Hospitality trends are constantly shifting, and there’s only so much a restaurant owner can do to predict what’s coming next. No one would have guessed that so many people would be working remotely in 2023, or that TikTok would become the next social media powerhouse. Still, staying on top of what’s new can help your restaurant stand out from the pack.
The good news is that changing restaurant trends are an opportunity for restaurants to get a jump on the next big thing and get ahead of the competition. As guest preferences change and new developments in technology come out, keeping up to date can help you in several key ways. First of all, making the most of technology can boost your bottom line by helping you do more with less without compromising hospitality. And showing that you’re aware of the latest trends can attract new guests, build loyalty, and raise your profile.
These are some of the latest hospitality trends to consider for your restaurant.
Food and Menus
Technology trends to watch
People are drawn to the restaurant business because they don’t want to be glued to a screen all day. But there’s no doubt that technology has transformed the industry, especially in recent years.
Digital ordering has been a game changer, and the latest trends for 2023 could change how hospitality businesses operate even more. Innovations like AI, robots, and even QR codes can help restaurants succeed by keeping labor costs down while still delivering on guest experience.
Automations help restaurants do more with less
So far, automation—using tech to streamline operations—has mostly been used for things that happen before the meal, like digital waitlists and self-service order kiosks. But the latest advances offer solutions for back of house too.
Digital kitchen display systems could make paper tickets obsolete. Instead, they show orders on a screen and can even help manage how meals are coursed out.
Other automations can make sure you never run out of supplies or ingredients. Inventory management software updates stock levels based on POS data on what guests order. They can even be set to trigger an automatic reorder when inventory drops below par.
These days, you can create email campaigns that send automatically and auto tag your most valuable guests by visit frequency or spend amount.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot topic
In an industry that already relies on online ordering and digital reservations, AI-powered solutions are the inevitable step. With the promise of lower labor costs, less waste, more effective marketing, and a better guest experience, it’s easy to see why.
According to Forbes, 50% of restaurants surveyed said they planned to leverage artificial intelligence in their businesses. Restaurants can use AI to create contactless drive-throughs, track inventory and demand data to reduce waste, and track customer behavior to create more successful promotions, just to name a few.
Restaurants are already using ChatGPT to beef up menu descriptions, assist withdrive-through ordering and draft promotional copy, according to Hospitality Technology,
Robots can tackle some tasks
With restaurant labor still hard to come by, hospitality brands are looking to robots to handle certain tasks. Quick-serve concepts like Chipotle, White Castle, and Sweetgreen are testing robots that can make chips, flip burgers, and toss salads, according to CNBC.
But that doesn’t mean the tech is out of reach for independent restaurants. Philadelphia Szechuan restaurant Emei has dealt with the labor crunch with Bella, a service robot manufactured by Chinese company Pudu. Bella saves time and money by running food to tables and takeout orders to waiting customers. With dozens of cute, emoji-like facial expressions, customers love taking selfies with the robot, making it a great source of word-of-mouth marketing.
QR codes are here to stay
QR code menus began as a pandemic safety measure. As hospitality businesses have seen the benefits of digital rather than physical menus—lower costs, easier updates—it’s clear that they’re here to stay, in spite of considerable backlash.
The idea of guests pulling up menus on their phones may have seemed like a nonstarter a few years ago. But attitudes have changed as guests and restaurant staff have gotten used to the idea.
In 2023, many people no longer expect paper menus, and restaurant teams have shown that you can provide a warm, welcoming restaurant experience without them. After all, the QR code can free servers from the tasks of ordering and payment, leaving them more time to spend offering personalized hospitality to each guest.
Relationships are everything
These days, good food and standout hospitality just aren’t enough to stand out in a crowded market, especially with an uncertain economy still putting pressure on consumer spending.
To stay competitive, restaurants are going above and beyond to maintain a relationship with every guest who walks in the door. The best restaurants understand they need to focus on every step of the guest journey. That includes everything from personalized marketing to eco-friendly initiatives to subscription services.
Hyper-personalization is the future of hospitality
Digitized guest experiences like online reservations have made it possible to tailor the restaurant experience to each guest. With their preferences, order data, and other information stored in reservation platforms and restaurant CRMs, restaurant teams are poised to offer a higher level of personalization than ever before.
