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2021 Hospitality Trends: Predictions for the Future of Dining

2021 Hospitality Trends: Predictions for the Future of Dining

2020 has been a turbulent year for businesses around the globe. With COVID-19 transforming the world as we know it overnight, many sectors were hard hit by a sudden onslaught of regulations and restrictions on everyday life. And the hospitality industry has been forced to fight for its place in a changing world. While most of us are ready to leave this year in the past, many of the innovations and hospitality trends that emerged in response to the sudden challenges are here to stay, and will be an important part of managing a successful restaurant in 2021. 

It’s time to jump in with both feet, meet the future of dining and embrace the hospitality trends of 2021. 


Go the distance with delivery

Find out how to implement online takeout and delivery and grow sales while streamlining kitchen workflows with our food delivery service guide.


The age of convenience and fast casual

The restaurant industry has been through a sharp change of pace in the past year. One major trend following this shift is the move towards the convenience of fast casual.

Brodie Somerville, owner of Maynard restaurant, echoes this sentiment, adding that “the industry is moving towards the fast casual, pick up, the quick and easy, especially in the larger industries.” And while some restaurants are well equipped to take on the transition, many have struggled to find the sweet spot between what customers want and what they’re able to offer. 

“Some of the restaurants that are having a hard time are the old-school fine dining establishments that aren’t willing to adapt, or frankly can’t adapt because their business model doesn’t allow them to put things in a cardboard box,” says Somerville. 

While this move to fast casual isn’t necessarily a new thing, the ongoing pandemic has fast-tracked what was a slower, but evident move towards convenience. 

According to Dustin Haffner, General Manager of BRGR BRGR, this was a change that was in the making for some time now. “Things have changed drastically, but for years there’s been a shift to a lot more takeout and delivery. Guests want convenience, they want ease, they want simple, they want choices. They want all of that with speed but they also want quality,” says Haffner.

What can restaurants do to meet this in 2021? According to Andrew Bacque, General Manager at Gongfu Bao, it’s embracing that theme of “accessibility, whether that’s a menu that’s accessible, lower cost or easier to takeout.”


Eating in is the new dining out

In most cities around the world, on-premise dining has taken a major hit. This hit has steered the increase of delivery orders, takeout and online ordering. And with a majority of restaurant traffic in April being off-premise, restaurants that want to stay relevant need to find a way to change the way they serve their customers. 

While some restaurants proceeded to package and send out their dishes with minimal changes, others sought to embrace the shift, change their menus and get inventive with new offerings that would help replicate the experience of eating out. 

As restaurants remain partially closed, and restrictions increase due to the second wave of the pandemic, ordering in and eating at home will likely remain a major player in the months to come. Restaurants that want to stay competitive need to adapt their offering to be better suited for consumption outside the restaurant. Adding items like home cooking kits and even wine tastings to your menu can help lure in customers that are looking to combine the convenience of eating in with interesting new options and food that travels well. 

Umami Ramen owner, Cedric Charron, made the best of in-house dining closures by getting creative with his menu. He differentiated his menu by adding items like a ramen picnic set as well as a mixed case of great sake. Adapting your menu on a regular basis and offering interesting options that go well with eating at home will help you stay ahead of the ever-growing competition. 


Taking control with delivery and takeout 

Early on in 2020, restaurants realized that delivery and takeout were becoming a big part of serving convenience to a changing customer. Those that already offered it, started revisiting their strategies to add resources to delivery and takeout, while those who didn’t, hurried to add it to their offering. In 2021, delivery and takeout will continue being essential to running any restaurant. 

The way restaurants choose to manage delivery, however, is beginning to change. 

As restaurants worldwide endured rolling closures of their dining rooms, an online presence and frictionless delivery and takeout experience have provided a crucial lifeline. —Dax Dasilva, CEO, Lightspeed

From third-party to in-house 

Due to the increased logistics and costs associated with creating an in-house delivery system, many restaurants resorted to working with third-party players like Uber Eats and DoorDash. While this is a great and easy way to get access to a huge network of customers quickly, it also comes at a cost with third-party platforms charging high commissions that can eat up the bottom line for many restaurants. 

