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As 2024 kicks off, restaurant owners are actively planning for the year ahead. In particular, they’re paying close attention to the latest restaurant trends — these emerging patterns provide valuable hints about the future of the industry. When you know what’s on the horizon, you’re better prepared to identify trends with staying power and adapt your dining operations accordingly.
What does 2024 have in store? Let’s take a closer look at the restaurant industry trends that will shape customer preferences, menu engineering, and food service over the next 12 months.
Keeping your finger on the pulse of the restaurant industry
Is it necessary for restaurant owners to pay attention to trends? Yes — especially in today’s ever-changing dining landscape. New technologies and evolving consumer behavior are transforming the food industry rapidly, and restaurants must adapt to stay relevant. And because restaurant industry trends affect diners’ expectations, staying on top of consumer trends can help you build and maintain a loyal customer base.
8 restaurant trends for 2024
This year promises to be an interesting one for the restaurant industry. From artificial intelligence to flexible food delivery, here are the trends affecting restaurants in 2024.
1. Plant-based menus
Vegans and carnivores alike are making a conscious effort to eat less meat. In fact, 31% of Americans use a plant-based alternative for animal products in about eight of their weekly meals.
In 2024, restaurants can adapt to this dining trend by offering more meat-free menu items for customers. You don’t necessarily need to add new dishes; simply create options with and without meat. It’s also helpful to offer plant-based options for milk, cheese, and protein.
If you choose to add more vegan or vegetarian items to your menu, make sure they’re packed with flavor and fresh herbs. Using fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes is a great way to bulk up a meal and leave guests feeling satisfied.
2. Ghost kitchens
Ghost kitchens — delivery-only commercial kitchens without a storefront — continue to be a popular restaurant trend. If you own a restaurant, this is one way to get more value from the kitchen outside traditional business hours. You might also use ghost kitchens to try out new types of cuisine or see how customers react to new menu items.
If you’re an aspiring restaurant owner, a ghost kitchen can be an affordable way to set up shop. All you need is space in a licensed kitchen; there’s no need to hire servers or decorate and furnish a dining room.
Customers are growing increasingly accustomed to personalization in every aspect of their lives, and the restaurant industry is no different. In 2024, expect restaurants to find ways to create a dining experience that’s tailored to individual consumers.
How is it possible to offer individualized service to everyone? Popular options include:
- Self-service kiosks or online ordering systems that recommend dishes based on order history
- Marketing emails that are customized to suit different audience segments
- Loyalty programs that offer gifts or dining discounts for birthdays and special occasions
If your restaurant isn’t employing personalization strategies, now’s the time to start. The more you can make guests feel unique, the easier it is to secure repeat business.
4. Enhanced dining experiences
Customers don’t go to a restaurant just for delicious food — they come to have a specific dining experience. If they’re in the mood to celebrate, they might look for a spot with energetic music and a colorful interior; for a date, they may prioritize restaurants with romantic lighting and an intimate atmosphere.
This year, many restaurants will cater to customers’ preferences by offering a more memorable dining experience. You can hop on this trend by:
- Defining the specific customer experience you want to provide
- Upgrading your decor or furnishings
- Adjusting lighting to create a specific mood or ambiance
- Training your staff to offer top-notch service
- Elevating the presentation of meals and drinks
- Scheduling live entertainment or special events
- Hosting weekly game or trivia nights
Sometimes, providing a better dining experience is simply a matter of leaning into what’s already working — maintain your core offering and focus on peripheral factors. If customers love your diner’s homey vibe and chatty servers, for example, you might upgrade the experience with a sparkling-clean interior or new menus.
5. Advanced restaurant technology
Technology is one of the biggest restaurant industry trends to keep an eye on in 2024. Establishments everywhere are adopting new types of restaurant technology to streamline operations, create custom experiences for consumers, and combat labor shortages.
In some cases, these new tools can help you keep pace with customer expectations. Take contactless payments, for example — diners expect to be able to tap their phone or smartwatch to pay with a digital wallet. Other tools, including QR codes, are holdovers from the pandemic. Many restaurants have ditched physical menus in favor of a digital menu and online ordering website that customers can access right from their phones.
6. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to make big changes in the restaurant industry in 2024. The power of AI lies in its ability to analyze mountains of data in seconds — and more importantly, return useful insights that can improve your business.
Some ways AI is transforming restaurant operations include:
- Recommending dishes that align with individual customers’ tastes
- Suggesting inventory quantities based on past sales data to reduce food waste
- Creating employee schedules to suit anticipated order volume and staff availability
- Building a predictive maintenance schedule for kitchen equipment
7. Incorporating regional ingredients
According to the National Restaurant Association, regional menus are one of the top trends for 2024. Restaurants across the country are looking for ways to incorporate local specialty items into their menus. It’s a great way to celebrate the region’s culinary heritage and create a unique selling point for your restaurant. You can celebrate seasonal ingredients by adapting a seasonal menu that highlights local flavors.
If your restaurant is planning to embrace regional food items in 2024, social media can help you get the word out to consumers. Food trends get a great deal of attention on TikTok and Instagram, which can grow your digital presence and bring more foot traffic to your restaurant.
8. Food delivery and takeout
In the past few years, diners have grown to expect a flexible and customizable restaurant experience. This is especially true when it comes to takeout and delivery — customers want to design a process that’s perfectly suited to their needs at the moment. If they don’t feel like chatting with the food delivery person, they might request contactless drop-off. If they live in a high-rise, they may need the driver to leave the food in a specific place.
If your restaurant offers takeout and delivery, it’s important to build flexibility into the process. The more customization options you can provide, the easier it is to offer an experience that delights customers and encourages them to order again in the future.
Be a leader, not a follower
Successful restaurant owners know that while it’s important to stay current with the latest restaurant trends, caution is critical. After all, not every trend is a good fit for your establishment. Some are fleeting, and others simply don’t have the desired impact on your bottom line. By choosing the trends that fit your customer base and business model, you can increase the return on investment and see bigger long-term benefits.
Grubhub can help you stay one step ahead. Our industry-leading delivery and online ordering platform comes with the latest tools for restaurant marketing, promotions, and loyalty programs. We also pride ourselves on providing the most useful and up-to-date resources for our partner restaurants — that way, you can gain a competitive advantage in your local market. Want to learn more about the possibilities? Try Grubhub for Restaurants today.