The last couple of years have been a trying time for the restaurant and foodservice industries. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused plenty of challenges, ranging from supply chain issues to staffing shortages. However, it also has helped accelerate growing trends. Some of the innovations and new concepts that came from these disruptions should gain steam next year. From casual dining and schools to QSRs and c-stores, below are potential restaurant and foodservice trends that could blossom in 2022.
1. Improved Mobile Experiences
Like most businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated mobile technology over the last two years. Naturally, this technological boom progressed in 2021 and will continue to be one of the biggest foodservice and restaurant trends in 2022. Since the majority of your customers have a mobile device of some kind, you should find ways to further enhance your mobile experience on the web or with an app. Below are ways to enhance them:
There’s nothing more frustrating than an app or mobile site that doesn’t work on your phone or tablet. If the user experience of your app is poorly laid out or confusing to navigate, less people will be willing to use it. As more and more restaurants are adopting their own proprietary applications for ordering and more, it’s important to update and streamline your app’s user experience for 2022.
Some fast food chains have jumped on this trend. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts has an app that makes ordering as easy as can be. Customers can find their closest location, place a mobile pick-up order, add their credit card for payment to a scannable QR code that’s right in the app and automatically redeem loyalty rewards points (more on that later). Customers can even save their favorite orders for an even quicker ordering process.
A good app lets users make just a few taps to efficiently order whatever they’d like, with a clear layout for easy navigation and a one-step payment process. Making it easy to use—from ordering to exploring the menu and more—will encourage your customers to frequently use it more often. This, of course, can lead to increased sales and a good brand reputation.
Offering customers a loyalty reward program on your mobile app streamlines the process significantly, making it even easier for customers to earn points and rewards upon ordering and purchasing.
Using our previous Dunkin’ Donuts example, their rewards program is done entirely through their app, where customers can earn points with each order they make. The app then keeps track of the points that are earned, and once customers earn 200 points, they receive a free drink. It also offers rewards program customers exclusive offers and ways to earn extra points.
A similar loyalty program system can be adopted by any type for commercial foodservice space in 2022—even for smaller restaurants or education- and corporate-based dining. If you already have a loyalty program, make sure it’s a mobile-friendly one. Ensure you have an app that sends push notifications with QR codes or digital coupons, so they can easily redeem offers when placing a mobile order or paying in person.
2. More IoT Connectivity
According to a recent customer survey, about 54% of our independent and chain restaurant respondents said they’re likely to invest in more digital technology over the next 1-3 years. In the last five years, you’ve probably read about or seen smart equipment and technology for the both the front and back of the house. However, these solutions are starting to go from trend to mainstay in restaurants and other foodservice establishments.
Internet of Things, or IoT, is one of the fastest-growing forms of tech and will only become more prominent in the space. IoT helps digital devices communicate with one another over internet connection, helping everything from POS systems to kitchen equipment work in sync with one another without human intervention. Jay Fiske of Powerhouse Dynamics discussed the growth of connected equipment and IoT in a March episode of the PartsCast. He pointed to the disruption of ghost kitchen growth during COVID-19 along with ubiquitous internet connectivity, cloud-based enterprise software and the release of more smart equipment as the main drivers that are pushing connectivity in foodservice applications.
So what does a connected kitchen look like? It lets equipment update recipes in realtime via a cloud-based software or sends stats about cook times, inventory and equipment statuses all to your smartphone. IoT also alerts kitchen staff or an authorized service agent when it’s time to clean or service a piece of equipment. While the initial investment can be costly in the short term, the benefits can have long-term gains for your business. As Fiske highlighted, it can make a kitchen more efficient, cost effective and less prone to downtime.
“The beauty [of IoT] is looking across the enterprise, finding these exceptions and trends, so you can then act on them right away.” Fiske said. “If I’m a technician, I can log in and look at all the information and say ‘here’s the issue.’ I now know exactly what I need on my truck before I roll onto the site. And then with data, I’m going to know if my repair was effective. It allows service technicians to respond more quickly and, in some cases, even before the operator even notices a problem.”
3. Enhanced Delivery & Pickup
As we’ve seen in the previous few years, delivery and carryout will still be king as more and more customers have grown accustomed to the convenience it provides them. To keep up with the ever-increasing demand, many innovations and technological advancements have been developed to not only make the delivery and ordering process easier but also generate income during uncertain times. Here is what you can expect:
In-House or Third-Party Delivery?
There is an interesting debate on whether in-house or third-party delivery is the right option. While in-house eliminates third-party commission fees and lets you keep brand identity, it requires you to have the proper staff and resources to handle processing and delivery. This can be tricky with current workforce shortages, unless you already have a robust staff or plan on offering extremely competitive wages. On the other hand, third-party delivery apps remove this headache of planning and finding drivers. If you do have a sufficient number of team members, consider a hybrid model that offers both. According to a June DoorDash study, orderers prefer the convenience, familiarity and direct line of communication with the restaurant or food establishment. So why should you also be on third-party apps? Being on multiple marketplaces at once provides more exposure and reach to potential customers.
