Experts Weigh In: What Trends Are You Seeing and What Can We Expect to See More of in 2022?

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked restaurant industry insiders for their views on trends. Here are their insights. 

Frances Allen CEO at Checkers & Rally’s

Given the increase in off-premise, we expect to see more drive-thru’s similar in format to Checkers & Rally’s iconic double drive-thru model, which dedicates one lane to traditional consumer drive-thru service and one to e-commerce only, including pre-paid digital orders for pickup and third party-delivery orders.

We also foresee a lot of companies will redesign locations even further to maximize efficiency.

Additionally, as a result of the ongoing labor shortage, we anticipate more automated chatbots to support on-site team members and help streamline their work as well as operators looking for locations with smaller dine-in square footage in favor of adding more drive-thru lanes. Fortunately, we have exceeded in our efforts to reduce our footprint and maximize profitability to effectively operate our drive-thrus and maintain team productivity.

To that end, we also foresee a lot of companies will redesign locations even further to maximize efficiency. Our restaurant of the future is designed to benefit guests, employees and franchisees, with a new external design and a reimagined kitchen that will make it easier for us to serve hot, delicious food quickly for frictionless guest experiences, and we expect to see a lot more of that next year.

Clinton Anderson, CEO, Fourth Enterprises

 Given the current landscape, restaurant brands are investing in their employees now more than ever to not only help attract and retain talent, but also create a better work environment to optimize efficiencies on and off premise. This includes raising wages, boosting benefits such as offering early wage access, and leveraging technology to improve scheduling, automate processes and streamline operations, ensuring a seamless shift every time.

 With more options to work outside of the hospitality industry, operators must offer employees more scheduling flexibility, facilitate transparent communication between management and team members, and avoid overworking staff.

With more options to work outside of the hospitality industry, operators must offer employees more scheduling flexibility, facilitate transparent communication between management and team members, and avoid overworking staff. We expect restaurants to place more emphasis on these things given increased competition in the space as operators aim to increase brand loyalty both internally and externally.

We also anticipate restaurants will be more cautionary when it comes to menu offerings. With current supply chain issues and these brands already operating under thin margins, we expect operators to be strategic when it comes to menu sizes, limited offerings and daypart offerings to limit waste, cut costs, and maximize profitability. Operators should gravitate towards technology to automate inventory and track costs and sales to determine the best course of action.

Rick Camac, Dean of Restaurant & Hospitality Management at the Institute of Culinary Education

New versions of virtual venues like food halls (several vendors or offerings from one group, all on one ticket). I believe the ghost kitchens that will survive are the ones that know how to brand and either package known products with new products or offer all known products.

  • Completely hands-free interactions: Automat was a famous venue in the 60's I believe and the model happens to work perfectly in a Covid environment. The new version allows for completely hands-free interaction with the venue. You order online and receive a code. When you come for pick up, you are designated a "locker" and code. You go to that food locker and scan your code, and the door opens and you get your purchase.  Brooklyn Dumpling House just opened and they're already franchising the idea.
  • Tight menus, for set prices, at times offering previously unapproachable product at approachable prices.
  • Smaller menus in general.  Many restaurants are currently doing away with the typical 8-10 items per category and replacing it with 8-15 (usually less) items in total (with no categories at all). 
  • Eataly style food halls – taking advantage of a weak commercial real estate market with a large supply of available large spaces.
  • Anything plant based!
Alec Dafferner, a partner at GP Bullhound

Tech to the rescue – Supply chain software has become a critical element for companies to find potential issues and fix them before they turn into debilitating production problems. Additionally, these software platforms have been critical in helping companies strategically source raw materials effectively 

Early software adopters’ leg up – Supply chain software platforms will continue to gain traction across the global supplier base as they realize the necessity of an efficient supply chain. The clear benefits derived from insights in production abroad, to shipping goods locally, will be a competitive advantage by the early adopters.

Smart Bar USA Founder Barry Fieldman

There is already a significant shift towards automation and robotics taking place in the restaurant industry — accelerated by both the labor shortage and the change in business practices caused by the pandemic. With four in five restaurant operators claiming to be understaffed, according to a recent report from the National Restaurant Association, automated systems, and robotics not only help improve operational speed and accuracy, but they can minimize the negative impact of staffing shortages and challenges.

2022 will be the year where the restaurant industry shows the world how flexible and techno-savvy it really is.

