Consultant forecast: A view from FCSI The Americas

Off-premise dining and customer-focused technology will continue to grow, Professional Members of FCSI The Americas tell Amelia Levin

When it comes to food trends, the climate crisis and a new generation of plant-based cooking and eating will have an impact in 2020, according to a report by third-party research firm Datassential. That’s already taking shape in the form of sustainable ingredient selection, enhanced or reduced packaging waste and the decreased use of plastics. In addition, more operators are turning to hydroponics and other forms of on-site farms for “hyper-regional” food and to do their part to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

The National Restaurant Association’s Hudson Riehle, said during a State of the Industry webcast last year that the industry is at a “tipping point,” with the strong possibility that a new business model will emerge, whether that’s in the form of enhanced drive-thru or delivery services, leveraging technology in various ways, or even switching to ghost kitchens for higher-volume food production.

Connie Dickson FCSI, principal with Rippe Associates, has a similar view. “Across segments, operators want technology that can offset hiring challenges and help them position their staff strategically for maximum guest impact,” she says. “Think smart equipment, mobile technology like order/pay apps, robots for foodservice tasks including delivery.”

Off-premise remains growth area

According to a report from CBRE Group, over a third of adults in the U.S. and half of Millennials are more likely to order food for delivery compared to two years ago. The report predicted that a whopping 70% of third-party sales will be delivery by 2022, up from 37% in 2016 and 58% last year. Delivery-only ghost kitchens will become a primary growth vehicle for restaurant delivery platforms, the report stated.

In fact, the National Restaurant Association has reported that off-premise sales now account for 60% of all foodservice occasions, and compared to 2018, 39% of customers have used the drive-thru channel more; 34% have ordered more delivery, and 29% have ordered more takeout.

This has led to more chains revamping their restaurant designs to include separate areas and even entrances for online order and off-premise pickup, while others have upgraded their drive-thru platforms, some using AI and automated ordering.

Investing in technology

Kristin Sedej FCSI, president-principal of S2O Consultants, also notes that 2020 will be all about “technology, technology, technology. Especially all formats of customer order entry.”

Indeed, Riehle told Forbes last year that 70% of quick-service operators plan to invest more in technology. The Association, in its 2019 State of the Industry report noted that nearly four in 10 operators plan to invest more in expanding their off-premise business this year, including 41% of family dining operators; 35% of casual dining operators; 35% of fine dining operators; 36% of quick-serve operators; 39% of fast casual operators, and 43% of coffee/snack concepts.

According to Ken Schwartz FCSI, president of SSA, “any design that enhances the guest experience” will take top billing this year when it comes to trends. Specifically, that could be in the form of a next-generation open kitchen with live-fire cooking and chefs’ counters.

In addition, the industry has already seen a growth in the number of “eatertainment” concepts around the country. These concepts offer both entertainment and high-quality (and typically high-volume) food, whether that’s at a renovated or brand new sports arena, a live music venue or even modern arcade-restaurants, dart throwing venues, Japanese-style listening bars and more.

Amelia Levin

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