What Trends Do You Think Will Impact the Restaurant Industry in 2019?

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked restaurant and hospitalty industry insiders what trends they feel will impact restaurants in 2019. Read on for their insights.
J.R. and Anders Anderson, owners of Brimstone Restaurant Group, located in South Florida, and The Restoration Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina

Cooking with Cannabis: Since marijuana is becoming legal in more states it is very evident that it is starting to be a new food and drink trend that will expand in the coming months. We’re seeing this in everything from cocktails to culinary infusions.

The way people consume food continues to evolve: The delivery model has fully taken off and more people opt-in to enjoy dinner at home. Delivery is a strong trend that needs to be considered for all restaurant models and that might mean finding ways to offer your guests the same great food at their front door.

No longer a need for the mega restaurant: One of the trends you may see is a smaller footprint for in-restaurant dining because of the uptick in delivery, there’s no need for all those seats. With fewer people sitting down in a restaurant and ordering out, there isn’t a need for one big concept. Instead of having one restaurant concept that takes up 5,000 square feet of space, instead, operators will have 4 restaurant concepts in that same space.  Each one of them may have their own storefront and they offer a slightly different experience in each one. However, they share one kitchen and your offerings become more niche.

Shaping the menu to please all diet types: As more diets are created and crafted for each individual restaurants are going to shape their menus to include more in depth nutrition values on menus for the health conscious.

Foodware that’s easy on the environment: With the “no straw” movement that started this year in the hopes to help prevent waste in the oceans, restaurants started becoming creative with using other objects in place of straws (i.e Pasta Straws). In the next year, restaurants may elevate this trend to different types of foodware.

Gilbert Bailey, Xenial VP Analytics & Customer Engagement

While we see many trends on the horizon, three that we should pay attention to in 2019 include: mobile app and self-service payments; artificial intelligence and customer instant gratification.

Gilbert Bailey

A Deloitte study shows ~50 percent of customers would prefer to pay using a mobile app instead of in-person payments, with most of them being millennials. Additionally, when it comes to placing orders or addressing customer service issues, the use of voice-responsive assistants will be standard with the increasing popularity of AI devices such as Siri and Amazon Echo. 

Lastly, instant gratification will be expected. With retailers like Amazon and Walmart already moving in this direction, customers will soon (if not already) expect added conveniences such as fast delivery without fees, immediate reply to questions or reviews, transactional discounts and offers without loyalty membership/enrollment and fast “no-questions-asked” refunds.

Alex Barrotti, TouchBistro Founder & CEO

Marketplaces: There will be attrition or consolidation of online food delivery apps, especially as restaurant operators realize the same consumers are shopping around the marketplaces for the best deals. The online customers are going where they get a better deal, sometimes from multiple marketplaces on the same restaurant.  

Each one of these marketplaces costs the restaurant money. This is Groupon all over again – when it rose to fame, consumers got very deep discounts. The vendor would offer Groupons in hopes the customers would come back again, but they didn’t. We are seeing this again – diners will continue to order online where there are deals, but that doesn’t mean they will become repeat customers. Inevitably, restaurants will pull out of the marketplaces that are costing them too high a percent of their profit margins. 

Alex Barrotti

At the same time, each marketplace spends a tremendous amount in marketing their service to customers. Some of these marketplaces will collapse under their own weight of running operations.

Kiosks: Self-ordering Kiosks will become more popular as people get more used to ordering for themselves by themselves. 

Integrations: There will continue to be more API integrations of today’s so

Tehsin Daya, VP, Business Development at Uberall 

‘Near me’ search will continue to grow in mobile.

Over the past year, “near me” searches have exploded — especially on mobile. In fact, more than 80 percent of consumers have done a “near me” search on their mobile device. This number is staggering, and it’s likely to grow in 2019. It also means that “near me” search is a key factor that franchisees and QSRs should pay extra close attention to moving forward. The reason is that consumers now find more stock in proximity and convenience — even more than brand loyalty. What’s more, as people opt to keep GPS and location services on when using their device, they’re in better position to keep take advantage of proximity-based searches. Looking ahead, “near me” search offers tremendous opportunity for both franchisees and QSRs that’s worth paying attention to. 

Tehsin Daya

Voice adoption will grow, which will be a boon for QSRs and franchisees.

 In three years, voice search may make up 50 percent of all searches.

 In three years, voice search may make up 50 percent of all searches. For QSR brands keeping up with SEO best practices, this new method of search is a game-changer. It’s a relief to know that many of the functional differences between voice and standard search are subtle. However, the result of performing well in voice search can mean less competition and more sales for businesses ready to take on the challenge.