It’s therefore reasonable to predict that we will see even more automated technology coming to the forefront and being applied in 2022. From automated liquor delivery systems that support operators with back-of-house, front-of-house, as well as self-service solutions that navigate staffing shortages while improving efficiency; to the widespread adoption of intelligent mobile ordering via QR codes and the use of cashless payment technologies. 2022 will be the year where the restaurant industry shows the world how flexible and techno-savvy it really is — applying what it has learned during a challenging two-year period and adopting technology that reinforces the industry’s innate appetite for innovation.

Jay Fiske, Vice President, Powerhouse Dynamics

The digitization of the kitchen and back-of-house continues to accelerate.  More and more kitchen equipment manufacturers are incorporating digital controls into their equipment with internet connectivity.  Restaurants are moving away from paper-based checklists.  They are looking for new efficiencies through connectivity and digitization of the back-of-house – especially for the larger multi-site operators.  The larger chains will lead this revolution, but we do expect it to proliferate to most restaurants over the next decade.  The competitive advantage will go to those who can use technology for improved equipment uptime, reduced food safety risk, enhanced product quality, and lower operating costs.

In addition, there is an increasing emphasis on sustainability with our restaurant customers.  Many global events and trends – from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to the success of Tesla and the electrification of transportation, to the dominance of renewables in new generating capacity – have highlighted the importance to our business leaders of driving more sustainability into their companies.  Historically, energy management decisions for restaurant chains have been all about the money: how much is invested in the technology and how much is returned from reduced utility bills?  Today, those numbers are still critical, but we see more companies also including carbon footprint reduction as part of the success metrics in deploying IoT platforms for energy management.

Steve Fredette, Co-Founder and President at Toast
  • An important trend will be the ongoing implementation of restaurant tech and pandemic-era adoptions.
  • While there was an old narrative that QR codes would never be as relevant in the US as they are in other countries, the pandemic made QR codes commonplace and educated American consumers on the benefits such as ordering and paying at the table.  
  • Working from home is here to stay even as offices open up and as such, we will see takeout and  delivery businesses continue to thrive. For example, the restaurant industry would be thrilled to see alcohol takeout have staying power as would many consumers, and hopefully many states will allow that.
Robin Gagnon, Co-Founder of We Sell Restaurants

Supply chain issues are forcing restaurants to re-evaluate their menu options.  Pared down menus that began with COVID are continuing due to shortages in the commodities market that will continue in 2022.  This will cause restaurants to innovate their offerings amidst reduced menu sizes.  The other reason for smaller menus is related to staffing issues.  Fewer items to cook and deliver mean less complexity for all roles in the restaurant from server to cook.  

Concepts that captured strong market share like fast casual chains will continue to outpace growth in full service locations.

While there is still some pent up demand for the dining experience, other customers have reinterpreted their dining experience to include eating at home with carry out.  They may never return in full force to the restaurant.  Concepts that captured strong market share like fast casual chains will continue to outpace growth in full service locations.

Noah Glass, Founder & CEO, Olo

Off-premise is not going anywhere as consumers will continue to rely on the convenience of delivery and takeout from their most-loved brands. Brands recognize the importance of reaching more customers through different ordering channels based on preference, location and available drivers, and will continue to invest in making their food more accessible than ever before. As a result, restaurants will keep expanding their presence on third-party delivery platforms while also making their in-house services widely available. To that end, we are also seeing heavy promotional activity for delivery and free delivery offers to invite trial, though note consumers are still paying a price premium for increased convenience. 

Virtual brands gained popularity in 2021, with a deluge of upstarts from celebrities and established corporate restaurant companies taking advantage of the digital and delivery-only service model. The concept allows an efficient and low-cost way for operators to enter new markets or create new brands, leveraging digital entirety to maximize revenue per square foot. Today, operators can effectively turn a 200-location brand on almost overnight, which previously, would have taken a decade of brick-and-mortar build up.

Today, operators can effectively turn a 200-location brand on almost overnight, which previously, would have taken a decade of brick-and-mortar build up.

As competition continues to grow in the restaurant space, brands will put more emphasis on understanding and analyzing customer data to inform high level decision making across operations and effectively deepen long-term customer relationships to drive loyalty and sales.

Kari Hensien, RizePoint CEO

Positive changes are coming next year, as the industry focuses on strengthening the supply chain and prioritizing information-gathering to boost safety and quality efforts. We’ll move towards a continuous quality model with more self-assessments and collaborative coaching vs. traditional onsite audits. And we’ll see tech solutions become more affordable and accessible for food businesses of all sizes. 

