A successful quick-service restaurant is one that always is ahead of the curve, whether it’s incorporating cutting-edge technology or using new equipment. As we venture into the next decade, new fast food trends could emerge as mainstays in the industry.
While the new year is about five months away, you’ll be mapping out a strategy for 2020 before you know it. Now is the time to start thinking about what new features to add to your quick-service restaurant. Below are just some of the latest fast food innovations to keep your eye on heading into next year.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods each make plant-based burger patties that have the same texture and a similar taste to ground beef. The rise of both brands has created a more robust market for vegan customers, and the trend should only grow next year.
In 2019, several fast food restaurants adopted Beyond and Impossible items to their menus. Burger King added the Impossible Whooper® at select locations in April and saw an 18.5 percent lift in foot traffic at those restaurants. As a result, the restaurant permanently added the vegan-friendly Whooper® to their nationwide menu in July. In the past year, Beyond also jumped into the fast-food industry, creating meatless items at all Del Taco and Carl’s Jr. locations.
This trend doesn’t seem like a flash in the pan. KFC said in May that it’s starting to explore plant-based alternatives as well. Kronos, who supplies select quick-service restaurants with meaty Mediterranean foods, is diving into the world of vegan cuisine. The supplier now offers a meatless loaf, which is made from a pea-based protein. The alternative was served up in the form of tiny sliders at this year’s National Restaurant Association show.
According to the New York Times, Impossible Foods is looking to expand their offerings. The manufacturer not only wants to create a new “fishless fish” in the next couple of years, but it also hopes to develop substitutes to all animal-based foods by 2035. While those expectations might seem lofty and far from happening, it speaks to the growing popularity in the plant-based protein.
If the seeds for more meatless proteins were planted in 2019, they could start blooming in 2020.
Easier Ordering & Pick Up
Within the last five years, the process of ordering and picking up food has gotten much easier. Many fast food restaurants have used digital menu boards and self-ordering kiosks. These help reduce lines and ordering times, and they allow customers to explore the menu at their own pace.
But what if we told you it might get even easier and faster?
Self-serve pickup cabinets have started to gain traction in the last year. For example, the new Carter-Hoffmann Pick Up Cabinet (PUC) and Apex Axcess 2000.H Pick-Up Station both integrate into mobile ordering and POS systems. When a customer orders from a restaurant’s app or website, the location immediately receives the order and starts preparing the food. After the food is cooked, it’s stored in the cabinet to stay warm. Once the food is in the cabinet, a text notification is immediately sent to the customer with a personalized pin or QR code. When the customer arrives, they enter the pin or scan the code and pick up their food from the unit.
So what’s the biggest benefit? Customers can order and pay remotely before they enter the store, meaning a restaurant can cut down on staff needed at the registers. More pieces of equipment like this not only will reduce down time, but they also will keep food fresh during pick-up.
More Restaurants Participating in Delivery
Whether it’s an in-house system or through a third party, delivery should continue to grow well into the 2020s. Participation in third-party delivery services grew during the latter portion of the 2010s. Providers like DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub have allowed people to get their favorite fast food without leaving their home or office. Popular chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway and Wendy’s began partnering with third-party services in the last two to three years, and they haven’t looked back.
There are still some notable quick-service establishments who have yet to join the fold. However, they might have to jump in when the next decade rolls around. According to a study by The NPD Group, restaurants have seen an annual growth rate of 23 percent in digital orders since 2013. That is expected to triple by the end of 2020.
The impact could spread to more casual dining establishments too. The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry 2030 Report projects that it will be implemented in a wide variety of places in the next 10 years. The report highlights “10 Sure Things in 2030,” and here was No. 1 on that list:
1. The definition of “restaurant” will change. The digital world and evolving consumer preferences are resulting in an array of restaurant models aimed at giving customers what they want, when and where they want it. Some restaurants will morph into a hybrid model, offering counter service, full service, takeout and delivery, and meal kits. The delivery-only restaurant is on the rise through virtual restaurants and “ghost kitchens.” New food halls feature retail and restaurant pairings to make it easy for people both to eat and to shop for food they can take home. – National Restaurant Association: Restaurant Industry 2030 Report
It begs the question: Could some of this start as soon as next year?
Smart & Efficient Kitchen Equipment
We’ve recently seen commercial kitchen equipment become more efficient and technologically advanced. Some of the advancements in the last few years have helped reduce downtime, energy efficiency and onboarding. And they could really take off in the 2020s.
For instance, Henny Penny released the new FlexFry fryer this year, which combines the benefits of open and pressure frying into one battery footprint. With an auto top-off function, an easy-to-use touchscreen interface and a three-minute express filtration system, operating the machine is simple for both seasoned chefs and novice cooks.
You know how some quick-service restaurants are really emphasizing breakfast nowadays? The folks at Antunes developed a machine to meet the demand for all those scrambled eggs. Released in 2018, the JS-1000 Jet Steamer is designed to cook food quickly and efficiently, making two scrambled eggs in just 10 seconds and individual servings of soap, chili or oatmeal in only 15 seconds. The rapid cook times drew the attention of major fast food chains within the last year, including most McDonald’s locations nationwide. As the technology improves over the next decade, we could see more of these types of units that either match or exceed those fast cook times.
Running an efficient kitchen is key, but getting the right data is tricky. More equipment is becoming WiFi-connected and Bluetooth-enabled, allowing kitchen managers to stay informed quicker and get the latest updates faster. However, new solutions, such as UNOX Data Driven Cooking, let you track everything from water usage, energy consumption, cooking times and equipment use all from your smartphone. That means you can view equipment statuses, consumption reports and even recipe suggestions all from one easy platform. Since this tech is only in its infancy, the industry should start seeing even more refined programs and equipment that help maximize efficiency and operation.
We’ve already seen the growth of ordering kiosks, but what about something voice operated? It might be coming sooner than you think.
During the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show, ZIVELO and Mastercard showcased an AI drive-in prototype that takes a customer’s order using voice commands. As shown in the video above, the board would let a customer begin ordering with a simple prompt like “hello” or “I’d like to order.” The AI not only listens and tracks the order, but it also is programmed to give recommendations and customize an order. You want to hold the onions or add fries? No problem.
But that’s not all. The machine also would remember previous orders based on voice recognition. So if you like to order that double cheeseburger with fries and a soft drink, the board will display it immediately after your greeting and give you the option to change it.
When can you expect to see these? ZIVELO and Mastercard are hoping to pilot at select Sonic locations by the end of the year before officially rolling out this new technology. However, you might just see more of these popping up in 2020.