Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen the landscape of the commercial foodservice industry as a whole drastically change in a relatively short time. From curbside pickup to contactless payments to sustainability, there have been many innovations that have changed the way the industry runs. As the focus starts to slowly shift to 2024, some of this year’s trends will continue to not only grow but also make way for new ideas and advancements. Let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon for fast food trends and which ones will fade away.
Food Trends That Will Emerge
1. Investing in Sustainability
It’s no surprise that more and more restaurants are making the switch to eco-friendly packaging and utensils. By aiming to use packaging which comes from recycled, renewable or other certified sources, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint. Switching to reusable coffee cups or disposable paper straws is a small change for such a big impact.
With current trends, customers are more likely to return to a restaurant that’s making an active effort to reduce their footprint as well as make changes to create a better dining experience for handicap customers. This means creating braille menus or even special seating areas to allow for service animals.
Investing in environmentally-friendly operations is another way businesses are taking a step into the future. Since COVID-19, there have been a lot of upgrades to aspects including:
- Online menus
- Self checkout kiosks
- Sustainable food packaging
2. Plant-Based & Vegan Options
According to the Polaris Market Research data, the worldwide sales of plant-based “meat” products are expected to grow from about $12 billion in 2019 to over $30 billion in 2026. More and more consumers are becoming vegan, pescatarian or vegetarian.
In order to cater to customers who are clean-eating or prefer to stay away from animal byproducts, restaurants are creating more plant-based “meat” options, fermented drinks and healthy vegan substitutes such as:
- Vegan cheeses
- Mushroom jerky
- Plant-based milk
3. Reinvent Unhealthy Dishes
While everyone enjoys a good greasy burger or a pasta dish loaded up with cheese, the trend of substituting the unhealthy aspects of your favorite dishes is on the up and up. This simply means that customers are looking for healthier versions of the foods they love to eat that might make them feel better after eating it. As mentioned above, plant-based options are great but there are also other ways to recreate dishes such as using different oils, cheese alternatives, organic vegetables and more.
4. Smart Tech Solutions
Since the implementation of many technological conveniences as safety measures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many customers have adopted these services as normal features. From paperless menus to touchless payment to multi-channel ordering, there’s been a huge swell in technological advancements in the fast food space. Not only are these innovations taking over in the front-of-house, but in the back-of-house too.
One of the most in-demand upgrades in the quick service industry are self-service kiosks. These digital stands allow customers to browse the menu, order their food and pay through their preferred method without the need of a cashier. Benefits include:
- Streamlines the order process for your kitchen
- Allows your staff to receive details in real time
- Can be used for upselling
- Helps fill any staffing gaps
But the front-of-house isn’t the only area seeing these innovative tech upgrades; the kitchen is also joining in on the fun. Because digital ordering has been steadily growing through in-house POS systems, self-serve kiosks, mobile and online ordering, getting all those tickets in immediately is crucial for better productivity. The solution to this are kitchen display systems.
These digital displays can be placed anywhere within the kitchen and place open orders within view as they come in. In an article by QSR Magazine, they state that the use of these integrated digital kitchen displays have the ability to reduce ticket times by 40%. Not only does this keep your customers happy, but these displays can also be linked to your inventory so your cooks know what’s still in stock, and they can inform them of what items should be prepared first.
5. Optimized Online & Mobile Ordering
As we’ve seen in the grocery store space, online and mobile ordering solutions have become a major convenience feature. With the tap of a few buttons, and paired with order pickup options, customers can pretty much forego the whole drive-thru or dine-in experiences as a whole. Now that the majority of the public have become accustomed to these digital ordering methods, it’ll need to be updated, streamline and much more universal in 2024 and beyond.
One of the major draws to online and mobile ordering comes in the form of a curated and personalized experience. Customers can create a profile on your website or app, add their favorite menu items or go-to orders, and have offers and discounts located in one central area.
Some of the best examples of this personalized digital ordering experience can be seen in both the Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts mobile apps; each one lets the user create their own custom orders with any specific modifications, and they can save these for rapid re-ordering later. They can then find their closest or preferred location and select pickup from there.
Optimizing both mobile and online makes your restaurant a go-to for your customers, and can make them more inclined to order from you often. Further personalizing and updating this feature will also keep your customers satisfied and help streamline the ordering process on the restaurant’s end.
Food Trends That Will Fade
1. Secret Menus
With the growing popularity of various social media sites, it’s easy to get the inside info on the next big thing. This includes new secret menu items you wouldn’t know to ask for. Social media is taking away the fun of having secret drinks and foods from your favorite restaurants like McDonald’s or Starbucks. These chains are likely to remove those items or make the popular ones a more permanent part of the menu if everyone is ordering them like they’re common knowledge.
There’s also the side of social media that isn’t based on facts. Some secret menu ideas may not actually exist. There’s nothing worse than going to order something new and the staff doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Some posts or trending menus need to be fact checked. Be sure you get your information from credible sources.
2. Classic Fast Food Burgers
Yes. The typical fast food burger isn’t going away, but it’s no longer the only option. As mentioned above, there is a rise in healthier eating that is helping usher in more meat substitutes. But aside from those alternatives, there are plenty of establishments highlighting other meat-based options like:
If you’re going all in on a burger, it better be a slam dunk or a legacy item on the menu.
3. The All-Day Breakfast Craze
Having access to hashbrowns and breakfast burritos all day was a benefit everyone was crazy about. However, the all-day breakfast at most fast food restaurants is fading from view. McDonald’s stopped serving all-day breakfast in March of 2020 at the start of COVID to make things easier on staff and don’t plan to bring it back anytime soon. Taco Bell started offering breakfast in March of 2014, but never made the jump to all-day breakfast.
You’ll find that there aren’t very many fast food restaurants that offer all-day breakfast anymore and that’s due to the staff shortage. As of yet, there’s no word on if it will someday return or if some restaurants like Wendy’s will add breakfast items to their regular menu for an all-day breakfast option.
4. Super-Sized Dessert
Eating until we feel sick is a thing of the past. Though big desserts give our inner child eyes the size of the moon, our guts are turning. Giant, over-sized desserts are a thing of the past. Since more and more healthy eating trends are emerging, the sugar craze is ending for a lot of people. It’s more likely that when the dessert cart comes around, people will split a normal sized dessert and stay clear of the big and obnoxious death-by-chocolate cakes and ice cream.