With delivery continuing to grow as an important part of a restaurant’s livelihood, many are looking to take more ownership and control of the process by bringing it in house. 

According to Sam Roper, Senior Manager of Business Development at Lightspeed, in 2021 in-house delivery options will become more popular. “Restaurants might start managing the delivery themselves. They can hire a delivery person in addition to working with their usual third-party orders. That way they don’t miss out on making bigger margins if someone orders directly from them, while still having the income from other platforms,” says Roper. 

Having a mix of options can be ideal for businesses that are looking to recoup margins without dedicating an exorbitant amount of resources in the process. “It’s hard to manage the logistics of delivery, a lot of people are finding a happy medium,” adds Roper. 

Online ordering becomes the new normal 

While the hospitality industry is known for its creativity and culinary innovations, many restaurants have lagged behind when it comes to bridging the gap between their physical space and the opportunities of the digital world. 

The growing necessity of adding digital customer-facing options became very clear in 2020 and will continue to be critical for restaurants that want to succeed in 2021 and beyond. 

One step towards embracing the digital era and taking more control over your takeout and delivery is adding in-house online ordering options.  

Online ordering doesn’t just mean ordering delivery or takeout through third-party platforms—it can also mean adding an ordering system that communicates seamlessly with your restaurant point of sale setup, directly on your restaurant website. Even if you don’t have an in-house delivery system set up yet, you can use online ordering to have full control over the take out experience—from the instant someone orders to the time they schedule to pick it up. 

The perks of ordering with one click 

Some of the perks of having your own online ordering system? Having control over the entire process, from the look and feel of your ordering system to the margins while having it feed directly into your system with minimal changes (if any) to your existing operational process. 

Lightspeed’s Order Ahead, for example, allows restaurants to add an online ordering platform that mimics the restaurant’s branding with no third-party commission fees. Customers can easily order ahead for takeout, curbside pickup or a self-managed delivery service. The platform works with the restaurant’s existing workflows and provides them with more control by allowing them to adjust prep times for peak hours. 

While there’s no one way to manage alternative revenue streams for your restaurant, it’s all about trial and error, getting in control and working your way to the ideal combination. “The future is a little bit of everything to everyone. Offering that amazing quick quality takeout that you are in control of, getting delivery in time that you’re in control of and wowing them in the dining room. Doing all three of those, and mastering them all,” says Haffner.


Enhancing health and safety protocols

Of course, we can’t forget the importance of health and safety as a means of staying open during a pandemic. 

Now that most countries have had time to set up certain standard regulations and protocols, restaurants have also been able to finalize their own health and safety processes. Restaurants like The Blind Horse, are prioritizing safety in hopes of instilling confidence in their customers. 

“Of utmost importance to us is that we provide a safe environment so our guests and employees have the opportunity to feel a sense of normalcy and well-being that has been shaken by COVID-19,” says Thomas Nye, General Manager and Master Winemaker. They’ve even included a health and safety video on their website, showcasing all the detailed steps they’ve taken to reduce risks and keep customers safe. 

In 2021, these protocols will continue to be important and a regular part of day-to-day activities. Customers will expect businesses to have clear processes that they’ve been holding up for the past year.  

Everything from wearing masks to constant disinfection of surfaces has to be nailed down as part of regular operations. Doing as much as possible to help ensure customer safety and food safety will be key for businesses hoping to remain open and curb the spread around the globe. 


Contactless solutions are here to stay 

The rule of thumb when it comes to minimizing health and safety risks? Offering contactless options.

Contactless solutions should be a primary focus for restaurants looking to offer safe in-house dining, delivery and takeout options while regaining customer trust in 2021.

