20 Ways Restaurants Are Going to Change in 2021 and Beyond

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11. Some things will disappear from bars and restaurants

Famously unsanitary bar fixtures like bartenders’ soda guns and pre-cut fruit garnishes will likely disappear out of continued post-pandemic concern for hygiene, as will self-service soda machines. And lingering customer concerns about possible contamination will almost certainly mean the demise of buffets, salad bars, and other help-yourself arrangements. New technologies like automated systems to provide customized choices from buffets are being tested.

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12. Some health and safety measures will probably become permanent

Even when COVID-19 disappears completely from the planet — assuming that it will — industry experts expect sanitation measures introduced in 2020 to remain the new standard. Plexiglass dividers that have been installed in restaurants might well remain in place, and hand sanitizers and improved hand-washing facilities almost certainly will. Data and consulting group Kantar found that guests expect more cleanliness from restaurants now than they did before the pandemic, and that divider screens and socially distanced tables had an unexpected plus side: the enforced isolation “helped participants have a more private, intimate experience with their tablemates.”

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13. Customer outreach will get more sophisticated

Building on existing social media marketing programs, operators will get more personal and localized, perhaps using geo-tracking and even facial recognition technology to anticipate customer needs and wants. Frequent-diner databases and loyalty programs will become more common. In general, says the NRN, restaurants will “apply data analytics to predict and capitalize on consumer demand and optimize supply economics.”

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14. Apps may become more important than restaurants

With the rapid rise of food delivery apps and the fact that delivery services will likely launch ghost kitchens of their own, with unique URLs, consumers might become more loyal to the apps than to any real restaurants — at least when they’re ordering in. If they want a certain kind of pizza or a particular Chinese dish, that is, they might not care where it comes from as long as obtaining it is fast and easy.

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15. Self-driving cars might deliver your food

Though the pandemic may have slowed their development somewhat, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are coming. They might become practical as delivery carriers before they start actually driving people around, and they will even be able to pick up food at drive-thru windows (which will require some redesign of drive-thru layouts). When they do start carrying people, their passengers will have more time to eat, and they will be able to eat different kinds of food because they’ll have both hands free.