As the world transforms into a new normal, owners continue to face challenges and make adjustments in their restaurant operations and venues to align with the ever-evolving changes. While many are cautiously optimistic, others long for the days when staffing shortages, soaring prices, and supply chain disruptions will no longer be the topic of conversation.
Through uncertain times, integrating growing trends can help restauranteurs and their customers get excited instead of dreading the inevitable cycles found within our industry. While jumping onto every bandwagon can cause chaos, finding your niche in the changing landscape can lead to increased profits and more enjoyment. So, let’s explore the latest restaurant trends in restaurant operations as spring turns to summer.
The Growing Hybrid Restaurant Trend
We’ve all heard about the growing number of remote workers, with companies developing huddle spaces to large boardrooms to accommodate the trend towards a hybrid workforce. So, what does this have to do with restaurant operations?
A hybrid restaurant combines full-service and limited-service venues. Once a rare breed, this solution became a mainstay during the pandemic and now appears to be increasing in numbers in restaurant operations. Full-service restaurants have adopted this model in numerous ways and adjusted their operations, including creating a dedicated space for grab-and-go orders or offering full service for the dinner crowd and a counter-type service for breakfast or lunch.
Some full-service restaurants have even maintained or implemented drive-thru options, whether in the form of a traditional drive-thru window or staff bringing meals to customers via curbside parking spots. Smokey Bones is one such restaurant chain incorporating a drive-thru lane. They also adopted another growing hybrid-like restaurant model, launching two virtual brands: The Wing Experience and The Burger Experience.
The State of Automation
Due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic and workforce woes, many restaurants turned to automation and technology as a lifeline to alter their restaurant operations. Even as 2022 nears the half-point, and despite increasing pay and adding benefits, many operators are still experiencing labor shortages that affect the quality of service and hours of operation.
To negate these effects, restaurants may turn to robotic chefs for easily automated items such as hamburgers or chicken wings. Robochefs like Moley can even go a step further, creating international cuisine through uploaded recipes and procedures. Moley even cleans after preparing the food. One brand’s creative adjustment in restaurant operations!
However, not all customers, or even a majority, are greeting the technological advancements with enthusiasm. According to a report by Big Red Rooster, 75% of customers feel that interacting with a human is a critical aspect of going out to a restaurant and 48% said they would be skeptical if they saw robots in the kitchen.
The Growing Entertainment Trend
Even before the pandemic, more restaurant-goers were looking for an experience. After the pandemic, that desire intensified. One study found that 75% of people would spend more for a unique dining experience. Experts suggest that “eatertainment” a phrase created to define the growing number of restaurants incorporating games and other shared experiences, is poised for a strong comeback.
So, what constitutes a “unique dining experience”? Restaurants like Flight Club, Smoky Barrels, Electric Gamebox, and Puttshack have taken this model to the next level, offering technologically-advanced darts, virtual hunting, immersive gaming, and golf.
Most restaurants, however, don’t have the capacity or space to incorporate this type of entertainment. Instead, you can create a memorable dining experience with a unique theme or menu, ambiance, social activities like games, or entertainers and performers. Think about the unique experiences that have stayed in your memory, and then find a way to bring an aspect of those into your restaurant, fueling customer satisfaction and recognition.
Can restaurants be automated?
While fully automated restaurants are hard to imagine, growing technology has found its way into many restaurant chains. For example, White Castle and CaliBurger introduced Flippy, a burger-flipping robot, and Little Caesar’s brought pizza-making robots into the kitchen. On a grander scale, Spyce, a fully automated restaurant, was invented by MIT students, and Pazzi, a fully automated pizza restaurant, opened its doors in Paris in 2021.
What is “eatertainment?”
Eatertainment is a guest experience that includes activities as well as before, during, or after dining. Traditional examples include music venues that sell food and drinks, restaurants and bars that incorporate games and movie theaters like Silverspot Cinema that offer upscale food and beverages within a cinematic complex.
Are more restaurants incorporating drive-thru lanes?
Several quick-serve and fast-casual operations developed drive-thru lanes after dining rooms shut down. A few of these include Epic Burger, Chicken Salad Chick, and Salata. Well-known Chipotle, the Mexican fast-casual chain, is prioritizing this type of service with their Chipotlanes. Even full-service chains like Applebee’s are leaning into the drive-thru option.