Beyond COVID-19: 10 Restaurant Trends that will Outlast the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is still in full force and will likely continue at this pace for the next few months.

With the announcements that vaccines are on the horizon, everyone is breathing a collective (masked) sigh of relief. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. For the restaurant industry, hope can’t come soon enough. Those in the industry are working tirelessly to stay afloat, keeping patrons and staff as safe as possible. Over the last year, we’ve all learned a thing or two, and there are some restaurant trends that we will keep once this has passed.

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We’re not ready to relax restrictions, especially right now as the pandemic rages on. But restaurant owners have displayed their typical moxie to stay afloat during these challenging times. Many foodservice joints have struggled but are continuing to keep their heads above water.

But how will the industry change once this is all over? We’ve talked about the lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic—how to stay safe, the importance of having an online presence, offering lots of to-go options. Which restaurant trends will leave once the pandemic is a mystery? More importantly, which trends do we think will stay in place from now on?

While the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge, it hasn’t been all bad. Here are 10 restaurant trends that diners have embraced and will likely continue to seek for the foreseeable future.

1. Contactless Service

The hospitality industry has always been known for service with a smile, but with masks and distancing, not everyone wants human contact with their meal. Many restaurants had already embraced the idea of “contactless service” before the pandemic.

Apps like Ritual, and restaurant-specific apps like Starbucks, allow hungry patrons to place their order from their phone, pay online, and pick it up from a designated counter spot—no conversation necessary! This type of ordering was already taking off, and during the pandemic, it became even more popular. Expect it to continue to thrive as the new normal.

2. Meatless Meals

With meat shortages early in the pandemic, many diners started to give vegetarian and vegan fare a try. Meatless swaps like Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger gave passable meat-free options both in restaurants and grocery stores. Whether cooking at home or dining out, folks realized that “hey, you know, these veggie burgers aren’t bad at all!”

Many fast-food chains have jumped on the restaurant trend. Pre-pandemic, Dunkin’ rolled out a Beyond Meat sausage biscuit, and Burger King debuted the popular Impossible Whopper. Pizza Hut features a Beyond Meat sausage pizza now, and McDonald’s introduces the McPlant in the spring. Vegetarians and curious carnivores alike can agree that the meatless option restaurant trend is here to stay.

3. Online Ordering

During the pandemic, restauranteurs realized the importance of a robust online presence. When options are limited, and diners are mostly staying home, impulse-eating has fallen by the wayside. Now restaurant-goers plan and many times order ahead for pickup or delivery.

If you didn’t have an online ordering system in place before the pandemic, the chances are high that you have some system in place now. If and when the vaccine rolls out, diners will still probably feel gun-shy about embracing the pre-pandemic dining experience. Online ordering will remain a convenience and a precaution, even when (some) impulsivity returns.

4. Social Sharing

Before the pandemic, the Instagrammable meal was a hot restaurant trend. Social media mavens and influencers loved to click and share delicious images of their food. Food blogs, restaurant influencers, and foodie groups popped up everywhere on social. Restaurants learned the importance of curating a hashtag and offering unique and photo-worthy dishes.

The socially shareable meal is here to stay. During the pandemic, at-home diners continued to snap and share their cooking efforts and takeout meals. In fact, in many ways, the food-sharing trend took off even more as people spent more time online, longing for their pre-pandemic activities. Like it or leave it, the food social media trend will be around for a LONG time to come.

5. Less Waste

Another trend taking off before the pandemic was a conscious reduction of waste in packaging and food preparation. Restaurants switched out disposable plasticware, straws, and Styrofoam containers for eco-friendly options. Disposable water bottles were trending down, and recycling was trending up. Sustainable meals, locally grown farm-to-table options, and snout-to-tail preparation was becoming more widely embraced.

As restaurants tightened their belts and their budgets, the low-waste restaurant trend continued. Yes, we’ve seen a return of disposable utensils and water bottles for sanitation’s sake, but that’s leveling back down. With hunger on the rise and concerns about the planet, sustainability will continue to be the expectation for foodservice going forward.

