With our sights firmly set on the future it is critically important to look back at how circumstances impacted dining in 2020, because the collective consumer behaviour that we observed is instructive for how restaurants need to look at dining trends going forward.
In addition to struggling to survive government-forced closures, restaurateurs have had to contend with a duality of demands: how to meet the new criterion of in-house hospitality, and how to redefine hospitality for a contactless experience.
“Restaurants across the country, including fine dining restaurants that rely heavily on presentation and overall experience, are having to pivot to provide these fantastic meals in guests’ homes. Even with the hardships our country and the world are facing, hospitality will always eventually win, whether it’s at a restaurant or a guest’s home.” — Gavin Fine, Owner, Fine Dining Restaurant Group, The Cloudveil, an Autograph Collection Hotel, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Dining areas are going to shrink in favour of off-premises dining as the demand for digital ordering and delivery continues to accelerate. In some cases, this will lead to an increase in “Ghost Kitchens” where facilities operate meal preparation without dining space.
“Rather than a specific ingredient or technique, I expect 2021 to be a year filled with innovations to in-restaurant and at-home dining. Specifically, creating dishes that translate beautifully for those dining in and also for those ordering food-to-go. There’s a reason pizza is a staple to go food – it travels and heats up well. I see 2021 being a year where chefs come up with innovative new ways to make a dish translate well both in-person and also at home.” — Gavin Fine, Fine Dining Restaurant Group, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
For in-house dining, heightened and constant cleanliness will remain an imperative, from the banquets to the door knobs and the counters to the condiment containers. This brings with it a whole matrix of staffing and efficiency issues as well as financial components that may even be cost-prohibitive for some restaurants.
As every sector of the restaurant industry has been pivoting to meet customer expectations and government regulations, the adoption of innovative technology has become increasingly prevalent.
Restaurant marketing strategies will continue to evolve, and so too will the need for restaurant design—from technology to sanitation. Staggered dining and contactless dining will become commonplace, requiring sound development of the restaurant’s digital component. These are aspects that we all, perhaps, could foresee in the distant future, and yet they are at our doorstep now.
“To-go becomes a fine-dining must-have. When we do dine-in, it will be memorable. The biggest trend is going to (continue to) be how to be creative with to-go food. I also think a big trend will be more exclusive types of dining experiences in the dining room — think tasting menus, private dining experiences that go above and beyond with ingredients and access. People will go out for a truly memorable dining experience where they feel safe and can expect an experience unlike anything they’ve had before.” — Executive Chef JoJo Ruiz, Serea Coastal Cuisine and Lionfish, San Diego, CA.
We all value chefs and the dining-out experience, and we all want to go out for dinner with family and friends. There is a big market for the nostalgia of how we could enjoy dining just a short time ago. Special occasion dining will therefore be a highly sought event, as consumers take note of which restaurants can safely accommodate a large group of diners. Special prix fixe meals will therefore become a valued consideration for greater ease of experience.
Even more than the social, cultural, economic and entertainment aspects of restaurant dining, the health and wellness aspects have vaulted to the forefront. Mental health of restaurant staff, from front-of-house to back-of-house is of paramount importance and this pandemic has brought that to light on so many levels. We are becoming increasingly aware and sensitive to this reality.
“I’ve learned that at the end of the day it’s important to put our health and wellness first…the industry in general has to be reminded to put staff first and this pandemic is a stark reminder of that.” — Kevin Tien, Executive Chef, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
The most important aspect of progressing from where we are now to where we would much rather be going forward is to recognize how we got here in the first place, so that we never get here again. Restaurateurs and their staff create opportunities and experiences in environments that we all love, but it is up to the consumers, too, to step up and respect the management and the maintenance of these establishments, respect their staff, respect their hospitality, and respect their service. We all want to enjoy a good meal, and it’s the respect for everyone and everything involved that makes the experience possible, valued and sustainable—for all of us.
We wish all the restaurateurs, chefs, kitchen staff, waitstaff, bartenders and caterers a promising, flourishing, safe and prosperous new year.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.