It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the restaurant industry upside down, and operators are currently looking towards the hopeful return of pre-pandemic life. As the world continues to adjust to a new normal, many restaurants and chains are taking strides to keep up with the needs of consumers. The pandemic caused a difficult time for operators and employees, who found themselves in debt or without a stable income. To keep up with the impact the pandemic was having on restaurants, owners had to adjust their business models to provide off-premise dining options for customers, along with optimizing their restaurant with safety and sanitation measures to meet the needs of on-premise diners.

The shifts the pandemic caused in the restaurant industry popularized many trends that were seen as far-off ideas, like an increase in take out and delivery, outdoor dining, or individualized catering orders. Restaurant owners are now looking at which trends are most likely to stay post-pandemic, and what new trends are currently emerging. Find out more on the latest post-pandemic trends in the food and beverage industry below.

What Restaurants Will Look Like Post-COVID

What dining trends will stay and what trends will go depends on the impact they’ve left on customers. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an urgent need for stricter sanitation and social distancing measures, as well as a closure of indoor dining areas across the country. Customers who dined at restaurants during the pandemic were looking to feel safe and comfortable as they enjoyed their meals. Restaurants adjusted to the pandemic by meeting the needs of their customers, and that will continue to be the strategy going forward.

Trends such as outdoor dining or a surge in off-premise dining and delivery are likely to stay, as they remain the most friendly to precautions prompted by the pandemic. Dining areas might look different or even smaller, while outdoor areas are expanded. Adjustments might be made to menus depending on any shortages in inventory from suppliers or a decrease in sales. As restrictions are lifted in several states and vaccines are made available to the public, a return to on-premise dining following new standards will encourage customers to safely return to all their favorite restaurants.

Restaurant Trends That Are Here To Stay Post-Pandemic

If you’re looking to keep up with the latest restaurant trends at your establishment, take a look at how your business has adjusted to the pandemic. Incorporating new safety and sanitation procedures prompted by the pandemic should continue to be used in your restaurant as the world adjusts back to a lifestyle similar to pre-pandemic times. Innovations that will stay in the restaurant industry are the ones that consumers reacted the most positively to. Below are restaurant trends that are likely to stay in a post-pandemic world.

More Off-Premise Dining Options

Although trend forecasters had been predicting a rise in take out and delivery orders years before the pandemic, the unpredictable shutdown of indoor dining rooms caused a total takeover in off-premise dining options for restaurants. Customers are still choosing to order food to their homes rather than go out and dine. Many restaurants and chains will continue their focus on optimizing take out and delivery orders for their customers.

Innovations in the industry such as virtual kitchens or partnerships between restaurants and third-party ordering apps will continue to have a strong impact on consumers. Restaurants should be fully equipped to take on large numbers of take out and delivery orders. Many chains have launched their own delivery services, to drop off orders right at their customer’s doorstep without using a third-party app.

Drive-thru lanes have become popular again, along with curbside pickup at restaurants to make the experience of picking up orders easier for customers. It would be important to invest in your delivery packaging for orders, to ensure that meals arrive looking well put together and free from damage during delivery. Consider creating promotional deals centered around take out and delivery orders to attract customers to your establishment.

Complimentary Sanitation Measures

Following the strict guidelines for sanitation and safety in public spaces caused by the pandemic, operators have had to double down on cleaning standards at restaurants. The use of face masks, gloves, sanitizer stations, temperature testers, and other safety measures were all put in place in restaurants throughout the country. Taking precautionary measures to make dining at restaurants a safe experience for employees and customers alike has been a priority during the pandemic.

As state restrictions for restaurants and bars start to ease up, restaurants have the choice to include or not include certain safety standards at their establishments. Prioritizing the safety of attendees at restaurants will be a make-or-break factor for potential customers looking to go back to dining out instead of at home. Complimentary sanitizing measures for customers is a trend that will carry on post-pandemic, to make on-premise diners feel comfortable.

Offering temperature testers, gloves, or hand sanitizer to guests before they sit down at tables is a great way to let customers know you care about their safety during the pandemic. Using single-use tableware for meals and beverages will also continue to be a lasting trend for restaurants. Operators should continue to encourage wiping down tables and plexiglass in between seating parties, along with other cleaning standards throughout the kitchen and dining area.