Six key predictions for 2022 include:

  • A focus on building an agile, resilient supply chain. This is increasingly important after widespread COVID-related disruptions.
  • Circular (not linear) supply chains. Circular supply chains are greener and more sustainable, and can decrease companies’ costs, reduce price volatility, and reduce waste.
  • An increase in data visibility and recency. Instead of an annual audit, organizations will leverage IoT and AI to increase data points and ensure recency in their knowledge of supply chain performance. 
  • The rise of collaborative coaching. In 2022, companies will shift from third-party on-site audits to remote collaborative coaching sessions, fostering strong food safety cultures and environments of continuous learning.
  • The end of one size fits all. Moving forward, organizations will stop doing the same annual audits for all suppliers. Instead, they’ll assess the risk of each supplier and location, build adaptive programs that focus time and effort within supply chain segments, and determine where to drive improvement and reduce risk.
  • Technology solutions will become more accessible and affordable. Simplified software solutions will help food businesses of any size afford the needed transparency across the supply chain. These modern, game-changing solutions will disrupt a software market previously dominated by complexity and expense.
Dmytro Kostyk, CEO of Interactive Restaurant Technology
  • Lots of M&A, shutdowns, and cheap leases in A-class locations.  
  • Dining is a "new shopping." Dining will become more and more (in terms of EBITDA) part of entertainment and shopping.
  • Technology in F & B will go deeper on all levels.

Dining is a 'new shopping.'

  • Personalization – the best example was created by our customer last month on the smart table. All guests create their own BOWL, name, save and share them  – this is cost-effective and WoW experience with hundreds of millions TikTok views was made already.
  • Dynamic pricing – imagine the restaurant where all prices are up and down based on your backhouse stock levels, consumption, daytime, the weather outside, or demand – like your tickets on an airplane (for low costers the avg price per ticket one-way fare enough same as a dinner for one person in mid-price restaurant).  
Scott Lawton, Co-founder and CEO, bartaco 

With the massive growth in third party delivery and many restaurants that are understaffed and unable to properly take care of the guest, we are seeing that people are becoming more discerning about where they will go to dine out. We believe it is critical to stay laser focused on the guest experience and not chase sales at the expense of the customer.

Nishant Machado, CEO of Dividend Restaurant Group (Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Sullivan’s Steakhouse)

From third-party delivery and ghost kitchens being utilized to meet the increased demand for off-premises options to inventory software that allows chefs and managers to make better purchasing decisions that ultimately help operators combat shrinking margins, the pandemic has shown us just how important technology is to the industry. There is no doubt that we will see it continue to play an important and ever-growing role in the coming year, and I am excited to see how an increased need and reliance will lead to further innovation.

Simon de Montfort Walker, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Oracle Food and Beverage

Flexible payment solutions will become the norm: During the pandemic, restaurants have not had a flexible payment processing solution, instead they have been tied into contracts with volume requirements and early termination fees. However, restaurants are innovating their payment solutions and options, as today’s consumers want flexible payment options. And as consumers plan to reduce their use of cash, restaurants must adapt to how customers want to pay for their meals, including contactless and alternative payment types. 

In 2022, we’re going to see brands increase their investments in off-premises business models, such as virtual brands or ghost kitchens, to keep costs down, protect the brand and maximize their labor force.

Evolution of off-premise models: In 2022, we’re going to see brands increase their investments in off-premises business models, such as virtual brands or ghost kitchens, to keep costs down, protect the brand and maximize their labor force. This will require mobile, location technology, kitchen automation, and predictive analytics to prepare orders and so on. Eventually, natural language processing and AI solutions will come to drive-thru’s for the same reason.

Next-level tech will reign supreme: Restaurants will be looking for ways to use AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to enable a more comfortable consumer ordering experience akin to the tableside ordering experience we are used to today. 

The expanded use of machine learning will cover all core functions of restaurant operations, from financial modeling for new business ventures, to demand planning, and supply chain management. AI can help restaurants to have intelligent personalized guest interactions and manage their labor force. And with new customer expectations, restaurants will need to utilize next-level technology to keep up, from providing multiple ordering and payment systems, to incorporating personalized communication.

