March 11, 2021

Emerging from COVID: 6 Dining Trends That Will Outlast the Pandemic

A year has passed since the initial COVID-19 outbreak and our industry landscape has changed dramatically. Restaurants have adjusted business operations to retain revenue which shifted quoting activity we saw on AQ’s platform throughout 2020. These changes allowed the industry to continue thriving during a year of so much uncertainty, with some expected to retain momentum for the foreseeable future.

Trend Summary

Sales trends for 2020 centered around consumer behavior driven by guidelines implemented throughout much of the country. Many of these changes are still in place as businesses continue adjusting to renewed stability. Our team put together a list of the top 6 trends we saw in 2020 that are expected to outlast the pandemic as the economy recovers.

  1. Increased takeout and delivery services

The supplementary idea of food delivery took off while in-person dining was put on hold. During the pandemic alone, revenue doubled for the top four delivery service businesses in the United States. As a result, quoting of food storage equipment gained traction, allowing restaurants to meet the rising demand in these types of restaurant orders. This market growth has also sparked increased interest in off-premise service kitchens which require versatile equipment for space leasees with broad menus.

  1. Adoption of digital technology

An increase in takeout orders was met with a broader use of digital solutions to help restaurant businesses automate their operations. The widespread adoption of contactless experiences centered around safety precautions. Restaurant menus were listed through QR codes, payment options were offered online, and kitchen display screens were installed. This is just another example of a trend that was already in an uptick and has now gained traction quicker than initial 2020 projections. As more automation is implemented on the operator side, it will only be expected to start playing a role for the FES industry.

  1. Outdoor dining on the rise

With indoor dining on hold in many areas, restaurants shifted accommodations to outdoor spaces that followed regulations. While outdoor dining wasn't a new concept, it's role in the vitality of restaurant businesses created a shift in quoting activity for outdoor equipment and supplies on our platform. Sales for outdoor heating equipment peaked around October as businesses prepared for weather changes. The demand for the trend withstood dropping winter temperatures which helped keep many local restaurants afloat.

  1. Timed dining experiences

Restaurants were comfortable experimenting with the “appointment” concept of servicing customers. Some shifted reservations to include specific dining start and end times. This allowed servers to provide patrons with reminders of their remaining "appointment" time, all while easily keeping track of their tables based on reservation schedules. The strategy, combined with an optimized socially-distanced layout, allowed businesses to maximize accommodations for patrons while staying in compliance with capacity limits.

  1. Limited-service requests

The pandemic required restaurants to heighten safety protocols for both customers and employees. One solution to minimize risk was the implementation of limited services for in-person dining. Some restaurants got creative with table signs that signaled when patrons required service, eliminating the need for additional table check-ins for servers unless they are specifically requested. This strategy was often combined with contactless check-ins and touchscreen payment options that further reduce the amount of interactions expected between staff and customers.

  1. Slimmed-down menus

Cutting items from menus was popular as it allowed restaurants to reduce costs related to both food and supplies, allowing them to explore budget options for their businesses. It’s a concept that’s become trendy for neighborhood eateries with high customer fidelity. Customers have reacted positively to smaller rotating menus that allow them to continue supporting their local restaurants while providing them with revolving new experiences.

While the industry is still in the early stages of its rebound, there is a lot of enthusiasm from all sides to revitalize restaurant dining throughout the country. The shelf life of the trends adopted during the pandemic will vary. Some will fade with time while others will establish themselves as a part of standardized business strategies. Team AQ will continue to track the projection of trends affecting our customers and continue sharing updated results through our State of the Industry series.

Related Links: State of the FES Industry: Interpreting Trends Through AQ Data, Ghost Kitchens: Cutting Costs with a Modern Business Solution

Alex Cruz - Marketing Associate

Alex is a Marketing Associate at Revalize, AQ's parent company. Her focus is on delivering innovative content to our clients through our digital platforms. She brings with her years of experience in various B2B industries that enable her to provide a fresh perspective to our customers.

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