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2020: A Year in Review for Restaurant Owners and Operators

A year in review for restaurant owners and operators

In today’s post, we’re exploring the impact of 2020 on restaurants, restaurant owners, and restaurant operations. Plus, how will restaurant operations look in 2021?

2020 was an unprecedented year for everyone. But, especially for restaurant owners and operators.

Moving into 2021, how will 2020 continue to influence restaurant operations? We predict:

  • Continued demand for delivery and takeout 
  • Outdoor dining sticks around
  • More ghost kitchens
  • Emphasis on speciality menu items and deals
  • Comfort food rules

Now, let’s move into our takeaways on how 2020 will impact restaurants, restaurant owners, and restaurant operations in 2021.

Takeout food

More takeout and delivery

First and foremost, one of the biggest impacts on restaurants in 2020 was the delivery boom. With businesses closed and stay-at-home orders in place, in-house dining at restaurants suffered. 

“Due to measures of social distancing and general caution in public places, consumers have been dining out less and less. The year-over-year decline of seated diners in restaurants in the U.S. was a staggering 50.31% on November 28, 2020,” explains Statista. 

However, despite frequent closures of on-premise dining, consumers still wanted restaurant meals. To this end, many consumers turned to takeout and delivery to enjoy restaurant items at home. Moving forward, experts say the takeout demand will remain sky-high in 2021.

The 2021 takeaway: With the future of on-premise dining in flux, consumers will continue to rely heavily on takeout and delivery for their favorite meals.

outdoor dining setup

Outdoor dining opportunities 

Secondly, 2020 brought us more outdoor dining.  The advent of coronavirus shut down many businesses, including restaurants. As time passed, many institutions recommended outdoor dining, over indoor dining, for safety and ventilation reasons. Savvy restaurant owners and operators took note and set up shop outdoors. 

Restaurant owners set up outdoor dining:

  • Under tents
  • In empty parking lots
  • On sidewalks
  • In alleyways
  • And more!

While the explosion of outdoor dining required much initial planning and investment by restaurant operators,  consumers loved the new al fresco dining options.

“By leveraging skyline views, waterfront vistas, sunsets, people watching, and more, outdoor dining can offer a sense of time, place, and wonder that even the most intriguing indoor spaces cannot. By bringing socialization outside and drawing positive attention to the establishment, outdoor spots can also add value to a restaurant by increasing the seating capacity and boosting revenue potential,” explains Daniel P. Smith in FSR Magazine.

The 2021 takeaway: The coronavirus will eventually dissipate, but outdoor dining is likely here to stay. Customers love the vibrant energy of enjoying meals outside.

unique meal

Creative menu offerings

In 2020 we witnessed the extreme innovation of restaurant operators and owners. One of the biggest manifestations of this creativity was the launch of new speciality menu items, to drive more delivery ordering.

Restaurant menus are more streamlined to lower in-house costs but increasingly innovative to drive traffic. There’s new menu offerings, such as the value deals, and faster service, while ingredients and items are more streamlined,” Anne Mills, senior manager of consumer insights at Technomic, told Provisioner.

Looking forward, consumers will continue to want to spend on the most unique and interesting menu items. With tightened budgets and widespread uncertainty, speciality items or deals will be the most appealing to diners who want bang for their buck.

The 2021 takeaway: Creative menu offerings and concepts will help attract and retain customers.  Unique deals can entice new diners to choose your restaurant.

More ghost kitchens

Another huge new trend in 2020 was the boom of ghost kitchens. Ghost kitchens are pickup and delivery-only restaurants.  

Ghost kitchens also go by the names:

  • Virtual kitchen
  • Cloud kitchen
  • Commissary 

How does a ghost kitchen work?  Restaurateurs rent kitchen stations in communal spaces. This allows operators to scale up their food delivery services, without the higher costs of renting a restaurant with on-premise dining. 

Ghost kitchens are a hot trend in the food delivery arena. They allow restaurants to be closer to a market without shelling out the cash needed for a brick-and-mortar location,” says Business Insider.

Ghost kitchens hit it big in 2020 and experts predict cloud kitchens will only grow in popularity this coming year.

The 2021 takeaway: Restaurant owners who want higher profits from their delivery business could see success with ghost kitchens.

Comfort food rules

Finally, one more huge 2020 influence that will carry over into 2021 is a desire for comfort food. Thanks to a extremely stressful year, consumers craved comfort food, via delivery and takeout orders.

“Yelp reported that for both takeout and dine-in options in 2020, people continued to gravitate to comfort food takeout staples in addition to more trendy ingredients,” explains EiteDaily.

In fact, in 2020, online orders of these comfort foods went up:

  • sandwiches +21%
  • burgers +10%
  • pizza +9%
  • fried chicken +5%

With the future uncertain, expect diners to keep seeking out comfort any way they can. 

The 2021 takeaway: Customers want comfort food when they order delivery. Restaurants that can offer delicious, soul-satisfying meals will hit it out of the park this year.