Voice search is changing the game for SEO by taking the need for screens out of the equation. Since digital assistants only tend to relay a single answer to voice search requests, the QSRs that fulfills that top answer could feasibly multiply the number of consumers visiting their locations. In the New Year, expect more brands to optimize their website’s keywords for voice search, to be present across more business listings and multiple search engines, maps, and apps, and to optimize search relevance with positive reviews. These three tactics will maximize findability among voice searches.

QSRs and franchisees will proactively monitor customer reviews.

Almost one-third of consumers believe that online reviews are important. And as people keep spending more time on their mobile devices, it’s easy for them to look at reviews before deciding to spend money somewhere. Further, 65 percent of consumers believe that stores should respond directly to customer reviews. This means that QSRs and franchisees will have to spend more time checking them and responding if they want to win over potential customers. But it doesn’t stop there. Customers aren’t going to be satisfied with a generic response from an establishment. They’re also looking for personalization to show that they really care about them. So QSRs and franchisees will have to keep providing thoughtful responses to online customer reviews if they want to win over new customers and keep the existing ones happy.

Richard Fitzgerald,  CapitalSpring Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Off-premise and omnichannel approaches to technology and overall business operations will be key for restaurant brands’ success in 2019.

Richard Fitzgerald

While we’ve seen delivery service explode, there’s more for operators to consider as they look to evolve the way they connect with their consumer including kiosks, pick-up counters, separate dedicated lines for off-premise orders and more. Having the tools, design and technology to ensure all of these elements operate cohesively and efficiently is imperative.

 Brett Fuss, VP of Marketing at Pereg (Clifton, NJ) 

There has been a strong interest in middle eastern and Asian spices as well as spices with specific health benefiting properties like turmeric (turmeric golden lattes.) We think this will continue to expand bringing more of these ‘exotic’ spices to the American palate through the spices.

Noah Glass, Olo, Founder and CEO

2019 will be a pivotal year for restaurants to own the consumer relationship. The rise of third-party delivery opens up exciting potential, but can be a disaster for restaurant brands if not implemented properly. It’s fundamental to understand the two types of ordering channels: direct (brand website, app, and other owned channels) and indirect (orders coming from marketplaces).

Noah Glass

Brands need to own and prioritize their own direct ordering channels to avoid lost customer relationship, perilously low margins, and a risk of conversion to other brands. Indirect channels can add meaningful incremental orders, but should never be used as the primary destination to send guests.

Zach Goldstein, Thanx CEO and Founder
Zach Goldstein

Generic marketing is dying a rapid death and will give rise to personalized communication outside the four walls of the restaurant. Panera and Starbucks have been doing this for years. Email open rates are declining sharply and "check-the-box" loyalty programs aren't moving the needle anymore — if you're not using highly-targeted, data-driven marketing, segmenting customers based on preferences, and soliciting and responding to feedback in real-time, you'll see traffic continue to decline.


Gary Goodman, Yumpingo, CEO and Founder
Gary Goodman

With today’s technological capabilities, we will start to see a push for omnichannel operations to provide a seamless guest experience from ordering to payment. Specifically in the full-service realm, we will be able to better connect guests, servers and management in a frictionless manner via technology to provide visibility into how staff are really doing throughout the dining journey, and have guests leave as happy as possible.

Manny Hilario, STK, President and CEO of The ONE Group
Manny Hilario

Consumers continue to expect more for the money they spend dining out, and with that, I believe we’ll see more experiential dining. Full service brands will find ways to enrich the guest experience through music, events, partnerships, unique activations – really anything that will excite people to get them in the door and keep them coming back. We believe our focus on vibe dining, which combines premium menu items with the experience to match, is right in line with what the consumer wants today. 

RJ Horsley, SpotOn President 
RJ Horsley

In 2019, we’ll see more of the same of what we saw in 2018: the continued evolution of the internet and advancement of mobile devices. Those technologies are becoming increasingly ingrained into consumers’ lives, and restaurants need be ready to accommodate them with online ordering capabilities, accepting mobile pay, offering pay-at-the-table, you name it. Along the same lines, we’ll see further development of EMV/Chip payments, so restaurants really need to have up-to-date payment technology to accept all the different types of payment options customers are coming to expect.

Larry Johnson, Fogo de Chão, CEO
Larry Johnson

With the saturation currently existing in the marketplace, and the growth of off-premise dining, full-service restaurants will remain relevant and succeed by driving repeat guest traffic via memorable experiences. Great food and drink are now simply table stakes; it’s the entire dining experience, including the atmosphere and the “wow” factors that will keep guests coming back for more. We will likely see restaurants offering truly unique experiences that proliferate their brand to differentiate themselves and drive repeat visits.

