News and Insights

The Future of Restaurants

November 23, 2020

Last year when we launched our 2020 Future of Food Report – FORESIGHT IS 20/20 – little did we know that a global catastrophe would dramatically change not the content but the context in which these insights were validated.

If anything, COVID-19 hasn’t so much altered but accelerated many of our predictions – like the continued rise of ghost kitchens, fermentation, personalized nutrition, vegan movement, gut health, artisanal meat, mental well-being in the workplace and more.

We revisited an earlier edition of Future of Food Report in 2017 – CONFLICT & CONSCIENCE – which highlighted the changing roles of chefs as activists and scientists, the race to stem waste, more fabricated food, scaled down simplicity and nostalgia-evoking menus. These trends continue to loom large but for entirely different reasons and with a sense of urgency today.

As we look ahead to “build back better” in such uncertain times, here are six things we can be certain about:

1. Ghosts are real and a reality for future restaurants. Call it cloud, virtual or digital, but off-premises kitchens are here to stay and will be part of restaurant business models going forward. Restaurants will have to find creative ways to unbundle and reframe the dining experience in the same way that retailers have had to create omni-channel strategies in the wake of e-commerce. Recovery will require developing a new long-term economic model that includes partial on-premises dining and an expansion of off-premises solutions.

2. Restaurant design going forward will build in safety and hygiene measures and technology (i.e. contactless dining rooms, built-in UV light sanitisers, etc.) in a way that’s non-intrusive. Expect new material finishes with strong tactile and emotional qualities to add warmth to a physical space. Nature and biophilic design are net winners. And the ultimate holy grail: outdoor space.

3. Expect more temporary pop-ups… outdoors, in nature, via mobile pods, in repurposed industrial sites, underused parking lots and vacant real estate. Food trucks will come back in vogue, but instead of being parked in locations, they’ll be doing the neighborhood rounds. (Repurposed ice cream trucks?)

4. Menus will become even more streamlined, sincere and soul-soothing. Count on a heaping portion of nostalgia and more of mom’s recipes on the menus for feel-good, hearty food.

5. Restaurants taking on social issues head on. Whether it’s workplace wellness, hunger, inequality, sustainability or unfair labor practices, restaurants are realizing and mobilizing their agency over social change. Through food banks and pantries, they’re redefining their roles and rebuilding their neighborhoods.

6. Restaurants will continue to be our portal to (non) travel and new cultures. With travel bans in place for the foreseeable future, the closer we’ll get to discovering and experiencing new places will be through plates – destination restaurants, “third culture” chefs riffing on cross-culture cuisines, and ethnic eateries serving an iconic dish.

One thing we can all be certain about: Restaurants bring people together. And inasmuch as this is under threat today, we will need this human connection to build back better. Restaurants will be critical in bringing neighborhoods and communities back to life.

TAGS: Food & Beverage