That can look like a digital ordering platform suggesting menu items based on a guest’s past orders or personalizing promotional offers in email marketing based on customer preferences. Data can even be used on premises to free up staff for touches like personalized wine recommendations that strengthen your restaurant’s relationship with guests.
Guest demand sustainability
Restaurant and hotel guests care about the environment more than ever before. One way you can connect with them is by making your business greener. Going the extra mile with eco-friendly ideas like composting and local sourcing can show guests that you care about the same things they do.
Some restaurants are literally bringing the farm to guests’ tables. At the upcoming St. Louis salad spot Neon Greens, diners enjoy hydroponic lettuce grown onsite. The fresh product makes for tastier salads, less food waste, and an engaging customer experience.
“The customer is really a part of the produce journey from seed to plate,” owner Josh Smith told Restaurant Business. “They see the whole thing and it happens before their eyes.”
Subscriptions and loyalty programs keep people coming back
Restaurant owners are always looking for ways to deepen the connection between their business and their customers. Subscriptions are one way to build that relationship.
Restaurant owners say subscriptions provide a source of revenue for the business and a one-on-one experience for guests. “This is just another way for customers to provide a level of support and joy and love for our offerings,” Matt Baker, chef at Washington D.C.’s Michelin-starred restaurant Gravitas, told NPR.
Another option for making guests feel extra special while encouraging them to spend is a loyalty program. Thanks to restaurant tech, the latest loyalty programs go way beyond punch cards for free items. In fact, these stealth loyalty programs let you identify VIP customers based on their habits, then personalize offerings to keep them coming back.
Hospitality is for restaurant teams as well as guests
In 2023, hospitality isn’t limited to guests. The pandemic highlighted the value of hardworking restaurant professionals, and owners are extending that hospitality to their teams.
It’s all about creating a positive work environment, respecting staff as individuals with lives outside the four walls of a restaurant, and treating them with the same respect and consideration that they’re trained to extend to guests. Plus, having a happier staff tends to be good for business in a tight labor market.
Wage increases are the new normal
Pay is one of the biggest factors in attracting and keeping top talent, and restaurant owners can expect to see results from boosting wages to keep great staff around. Some restaurants are trying to stand out from the pack and courting staff with unheard-of benefits like college tuition reimbursement, childcare, and mental health support too.
Menus are getting makeovers
As inflation causes consumers to tighten their budgets, food and beverage trends are shifting in response. Restaurants are sticking with tighter menus that are easier to execute with fewer workers. At the same time, they’re tweaking offerings to include vegetarian and gluten-free options and even changing how orders are picked up to create a smoother customer experience.
Simplified menus help control costs
One way restaurant owners have been coping with higher costs, staffing crunches, and supply chain issues is by paring down their offerings. West Coast burger joint In-N-Out is the blueprint here. The chain’s tight, no-frills menu is backed up by great food and solid customer service.
In the fine dining space, a shift to simplicity can mean prix fixe menus, a limited ability to accommodate substitutions, and radically shorter menus than we’ve seen in years past.
Some guests want plant-based menus
Predictions about plant-based items on restaurant menus are mixed. Some see layoffs and flagging stock prices at alt-protein company Beyond Meat as a sign the bubble is about to burst. But many restaurant owners still see potential in plant-based fare.
Items made from vegetables, like Shake Shack’s new Veggie Shack burger, or vegetable-meat blends could be more successful than faux meat.
A recent report from the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 21% of consumers were looking to reduce meat consumption in 2022—a 6% increase from the previous year.
Takeout shelves and smart lockers streamline takeout
Smoothing out the ordering process is one thing, but what about when that food is ready? Takeout shelves are a simple solution for keeping orders placed through third-party delivery apps streamlined, Vice says. Keeping things moving at order pickup will only become more important as takeout and delivery continue to grow.
A high-tech solution to making order pickup more efficient is the smart locker. After customers order on their phones, they receive a text that their order is ready. A text response opens the locker with their specific order.
Stadium foodservice operations and restaurants like California-based Buckhorn BBQ are already using smart locker systems, according to The Spoon. The tradeoff for the upfront investment and giving up part of the restaurant space is lower labor costs, faster service, and happier customers.
Restaurants have always adapted to improve their bottom lines and keep guests happy, even as customer expectations and advances in technology shift. Keeping on top of hospitality industry trends means you’ll know what’s coming and how to leverage it for your business. Even small tweaks based on upcoming trends can help your restaurant succeed and stay ahead of the competition.