Michael Osanloo, President & CEO, Portillo’s

Over the past two years, we have seen a major shift in how consumers use restaurants. Portillo’s was well-positioned for this shift in consumer mindset – we have been multi-channel since early on in our 58-year history. In addition to our strong dine-in sales, we have best-in-class operations across channels, including drive-thru, delivery, catering and direct shipping. And these are all platforms we’ll continue to focus on and invest in. In fact, we’re opening our first Portillo’s Pick Up in early 2022. This new model, which will be located in Joliet, Ill., won’t have a dining room. Instead, the restaurant will focus on off-premise operations, including catering and delivery, with an expanded, three-lane drive-thru and a designated pickup area.

Mike Rypka, Founder and CEO, Torchy’s Tacos
  • Restaurants will keep doing what they can to differentiate themselves, including offering a variety of off-premise ordering options and rolling out innovative menu items and beverages. Our loyal Taco Junkies go crazy for our Taco of the Month program, and our 2022 line up is nothing short of Damn Good. 
  • We also anticipate a large trend will be the restructuring of store footprints, placing a larger emphasis on outdoor patios and designated to-go sections to continue optimizing fast, easy pick-up experiences.
  • As we grow into the new year, we are continuing to explore alternative footprints and kitchen layouts for efficiency as well as prioritizing technology to enhance the guest experience, all the while remaining laser focused on ingredient quality and scratch-made preparations — no cutting of corners — to remain competitive and deliver the Damn Good experience our guests expect.
  • All of these innovations are about providing our guests with options to enjoy Torchy’s how, where and when they are most comfortable. Providing this flexibility and focusing on delivering an exceptional experience no matter how our guests choose to dine, will continue to be our focus.
Savneet Singh, President and CEO of PAR Technology Corp.

The kitchen is next. The kitchen has become the fulfilment center + your grandmas stove. Figuring out how to take care of dine in guests, while managing the flow of delivery/pick up will require new work flow products we’ve yet to see. Not to mention robots, drones and whatever else silicon valley sends our way. 

Brand marketing efforts will become much more personalized.

Brand marketing efforts will become much more personalized. With a strong loyalty programs and CRM, restaurant marketing leaders can now focus on individual customer economics vs store-level or by promotion. Restaurants are tight-margin businesses, but still they spend millions of dollars a year on promotions and advertising. The level of data technology can offer is going to make each dollar spent worth a lot more. Plus, every restaurateur wants to know who’s coming in and out of their restaurant, before mobile technology and CRM this was near impossible.

Buck Sleeper, Director, Innovation Consulting, EPAM Continuum
  • Online-only celebrity food concepts will continue to proliferate in real time. Some not-so-hard-to-believe possibilities:
  • The meal that won on Top Chef.
  • Available, tonight only, in every city in the country. 
  • Excited about the Game of Thrones reboot? Order the Westeros special for the Sunday evening premier.

Robots will win the kitchen wars but live in the shadows.

  • Robots will win the kitchen wars but live in the shadows. The drive for efficiency and consistency will drive all restaurants to have at least one automaton in their toolset, from cooking to cleaning to delivery. As robots take care of the busy work, employees will spend more time connecting with customers (but we’ll probably see fewer of them).
  • Intuitive technology will finally serve employees. Beautiful interfaces, touch-free interactions, and ergonomic graphics are finally coming to a back-of-house-facing screen near you to drive engagement, accuracy, and retention.
Chris Tomasso, President & CEO, First Watch Restaurant Group 

 We are continuing to see an increased interest in Daytime Dining and demand for fresh and innovative menu offerings. With so many restaurant options available and the rise of on-demand, restaurant brands have to continue to push the envelope in culinary innovation to keep consumers interested and engaged. First Watch carefully curates each dish on our menu and creates signature seasonal offerings using fresh ingredients.

Mike Wallace, CEO & Founder, Perfect Company

I think we’re seeing a trend of shifting perspective. For too long back of house operations have really been ignored as a focus for technology. Why spend real dollars on functions being handled by a $5 an hour workforce? Those days ended, both through regulatory challenges and market pressure. The good news is that operators are finally realizing the real value in their back-of-house crews. While there are technologies being designed to replace these people, I tend to think the more readily adopted technologies will be those that aid them; technologies that don’t require a complete retooling of the back of house, but rather replace existing systems with smarter solutions. That’s Perfect Co’s focus and we’re excited about coming alongside the operators and their teams with practical, useable solutions that improve everyone’s days.