6. Outdoor Dining

Outdoor dining has been popular for quite a while. Dining “al fresco” on the sidewalk or patio is a norm in Europe, South America, and plenty of other places with warm, temperate climates. But with the pandemic, we’ve seen the outdoor dining trend become a year-round phenomenon even in chillier spots, like the Midwest.

Heated patio setups, tents, domes, and other shelters have become popular options to help restaurants keep customers satisfied. Now that many restaurant managers have done the legwork to set up these outdoor dining spots, chances are they’ll keep them in place going forward. While patrons might still be less apt to dine outdoors in freezing weather, a heater and a well-placed awning will make the situation much more welcoming going forward.

7. Smaller Groups

Let’s face it—the pandemic has forced us to reflect on what really matters to us. For most of us, it’s close friends and family. We’ve carefully cultivated those connections over the last several months, as we’ve learned to socialize in small groups and pods. So when this pandemic is over, will we return to the days of large gatherings?

It will likely take people quite a while before they feel comfortable socializing in big crowds. Weddings, events, and conferences will take a smaller, more intimate approach. Dining will likely continue on this trend as well. As many restaurants have rearranged to accommodate smaller groups and clusters, most will probably keep the new layout as we advance. The good news is that smaller tables are often faster to turn over, so you can still keep your traffic flow steady.

8. Meal Kits

Some restaurants have put together meal kits and even cocktail kits for patrons to take home and enjoy later. These kits might include the ingredients to cook a gourmet meal from the comfort of your home kitchen, or they may come as fully cooked meals to heat and serve later.

This restaurant trend was already beginning before the pandemic. How many restaurants bottle their “famous sauce” or offer holiday catering options? During the pandemic, many people awakened their inner home chef and discovered a love of cooking. Meal kits and pre-prepared dishes will stay popular going forward.

9. Comfort Food

We could all use some comfort these days, and fortunately, many comfort foods are perfect for online-ordering, takeout, and outdoor dining. Soothing soups, hearty pasta dishes, and filling sandwiches are great options for restaurants to offer as specials. People want carbs and warmth right now.

Will this restaurant trend continue? Well, people always love comfort foods, even in the best of times. Many people will likely take a small shift to healthier eating to help them shed the “quarantine 15” and stress weight they’ve put on in the last few months. But at the core, comfort food is popular because it reminds us of happy times, homes, and connections. These aspects will continue to be near and dear to people in the future, even when the situation is brighter.

10. Restaurants as an Escape

People love restaurants because they offer an escape from routine. When you eat at a restaurant, it’s an adventure, a celebration, and a special time! Restaurants gained popularity and will continue to be popular because they offer patrons a joyful experience, whether it’s a cup of joe at the local café or an upscale meal and a fine dining establishment.

Travel trends are slow to rebound from the pandemic. People may not be looking to vacation for at least a while, but they will still crave a chance to get away. Restaurants fulfill that need and help people try something new and different. Providing an escape from the norm is a restaurant trend that will continue for good.

Even when a vaccine is available, and the pandemic starts to recede, it will have forever changed our lives. For many of us, there are positives that we can take away from the experience. The way you run your restaurant in the next few years may look a little different than initially planned, but that’s okay. You can still follow these restaurant trends post-COVID-19 and experience success.

Reliable Water Services is Here for You

Hot water is critical to health, sanitation, and safety in general, but it’s especially vital to the industries we serve—and the majority of those industries are considered essential businesses. As our customers remain operational during these unprecedented times, so does Reliable Water Services.

Making sure our customers have hot water has always been our main priority, and now more than ever, we are here for you. We will continue to provide 24/7 water heater services to our customers, ensuring you have the hot water your business relies on. Our office team is practicing social distancing by working remotely or staying 6 feet apart while in the office. Meanwhile, our service technicians and installing contractors are following extra safety guidelines to ensure they can service your building safely without putting themselves or your staff members at risk.

Our team at RWS has always viewed the relationship with each of our customers as a partnership. Through this partnership, we will work together and get through these unique and challenging times. As always, should you need service contact us 24/7 at 1-800-356-1444. Stay safe, and be well!