Customers looking to get back to restaurants will have plenty of concerns that can be easily solved with contactless solutions. According to Datassential, those main concerns revolve around touching shared surfaces (38%) and being near people (28%). These worries can be reduced by removing the amount of contact points the customer might have, whether that means converting physical menus to digital menus or reorganizing your restaurant to ensure proper spacing between tables

Offering the following contactless services will continue to be the norm in 2021: 

  • Contact-free delivery
  • Pay at table mobile solutions
  • Curbside pickup
  • Online ordering
  • Order scheduling
  • Contactless payments
  • Digital menus such as screens or QR codes

Keeping track with online reservations

Another popular method to properly put health and safety to practice is online reservations. While this is already a convenient way to organize serving times and understand the amount of people coming in at any given time, it is also a new way to comply with many of the tracking regulations imposed in certain regions. 

According to Jerome Cadieux, Manager of the Lightspeed Hospitality Pro Team, “there will definitely be a push to integrate platforms that track diner information, where they sat, their serving time, when they left, etc.” 

This might come as no surprise to restaurants that have had to start customer tracking due to state mandated regulations. “In many states, COVID measures let them operate their dining room as long as they keep a register of everyone who came in,” says Cadieux. 

While online reservations are a great add-on to any restaurant looking to facilitate the way customers interact with them, it will be an even more important component of keeping customers safe in 2021. 


Paving the way with omnichannel

The days of single-touchpoint purchases are long gone. While this has been true in the retail industry for some time now, it’s becoming more and more of a reality in the hospitality sector. 

Customers are likely to zigzag their way across digital and physical touchpoints when making an order or choosing a restaurant, which means that having only one point of contact with them is not only outdated, but can also cost you business. 

This reality could not be more evident than during the current pandemic. According to Dax Dasilva, Lightspeed CEO, the shift towards omnichannel has already started. “We perceive that there’s going to be a major adoption of omnichannel and cloud-based solutions. We’re seeing it now and when the economies reopen these are going to be even more essential, ” says Dasilva. 

But what will omnichannel mean for restaurants in 2021? It means connecting with customers across all the channels they interact with you. This might be having touchpoints such as an eCom shop, online ordering and reservations, or a physical location that all work seamlessly with each other. 

“Omnichannel solutions are becoming more important in restaurants. This means not only having things like online ordering through delivery or third-party apps, or just having your own online ordering app, but really having a solution that encompasses everything.” —Jerome Cadieux, Manager, Lightspeed Hospitality Pro Team

Establishing an online presence

A critical component of building an omnichannel strategy, is creating an online presence that integrates seamlessly with its physical counterpart. According to Roper, restaurants need to start thinking about building a digital hub for their business. “Customers are trying to find your website and if they can’t find good information, you’ve lost them, because there’s so much competition. Having an online presence including touchpoints like an eCom for resto platform, will provide you with a good looking site where you can have all your information in one place and connect to all other delivery platforms,” says Roper. 

Even for restaurants that are just opening up, or looking for new customers, the way people look for places to order from or dine in has completely changed, making omnichannel touchpoints all the more important. 

“People won’t be strolling down the street seeing a new restaurant open up, so it’ll be about the online presence, being featured in a blog, online ordering and having an ecommerce site to sell merchandise to supplement those sales,” adds Roper.  


Branding your merchandise way across channels

Due to the growing restrictions around on-premise dining, many have turned to alternative revenue sources to keep their businesses running. 

One revenue stream that gained popularity throughout the year and will likely continue to grow in 2021 is the creation of branded products. While some restaurants already included merchandise like tshirts, hats or even spices and salad dressings as part of their strategy, it’s now becoming a more important piece of their revenue as their regular source of income decreases. 

Roper agrees that moving forward, people will have to turn to other revenue sources like selling merch or branded products. Whether that’s “Selling cookbooks, products, hats, etc. Fine dining restaurants like Joe Beef have reinvented themselves and are even taking a unique spin like selling TV dinners. The reality is that you can’t run your same restaurant the same way as before.”

If you’re looking to add a restaurant merch to your strategy, just make sure to build it with omnichannel in mind. Offer products in-store and online, and make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for and fall in love with your products. 


Opening the doors to restaurant automation  

Managing a restaurant has always been a mix of matching efficiencies with great cuisine. As margins become tighter and customer traffic decreases, restaurants will constantly have to put their resourcefulness to the test and look to hospitality trends that bring them to the digital age. 