Technology And Innovation In Restaurants

Technology is rapidly innovating each year, and the pandemic has allowed businesses to merge with new technology to connect with customers in virtual spaces. Since consumers are spending more time at home, using digital offerings and technology to catch the attention of customers has become a recent trend during the pandemic. Incorporating more technology and digital presence into restaurants is a lasting trend that we’ll continue to see in the future.

Online ordering took off as many restaurants and chains optimized their online presence to make placing orders virtually easy for customers. Some operators launched their own delivery app, and many restaurants created their first partnership with third-party ordering apps to make mobile ordering accessible for customers. Digital loyalty programs are a rising trend that allows customers to earn points for rewards at their favorite food spots.

As restrictions were lifted and dining rooms were reopened, operators have begun shifting their focus to incorporate technology into their on-premise dining experiences. QR-coded menus have replaced traditional paper menus, and customers can order their meals and drinks through a digital menu instead of a waiter. Frictionless ordering, or eliminating unnecessary steps in the checkout process have become popular at restaurants and chains. Mobile payment systems for orders have optimized the payment process for diners. Although adding technological tools may be costly for your restaurant, it’s important to consider how technology can transform dining experiences for guests.

Off-Premise Alcohol Delivery

As bars, clubs, and restaurants were shut down for long periods of time at the start of the pandemic, there was a surge in off-premise alcohol delivery and to-go cocktails. Many operators were able to obtain liquor licenses to serve alcohol to off-premise guests. Bars got creative and made-to-go cocktail kits, inspired by classic and popular cocktails at their establishment. Some restaurants even offered cocktail courses on online platforms to encourage guests to interact with their business and learn how to create cocktails at home.

Consumers have reacted positively to off-premise alcohol delivery and it is a trend that isn’t going anywhere, especially as restaurants and bars renew their licenses or adjust to new regulations. Some restaurants and grocery stores have even begun offering monthly alcohol subscription services, where customers can pay a flat fee to have alcohol catered to their taste delivered to their doors. Mobile ordering apps have begun offering to-go cocktails and wines so that customers can grab their favorite drink while placing a delivery or pickup order.

Changes In Seating

Although restrictions have eased up across the country, social distancing guidelines and precautions will be heavily encouraged for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has drastically changed the look of restaurant interiors and exteriors. Indoor dining closures forced operators to take their tables outside and create outdoor dining spaces. Large amounts of tables were replaced with fewer tables spaced out throughout the dining area. Bars have transitioned from traditional bar seating to lounge-style seating. Many restaurants even got rid of their indoor dining rooms in favor of a larger kitchen and pick-up area for orders.

The changes in seating, kitchen spaces, and dining areas brought on by the pandemic will likely continue in the future. Restaurants can continue to adjust to fewer restrictions as states begin to lift them, but many operators have found that the new seating and kitchen design style works well for their business. A well-designed space that prioritizes comfort and safety standards for customers will be the biggest factor in driving traffic back to your restaurant.

Outdoor dining will transition into a permanent dining space for guests in the future. Consumers have responded positively to outdoor seating, as they can dine comfortably and safely. Investing in outdoor dining spaces will be a great solution to meeting the needs of customers. Using plexiglass dividers in between tables and counters in dining areas is a trend that will continue to stick, as it helps restaurants follows social distancing measures.

How Your Restaurant Can Adapt To Trends

The best way your restaurant can adapt to the upcoming post-pandemic trends is by not staying stagnant in everyday operations. The pandemic has taught restaurant owners that pivoting and continuously adjusting during uncertain times will help your business pull through onto the other side. Even though the restaurant industry isn’t fully recovered from the losses caused by COVID-19, the upcoming years show signs of recovery and hope for many operators and employees.

Take some time to consider what trends will work best at your establishment. Whether it’s an increased emphasis on delivery, new seating changes, or innovations in frictionless ordering, customers will take notice of all the new additions to your establishment that are catered to comfort and safety. Keeping up with restaurant trends will keep your business ahead of competitors and drive traffic and sales back into your restaurant. Continue to shift as pandemic-related updates on dining restrictions come out and encourage your guests to leave feedback on what makes them feel comfortable while enjoying a meal at your restaurant.