20 Ways Restaurants Are Going to Change in 2021 and Beyond

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What will restaurants be like in the years to come? How will the often devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic (among other factors) alter the way we dine out? What can we expect from the places we eat or dine — whether the local burger joint or the Michelin-starred establishment helmed by a celebrity chef — in 2021 and beyond?

 The restaurant industry constantly evolves, responding to changing consumer tastes, social pressures, and new rules and regulations, often adopting new technologies meant to improve diner experience or bring new tools to business management.

Data and consulting firms and foodservice trade publications regularly track trends, predicting forthcoming developments ranging from new menu ideas to high-tech innovations to the effects of demographic shifts on workforce and customer base alike.

As one example, late last year, before COVID-19 appeared, the National Restaurant Association (the so-called “other NRA”) — which represents more than 500,000 restaurants around the country and considers itself the world’s largest foodservice trade organization — released an extensive report titled “Restaurant Industry 2030: Actionable Insights for the Future.”

Prepared by the NRA in partnership with American Express and Nestlé Professional, the report contains numerous projections and predictions. Some of these predictions stem from the NRA’s own accumulation of data, but the bulk are based on a study involving more than a hundred industry experts, including NRA officials, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and consultants. 

Not surprisingly, given the report was prepared before COVID-19, the pandemic has compromised some of the predictions — most notably the forecasts of increased revenue and restaurant expansion. Other predictions, on the other hand, probably still have a good chance of coming true in some form, especially those involving technological advances. (Alterations in food and drink purchases are among the 19 ways the coronavirus has changed what Americans buy.) 

 Of course, COVID-19 has also brought changes — in some cases probably permanent — that no amount of data analysis or savvy intuition could have predicted in 2019. These changes involve everything from the exponential growth of takeout and delivery to the blossoming of European-like outdoor dining areas, as well as the sad fact that many thousands of restaurants have been affected so much by the crisis that they have simply ceased to exist. These, for instance, are the saddest restaurant closings of 2020.

 Based on a combination of the NRA study and other reports from a variety of business and foodservice sites, 24/7 Tempo has assembled this list of 20 ways restaurants are likely to change (or have already changed) in the months and years to come.