what these restaurant trends are, including the economy, social media, the workforce and as we've learned these last few years ... a pandemic. Here are some of the changes that have sprung up over the last few years that seem like they're here to stay.
Some of the latest trends in the restaurant industry are menu focused. One of these is a more curated menu. Smaller menus are trending because they give chefs the opportunity to do fewer things expertly, rather than having a bigger menu with fewer specialized dishes. In addition to improving the customer experience, shorter menus often reduce kitchen food waste and reduce ingredient costs, which benefits restaurants too.
Many restaurants are also moving away from printed menus and instead using scannable QR codes for a paperless option. While most places will still give you a physical menu if you ask, the online versions offer a quick and easy way to scroll through the menu, while reducing waste from producing new printed ones every time the menu is updated.
Speaking of updated menus, many restaurants are beginning to offer more health-conscious items as part of their daily fare. While there are still plenty of indulgent options, there's also a focus on meeting the desires of health-focused customers. Younger generations are often willing to splurge a bit more on organic, farm-to-table type menus. This health-conscious focus also extends to more specialty dietary requirements, such as providing gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options.
Take-out and delivery options continue to grow and evolve as technology provides constant opportunities for innovation. One of the trends in the restaurant industry as of late is restaurants creating their own online ordering platforms. This allows restaurants to manage take-out and delivery orders themselves, without having to use a third-party platform.
However, not every restaurant has the resources to implement their own delivery options, so third-party apps continue to be great options for some. It opens a restaurant up to more customers and adds flexibility for diners.
Some restaurants have also begun offering house-made ingredients or meal kits for customers. This allows people to keep their favorite sauce or bread at home or recreate their favorite dishes for friends and family.
While a delicious meal or cocktail may be the main reason to go to a restaurant, it's certainly not the only reason. For many, it's also about the atmosphere and the experience. Restaurant industry trends reflect the general vibes of what consumers are looking for — whether that's a picture-worthy milkshake or a comfy outdoor patio.
With the rise of Gen Z and even some younger Millennials, aesthetics have become a big part of eating out for many diners. Many restaurants catering to this demographic have begun putting a little more effort into ambiance and décor to create the perfect backdrop for a photo. This might include cozy string lights, trendy neon signs or ivy vines crawling up the walls.
The relationship between diners and employees has been shifting and will likely continue to change as technology is implemented in more ways. For instance, in the days before self-serve kiosks, you'd be greeted by a host, led to your table, attended to throughout your meal by your server and then cash out with them.
However, some restaurants are now using technology to replace or reduce some of that work. Some restaurants now offer small tablets at the table to order, request a drink refill or pay. More fast-casual restaurants also have begun installing kiosks in the lobby, eliminating any need to speak with an employee.
Despite this shift toward technology, there is a renewed appreciation for employees in the restaurant industry, which will likely be reflected in better pay, better working conditions and higher tips.
Here are some other trends to keep an eye out for, from pop-ups to ghost kitchens. Each offers a unique spin on a traditional dining or takeout experience:
A trend in the restaurant industry that's been growing over the past decade or so is the effort to be more eco-friendly. For many restaurants this means things like sourcing food locally, eliminating plastic straws and using recyclable takeout containers. Some places even offer composting options for food waste.
Pop-up restaurants are exactly what they sound like — temporary restaurant experiences that “pop up” in a location for a limited period of time. These might be themed around a television show or movie, or they might be more akin to a traveling version of a famous restaurant. It provides a fun way for both diners and restaurants to try something different.
Ghost kitchens are a professional food preparation and cooking kitchen that is used for delivery only. Ghost kitchens, sometimes called cloud kitchens or commissary kitchens, are different from restaurants in that there's no storefront, no seating, no in-person dining and often no pick-up. It's solely a kitchen for cooking, and the experience is about good food delivered to your door, rather than any type of in-person experience.
While many trends come and go, these restaurant trends will likely be here to stay for a while. They reflect our ever-changing society to meet the demands of diners. From smaller menus to pop-up restaurants, there have never been more unique ways to try out and hopefully enjoy your local restaurants.