Restaurant Tech Trends: What's on the Menu for 2021?

Christine Antonelli
Dec 16, 2020 9:02:56 AM

Natural disasters and obstacles often serve as both challenges and catalysts for systemic change. The COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world in 2020 is no exception. The pandemic has, without question, posed an existential threat to the restaurant industry. The intimate nature of dining is such that restaurants can quickly become transmission hotspots.

As a result, restaurants have been the targets of some of the more severe measures and restrictions put into place in hopes of curbing transmission of the virus.

Without a doubt, these restrictions have severely hurt the restaurant industry as we know it. They have also served as massive drivers of change that will likely persist for years to come. Most of the change has centered around a digital transformation that has redefined the interaction between restaurant and consumer like never before.

New & Innovative Concepts

With restrictions on indoor gathering, table distance, and server interaction, dining as we've known it has changed. This change, however, hasn't stopped innovative restauranteurs from continuing to offer unique dining experiences.

According to Forbes Magazine, a fascinating trend born out of the pandemic is the rise in so-called "pop-up" restaurants. In a pop-up, chefs utilize empty, and often temporary, space to create highly-focused dining concepts specializing in one or two offerings. This trend has enabled high-end restauranteurs and well-known chefs to expand comfortably into a more casual dining experience while keeping costs relatively low.

For concepts that want even less of an overhead, "ghost kitchens" offer ultimate flexibility. Ghost kitchens are multi-use commercial kitchens that can be rented by chefs and restauranteurs on an as-needed basis. Primarily serving delivery-only concepts, ghost kitchens have exploded in popularity over the past twelve months.

Of course, not all of the significant trends we're seeing require the development of new concepts. Perhaps the most prevalent evolution has been the widespread introduction of curbside pickup options for existing restaurants. Curbside offerings have enabled consumers to continue supporting their favorite establishments while maintaining compliance with COVID-related restrictions.

Increased Personalization

The pandemic has necessitated a rapid shift to a self-driven, tech-enabled ordering and delivery experience for restaurants. This shift has, in turn, opened up a treasure trove of consumer data. The result has been an increased focus on personalized recommendations and experiences.

Again, according to Forbes Magazine, many food retailers have found themselves able to leverage newly-collected data points to transition from fixed-term special and static menus to a series of dynamic offerings driven by individual preferences.

More importantly, however, is the fact that many are now taking the next logical step in this evolution, namely embedding of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) tools into everyday operations.

This shift toward predictive, A.I.-driven operational insights represents the Holy Grail of retail analytics. At long last, business intelligence and operations have begun to converge and transform into a new, real-time decision-engine that puts customer desires and sentiments at the forefront. This shift will, undoubtedly, define the restaurant dining experience for the coming generation and beyond.

An Ongoing Trend Toward Reduced Human Interaction

The interesting thing about forced responses to external issues like the pandemic is that they tend to stick around long after the crisis has passed. The overall trend toward reduced human interaction promises to be no different.

According to Modern Restaurant Management Magazine, many industry experts anticipate that pandemic responses will continue to evolve. This includes the so-called "smart menus" hosted digitally and automatically customized to a particular consumer's tastes through A.I.

While the pandemic will surely be remembered as one of, if not the most challenging times the restaurant industry has ever faced, it will also be remembered as the event that led to a quantum leap in innovation.

Whether we're talking about new concepts, increased personalization, or a continued reduction in human interaction, a simple fact remains. Innovation will not only continue but accelerate in these uncertain and challenging times.

About the Author - Chris Antonelli

Christine Antonelli_HSAs Solugenix VP of Customer Experience and Support Services, Chris Antonelli manages the delivery of customer support services and customer experience initiatives for clients in the retail and financial services industries. Chris leverages two decades of experience in leadership roles where she has guided best-in-class customer support service solutions to global brands like McDonald’s, BMW, Citibank, Sonic Drive-In, and Jiffy Lube. As an Executive Council member for Ellevate Network, Chris is dedicated to the professional development of women in the workforce and ardent supporter of remote workforce development.

Connect with Chris Antonelli on: LinkedIn

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