Restaurants and the foodservice industry have rounded the corner and moved from surviving to thriving. Menus are finally expanding again with new ideas and old favorites on an almost monthly basis. Additionally, prototype and future-proof concepts have gone from talking points to open locations. These changes are not quick fixes or temporary solutions; instead, they look to usher in the next decade of the industry.

Businesses have spent the last few years being forced to constantly adapt to difficult circumstances. Menus were cut down to only essential items that streamline kitchen efficiency. Traditional storefronts were rendered obsolete as companies attempted to convert them to handle off-premise orders. These solutions were always meant to be temporary; however, more permanent plans were put into place. We are approaching the 4th quarter of 2022 and have reached a level of stability that resembles the past, yet also looks toward the future.

Instead of shuttering stores, chains are beginning to expand again, yet their physical footprint is considerably smaller this time. Intricate dining rooms and oversized kitchens are no longer the future. Off-premise sales have become an important component of every restaurant and efficient kitchens have been prioritized to fill multiple order types. Dining rooms are still important for many formats; however, they are difficult to fill in some areas and that lost revenue has been subsidized by delivery sales. The pandemic and labor shortages have also made smaller footprints an attractive option. Smaller locations have also allowed businesses to reach markets that their larger traditional locations wouldn’t have been suitable for.

Double drive-thrus and dedicated areas for pick-up have now become staples of the industry. These smaller locations are reminiscent of what we saw following the Great Recession, although the technology utilized in these spaces is cutting edge. A.I. ordering and automated kitchen processes are becoming more common along with automated pick-up lockers and customer vehicle tracking for mobile orders. New versions of these locations are opening on a daily basis, and they are being developed for every format from fast-food to fine dining.

Menus have also become an important part of the recovery process. After having been chopped down for simplicity, most major chains are looking to expand their options. Traditional favorites that were cut in 2020 have started to return and most have been shrewdly reintroduced through mobile only menus. These popular limited time offerings have driven customers toward off-premise sales and fit in nicely with their plan for smaller physical footprints. New items have also started debuting and it shows that restaurants are willing to experiment again instead of simply relying on ingredients already present at their locations. Among those new items is a renewed focus on plant-based alternatives. There was a push towards these items before that pandemic and it is a positive sign that not all plans of the past have been abandoned.

The future for the restaurant and foodservice industry is finally looking bright again. There are still challenges to overcome, yet there has been a commitment to find solutions that will last for years to come. Restaurants have proven to be one of the most adaptable industries and they will continue to do so in the face of adversity. The future is both a return to simplicity and an advancement of technology.