Restaurant Trend Predictions for 2022

Ah yes, it’s that time of the year, literally the last day, where we throw down some bold predictions for the restaurant industry. Not necessarily in what foods will be trending, but more focused on larger shifts and notable changes to be expected in 2022.

This future-casting is fueled by our discussions with leaders on the Forktales podcast, thought leadership that we’ve provided in the trades, and keeping a keen eye on the news and journalism from day-to-day. There are a few major realities unfolding that I think will fuel these trends. Namely, the skyrocketing inflation, stagnant employment, and the lengthened pandemic will all affect how people behave and what they want from restaurants moving forward.

For starters, it’s safe to say that health and safety aren’t temporary focal points for operations and messaging. They’re must-haves just as caring about the carbon footprint and impact on the environment are expectations at this point. Additionally, quality of product and sourcing is important to patrons and will remain so. That’s not to say that buzzwords like “local” and “organic” are the only way to do business, but knowing where the product is sourced helps fuel the patron’s reasons to believe in the brand and value of what they’re buying.

So, without future adieu, here’s what’s in store for 2022:

1. Tech Titans Get Connected

It’s time that technology goes from the ad-hoc systems-integration-after-the-fact approach to actual, realized convergence. 2022 will see big moves towards that goal. Whether it’s via cooperation between players large and small, or acquisition-fueled, technology pillars must start to work together in unison. We’ve already seen some shifts ahead like Zenreach’s name change and flag-in-the-ground moment. Now called Adentro, the company focuses less on basic wifi gating, and more on an entire in-store ecosystem. Convergence will help restaurants further their push to more optimized operations which cannot happen soon enough.

2. Crypto Kicks Off

There is a massive amount of movement in the crypto-world and for most, it’s over the head and confusing. As crypto shifts to more mainstream, and it already is, restaurants have a way to capitalize, and they should. Inflation leads to furthering the instability of the dollar and other traditional currencies. The big wall keeping crypto from going mainstream is how it’s accepted at scale. We need to see a world where crypto is used for purchases at the counter, at the back door, and everywhere else. Additionally, Crypto needs to solve the carbon-footprint issue that’s caused major influencers to take a step back from it. This could be that year. Crypto, although still volatile, offers a bright future for restaurants.

3. Virtual Kitchens Find Real Traction

To date, Virtual and Ghost Kitchens have been in an early adoption phase. Yes, there are kinks to iron out and some struggles to overcome, but it’s safe to say the industry is invested in the potential of these concepts. Quite simply, they offer ways for restaurants to fill in gaps in revenue and maximize the revenue potential of their brick and mortar. Because of this energy and focus, virtual kitchens will continue to grow in popularity, the bumps will be worked out, and strong concepts will get traction and thrive.

4. Budget is King

Inflation is real and it’s affecting those who comprise a very large portion of restaurant patrons. That means budgets are cinching up and people are keeping their eyes on their budget. This will have very negative consequences for struggling brands. On the flip side, there is an opportunity to reclaim value-minded approaches to the P-mix and offering. Deals, value meals, and other value-focused offerings will thrive this year and year to come as a result.

5. High Value for High Touch

As large brands surge towards streamlining operations with technology that eliminates/reduces workforce and increases focus on delivery, pickup, and drive-thru, the people will be left with a hole. The fact is, despite our collective move towards more delivery and pickup, human connection is a very real human need. That will leave an opportunity open for high-touch experiences that are safe but more experiential-driven.

6. Push Back to Suburbia

Major American cities are seeing violent increases in crime and cost of living. This has happened before and what we saw was a push to suburban living. In a lot of ways, this is cyclical so it’s easy to see it happening again. Suburban areas will see a big rise in population in 2022 whether it’s from the bordering city dwellers or transplants from other US cities looking for a lower cost of living. It’s already happening in the South in cities like Nashville, Atlanta, and Florida in general. The surge will continue making real estate and opportunities in the suburbs absolutely prime.

7. Here Come the Robots

Yes, robots are here and more are coming and that spans not only literal machines in the kitchen, but also Artificial Intelligence. Automation, in general, will be one of the keys to realizing success and profitability in 2022. Whether it’s replacing the front line with kiosks, or having a system that builds, bakes and boxes pizza, robotics and automation are going to revolutionize the quick-serve space.

By no means are these the only trends, but I do believe they’ll be the biggest, notable shifts. Suffice to say things are always in tumult due to outside factors like the Pandemic. Despite those types of influences, I think it’s safe to say that 2022 will be wild in what we see come out of the industry and how we adapt and continue to evolve as consumers. Stay #Bullhearted

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