Advanced Pick-Up & Carryout Solutions
Even the process of picking up orders is getting the technical touch. While they’ve been growing in popularity for some time, it’s only been recently that advancements like PUC heating cabinets and other technologies allow customers to pick up hot, freshly-prepared food. OEMs like Hatco have manufactured heated food lockers that allow you to store the carryout order in a single compartment that can then be accessed by the customer or third-party delivery person via a special code. This not only diminishes the confusion of which order goes to whom, but it also makes for a contact-free experience. Additionally, equipment like the Chowbotics Sally 2.0 lets customers prep their own fresh salads and other items with no contact, packaging it for safe travel. With the need for contactless carryout growing, investing in units like these will help set your business apart.
To-Go Cocktails & Pre-Packaged Meal Kits
One way to further streamline the delivery and carryout process is by offering your restaurant’s signature cocktails and dishes as pre-portioned kits. To-go cocktails and readily packaged meal kits have been a success over the last 20 months. These allow customers to make your signature dishes at home using the exact ingredients needed. Similarly, with to-go cocktails, you provide them with the pre-packaged and sealed alcohol and ingredients or an already-mixed concoction. With the popularity of meal kit subscription services like Freshly, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, the New Year could be a great opportunity to bring this trend back and give your customers even more options.
4. Additional Touchless Solutions
We called out touchless tech as a key focus in 2021, and it should continue to be a major foodservice trend in 2022. Hands-free solutions not only keep surfaces safe and sanitary, but they also provide an extra level of convenience that customers started to grow accustomed to during the pandemic. If you haven’t yet made the switch to the innovations below, the new year is the perfect time to do so.
Many establishments, especially in the fine and casual dining spaces, have slowly started to add paperless menus accessed via a QR code. While they were used mainly as safety measure during the pandemic, they’re next evolution can serve ordering tools from the table. If staff shortages continue in 2022, customers can scan the QR code, select their food and have the orders sent to your POS system. These mobile menus also can help upsell other menu items by offering recommended sides and beverages.
Both beverage and condiment equipment have really come a long way in terms of touchless technology. Bunn, for example, offers a kit that allows users to dispense coffee and other beverages from a carafe by simply pressing a clean cup against a lever, allowing the user to quickly dispense one-handed. Also, Server has a range of touchless condiment dispensers that can dispense a perfect portion with just a wave of a hand.
Forearm & Foot Door Handles
Not all touchless products use sensory technology. Hands-free door handles and pulls let users open doors with their forearm, wrist or foot, these touchless handles and pulls greatly reduces contamination from perhaps one of the most touched surfaces in any kitchen. The best part is that options like the Nemco Clean Getaway Foot and Forearm door pulls are simple to install, meaning they can be easily incorporated in any commercial foodservice space.
As previously mentioned, quickpay apps are not only convenient for mobile ordering, but they’re also the perfect no-contact way for customers to purchase goods from your establishment. Thanks to apps like Chase QuickPay and Apple Pay, payment is as simple as scanning a QR code or tapping a device. This means no contact for the customer and your staff. While no-contact quickpay apps aren’t necessarily a new innovation, the adoption of them should definitely be incorporated in the new year for ease and safety.
5. Expanded Menu Items
Your menu might have plenty of the mainstays customers have loved since day one. But the pandemic taught us that people love to explore new varieties of food. Whether it was during the lockdown 2020 or relaxed restrictions in spring and summer of 2021, enjoying takeout or dine-in became an experience. Adding just a few extra dishes outside your standard offerings can attract new customers and offer your existing base something different to try. Below are a couple of suggestions for expanding your menu in 2022:
With customers ordering in more often, they’ve been exposed to a wider variety of flavors, dishes and regional cuisines from across the globe. Now that they’ve become accustomed to that, they’re surely craving more. Particularly, flavors and dishes from New Orleans, India and Afro-Caribbean regions have become more prevalent on menus and, consequently, expanded the palates of diners. These dishes utilize bright, bold spices, heat and flavor profiles that are unique for the typical North American normal. If you especially specialize in entrees like these, now’s the time to pull out all the stops and incorporate them into your menu.
Eco-Friendly & Vegan Substitutes
Since the end of 2019, the steady rise in popularity of plant-based meat and dairy substitutes hasn’t stopped, with items like Beyond Meat and oatmilk becoming new staples on supermarket shelves and in chain restaurants across the board. Since consumers are becoming more aware of the impact of commercial meat and dairy production—along with the increased health awareness—adopting these substitutes is easier than ever since you know a good majority of your customers will love it. Much more recently, another newcomer has been gaining significant traction in the protein substitute game: lab-grown meat. While it’s still far from commercial production, it’s certainly making waves, and could soon be popping up as an option on menus.