In 2021, automating many of your restaurant operations will be essential when it comes to finding ways to reduce costs, save time and even stay afloat. Opting for add-ons like online ordering can help you take control over your prep schedule and manage orders without getting overwhelmed, all while avoiding the high commission fees of regular third-party services. 

Having a cloud-based POS that works seamlessly with different restaurant tech integrations and has options for a range of add-ons that provide you with alternative revenue streams and ways to manage your time and costs, is a surefire way to increase efficiencies, while reducing the amount of manual labor you put in. 

However, one of the biggest benefits of adding technology to the mix, is the potential to learn from data. 

“What we are starting to see is how we bring all of the learnings of analytics from online to the offline space.” —Isabelle Bénard, SVP of Product, Lightspeed 

According to Stefan Leacock, Business Development Executive for restaurants at Lightspeed, “it’s all about creating efficiencies and making sure that you’re not producing too much and are producing just enough. Being able to have insight into that is something I think many restaurants don’t understand that they need, and as they are becoming less profitable it is extremely important to understand their product and labor costs.” 

2021 is the time to take a good look at your operations, jump into the nitty gritty details of your business and embrace the power of automation and analytics. 


How to keep up with restaurant industry trends

1. Read restaurant industry blogs

There are hundreds—possibly thousands—of restaurant industry blogs that are eagerly waiting to be read by restaurateurs like you. 

2. Stay active on social media

With 77% of the US population active on social media today, there is no better place to keep up with trends than the bustling platforms of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Restaurant owners and their hungry diners are constantly sharing their experiences from all over the world, giving you access to millions of emerging experiences and food and beverage trends at your fingertips.

3. Talk to other restaurant owners, managers and chefs in your community

Although social media gives you access to people from all over the world, sometimes the best knowledge is available right around the corner. Stay connected with the members of your community—both in and out of the restaurant industry—to stay inspired all year long. 

If you don’t have the time to keep tabs on what’s happening across the restaurant industry, we rounded up some statistics to keep you in the know.


40 restaurant industry statistics restaurateurs should know in 2021

General restaurant industry statistics

Restaurant menu statistics

Restaurant digital marketing statistics

Restaurant online ordering statistics

Restaurant tech statistics

Restaurant employment statistics

In order to understand one of the hottest topics in the industry, 7shifts surveyed over 1,900 restaurant employees—from cooks to servers, juice bars to pizzerias—to determine what makes them happy in their restaurant and what managers can do to improve workplace satisfaction.

  • Overall, restaurant employees rate their workplace happiness as an 8/10.
  • Over 60% of workers felt that a promotion would markedly increase their workplace happiness.
  • 67% of restaurant employees would like to receive paid bonuses as recognition from management.
  • 70% of restaurant employees reported that they would like hands-on training from managers.
  • Restaurant employees who are going to quit their job are extremely unhappy with the amount of recognition they receive from management. They want to receive recognition as paid bonuses (72%), verbal kudos (36%), and promotions (32%).
  • 40% of restaurant employees report a lack of team-building events and activities, and nearly a quarter are actively unhappy with how few activities they have.


Getting your restaurant ready for 2021

While in many ways 2021 is a continuation of trends started in 2020, it’s also a year that brings a glimmer of hope to what the future of hospitality has in store. 

“I feel optimistic about the future. Seeing how people are able to pivot even in the state we are now, whether there’s a new normal or not we’re all in this together. As long as you stay visible, stay online and keep it human, people will keep interacting with local businesses,” says Evan Johnston, Sales Engineer at Lightspeed.  

Given all the challenges of the last year, 2021 will undoubtedly be a year of hard work and determination for restaurants around the world. But by embracing the trends, and preparing yourself with the right tools, a new year with new challenges doesn’t need to be as daunting.

And let’s face it, if you could take on 2020, you can do anything. 

Let’s shape the future of dining together. Find out how Lightspeed can help you get ready for the new era of hospitality. 


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