Gert Kopera, Executive Vice President of Global Restaurants at Hakkasan Group

Restaurants as communal spaces: As we lead increasingly isolated lives, the role of restaurants as social hubs where people can come together and share space, becomes even more important. In today’s busy world, individuals are forgoing a full dining experience at home, partially to save time, partially due to lack of space and skill, for an alternative solution, eliminating the social aspects of dining. I believe one of the reasons for Yauatcha’s success is that the experience we provide cannot be replicated at home. The menu is a combination of creativity and craftsmanship delivered in a very pleasant ambiance.  

Mexican cooking:  It’s hard to find decent Mexican cuisine around the world including in the US where much of the food on offer is Tex-Mex.  But Mexican cuisine will continue to grow in popularity – Mexican is to Western food as Chinese is to Asian.  People’s palates are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and diners are looking more and more for happiness in food, a hint of spice, a relatively new phenomenon. Good Mexican food is wonderful – like authentic Chinese, colorful, surprising, happy.  

Gert Kopera

Nordic cuisine: By contrast, Nordic cuisine will also grow in popularity due to its clean, simple flavor profiles in addition to the fact that dishes are generally healthy.  Coupled with the soothing, calm, balanced design aesthetics of Nordic restaurants these are much-needed sanctuaries from fast paced, messy world and our less than healthy, urban lifestyles.

Plant-based foods: Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise with vegetarian dishes no longer seen as an after-thought by chefs. There are obvious health benefits and many people are attracted to a plant-based diet due to a lower impact on the environment. This is also partly driven by cultures that follow a vegetarian diet, such as travelers from India and people testing the trend for health reasons or out of curiosity.

Non-alcoholic drinks: Expect to see as much craft go into non-alcoholic drinks as into traditional cocktails. The dreaded mocktail – often full of sugary fruit juices – will be replaced by more balanced drinks based on teas, herbs and vegetables.


Steven Kramer, CEO and President, WorkJam
Steven Kramer

I believe that the number of restaurant chains to get rid of their “no-poach policy” will only continue to rise and, as a result, new strategies for reducing turnover and retaining knowledgeable employees will be needed. Owners should take this opportunity to improve employee engagement through the use of technology to implement transformative communication, agile scheduling, experiential learning, and tailored recognition. Creating meaningful and strategic digital relationships with employees can have a profound effect on engagement, operational efficiency, and customer experience. 

Eddie Navarrette, FE Design & Consulting, Founder

Veggie only please. Labor costs, new environmental requirements, and continued increased rents have hit restaurants hard, but the end of 2018 I noticed the dust settling. Not only the sustainability concepts including localized resourcing and adaptive reuse of buildings; but rather this foundation with a strong vegetarian vegan menu. Vegan, gluten free, vegetarian diners have shown they impact the LA dining scene and I foresee this continuing on a national level in 2019.

Give me convenience or give me death!

Bread is back! For the last decade, if not longer, bread had never been considered a focus point for restaurants. In LA specifically, we blamed some of the ‘bad bread’ or even dough on pizza because of the water. Not anymore. All over the country, bread is taking back its spotlight with creativity making an impact on dishes served with bread. Everything from bread on buns, to better dough in pizza, has shown its importance to diners. 

Give me convenience or give me death! We love our convenience. Now with apps and online ordering, diners are even getting their Big Mac’s delivered. Drive-thrus aren't good enough. As ridiculous as it sound, this is where we are, and where we will continue to evolve. Any framework in deliveries such as commissaries for food chains to have better reach for deliveries, or areas for the Postmates folks to pick their deliveries; this is now something that is considered when a location is developed.

Pooja S. Nair, Litigation Attorney at TroyGould PC

Minimum Wage Increases: State and city governments continue to increase minimum wages, which will result in rising labor costs.  At the same time, technological advances have made automation of some tasks a new reality.


Reduction of Single-Use Plastics: Several states are targeting plastic straws at restaurants, and restaurants should be prepared to cut down on other single-use plastics.

ADA Concerns about Website Accessibility: New litigation is pushing restaurants to develop ADA-accessible websites that can accommodate visually impaired customers.  The Tenth Circuit allowed a lawsuit by a blind patron against Dunkin’ Donuts to proceed in Colorado, holding that the website “is a service that facilitates the use of Dunkin Donuts’ shops, which are places of public accommodation.”  Restaurants creating or revamping their websites should preemptively take steps to make them accessible. 

Cannabis on the Menu: The trends towards legalization of recreational marijuana has led to an increase of CBD-infused food and beverage products.  Restaurants in California, Colorado, and now Canada, have started to capitalize on the trend by serving CBD-infused menu items.

Scrutiny on Plant-Based Products: Federal and state governments are poised to make concessions to the dairy and meat industry and restrict the use of meat and dairy terms for plant-based products.  The FDA is soliciting comments regarding the labeling of plant-based milks such as soy, coconut, and almond milk.   In May 2018, Missouri passed a bill limiting the use of the word "meat" to an “edible portion of livestock or poultry carcass.”  

Brad Parker, CEO of Parker Restaurant Group
Brad Parker

I think 2019 will be a big year for tech changes in dining. We will start to see more tablet ordering with servers and even ways for guests to order from their smart phones to their own tables. This will increase the quality of service because we live in a time where people want immediate satisfaction. For example, if you want to go on a date, swipe right on Tinder. You want food at your home? Click a few buttons and boom, Grubhub has you covered. These mentalities are spilling over in to the casual dining industry and we will see this grow over the next couple of years.

Ray Reddy, CEO and co-founder of Ritual

There are three main trends that will continue to impact the restaurant industry next year:

Data will continue to play a significant role in driving restaurant’s decisions. Restaurant owners have gained access to data they didn't have before. With data, restaurants are able to draw insights including how many times a specific customer visits their stores, which customers coming in are new customers, which menu items are ordered most at specific times of the day. All of these data points are allowing businesses to make better decisions and ultimately compete with the bigger players.

Ray Reddy

Restaurants and food courts will continue redesigning their spaces to be able to handle the volume coming from food ordering apps to improve operational efficiencies. Companies will continue to focus on waste reduction as well as the legislation around it. 

Rajat Suri, Presto, Founder and CEO

Labor costs will continue to rise as new gig economy services like Uber and Lyft constrain the restaurant labor pool and ballot initiatives at the state and municipal levels get passed. It would not be surprising to see a Democrat-led Congress pass a $15 minimum wage and eliminate tip credit, given mass public support for this policy.

Rajat Suri

In addition, consumer expectations for speed of service will increase as restaurants implement order + pay at table solutions and kiosks like McDonalds. Why would they go somewhere for a 45-minute lunch where they need to wait to eat and check out? Restaurants will need to implement new digital strategies to combat these twin trends.

Tina Swanson, Restaurant Technologies Vice President of Customer Experience

As much that changes year-to-year in the industry, it's still hard to beat a perfectly cooked French fry.

Tina Swanson

 In 2019, customers will continue to demand the best experience, convenience and quality possible and the trends we’ll see in 2019 will reflect that. We think we will see a continued drive toward tech-enabled everything, from back of house to front of house,  more on-trend menu innovation, for example KFC’s new fried chicken and waffles, as well as quality and delicious tasting food. Because as much that changes year-to-year in the industry, it’s still hard to beat a perfectly cooked French fry.  

Mike Vichich, Wisely Cofounder, CEO
Mike Vichich

Despite the growing popularity of delivery, restaurants' greatest opportunity to differentiate is still the experience within the four walls. People dine out as a way to escape from the hustle of daily life, and technology now offers the opportunity to create magical moments at scale. In 2019, we'll begin to see winners and losers among those concepts that thoughtfully deploy technology with a human touch and those that do not.

Tim Young, CEO, eatsa

With the popularity and availability of order ahead and food delivery continuing to grow, we will see an evolution in restaurant design to accommodate these types of orders. New designs will cater to easy pick up of orders through dedicated spaces in stores, digital signage to aid in wayfinding, in addition to a dedicated external pickup point.

Tim Young

Another trend will be the elevated kiosk experience. Restaurants will begin to provide more personalized digital service on kiosks with data-driven features such as personalized menus that recommend new items based on a customer’s ordering history, as well as personalized loyalty with custom rewards unique to each customer profile. In addition to the labor efficiencies and higher average tickets that restaurants have experienced with their current kiosks, this new elevated kiosk experience will also help brands to drive customer retention and optimize marketing spend.

Latha Youngren, VP of Marketing at Tripleseat
Latha Youngren

Instagrammable spaces: TAO NYC has an Instagram wall. Restaurants are looking at design differently, from the interior to the food itself. TAO in New York City recently built an Instagram wall with a background and lighting to help customers get the perfect shot. They know that their customers will post photos of their meals on social media, so they are serving items that are both photogenic and delicious.

Big data: Restaurants are using their database of customer information to craft more targeted marketing based on demographics, purchasing habits, and interests. The younger generation is OK with sharing their email address and other data with restaurants because they know they’ll get something in return, like a text about a special event or a email containing a discount. They’re getting marketing that’s personalized based on what they’ve bought and clicked on. As long as restaurants are transparent about what they’re using the data for, customers are comfortable with providing it. 


  • Reducing waste
  • Using metal straws 
  • Using recyclable or reclaimed materials in your restaurant’s decor and design
  • Use of LED lights
  • Organic ingredients
  • Fair trade coffee and tea
  • Recycled products
  • Addressing food waste and
  • How to minimize
  • Creating cocktails based on what ingredients are being used in the kitchen to reduce waste
  • Keeping your food suppliers local
  • Cooking food that’s in season