7 Ways Dining Out Will Change In 2021



The restaurant industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic in the United States and around the world. Dining out is a social experience and social distancing has changed consumer behavior, buying habits, and leisure activity trends, and it’s bringing many changes to the restaurant industry for 2021 and beyond.

COVID-19 measures have already left several consumers’ favorite activities out of reach, such as a night at the movies, late dinners, or nights in crowded bars with friends. Will the restaurants adopt new technologies, shrink their operations, or disappear forever? How will the destructive effects of coronavirus pandemic alter the way we dine out? Let’s find out how restaurant experiences will change in 2021 and in the years to come:

1. Private Dining Pods Will Increase

Restaurants have started introducing enclosed dining structures like tents, igloos, domes, bubbles, and pods, etc. to maintain social distancing which are much safer options for small groups. These private seating arrangements are ultra sanitized and drawing more people to have a socially distanced meal outside.

Whereas these kinds of dining experiences have been a special and pricey experience in prior years, they are now becoming more common and accessible to everyone!

2. More Drive-Through Joints

In the pandemic, drive-throughs have become a lifeline for the fast-food chains.

Starbucks, Burger King, and Chipotle are among the top companies that have recently stepped-up their drive-thru services and smaller players are also adapting.


Burger King is going to have triple drive-thrus, burger pick-up lockers, takeout counters, and more. Chipotle is expected to grow its drive-thru stores from 100 to 1000 in the next five years. The restaurant chains that are focusing on less contact with customers are doing well, whereas those based on contact with customers and dining in like Denny’s and IHOP aren’t doing so great.

Even traditional dine-in restaurants in major cities have been modifying their offerings to allow easy delivery or pick-up options, so people can eat their favorite meals from local restaurants in the safety and comfort of their homes.

3. Touch-Free Ordering and Paying

Restaurants are introducing touch-free ordering and paying systems to minimize physical contact between staff and guests. People can now access menus and beverage lists with QR codes and pay by credit card or payment apps without receiving a printed bill.

Food ordering apps, online services, and AI assistants will be fit for the new age. So the restaurants’ ‘Go Automated’ concept is debuting this year. Expect the vast majority of restaurants to continue or start offering easy take-out or home delivery options, often with no-contact payment solutions.


4. Permanent Health and Safety Measures


Even when COVID-19 is contained and slowly eradicated around the world, experts say that sanitization measures will likely remain in place forever. In many ways, the pandemic has revealed how inadequate public and personal hygiene measures have been.

Restaurant guests expect more cleanliness from restaurants now than they did before the pandemic, and this will continue even after the Coronavirus is gone. Hand sanitizers, washing stations, and increased cleanliness between guests will carry on.

5. More Ghost Kitchens

The future of food lies in at-home delivery. Expect to see an increase in facilities designated for preparing food for delivery, without any dining rooms and takeout counters.

However, the idea of ghost kitchens isn’t new. In 2015, Grubhub and Seamless were already operating about 10 percent of their NYC restaurants out of ghost kitchens to reduce occupancy and overhead costs.

After the pandemic is over, the concept of ‘placeless restaurants’ will again redefine the concept of what a restaurant is. Ghost kitchens are best suited to the needs of socially distanced customers than traditional dine-in restaurants, which ultimately will help restaurants to minimize costs.

6. Sophisticated Customer Outreach

Restaurants will use predictive technology and analytics to understand customers preferences, outdo the competition, and stay relevant as dining becomes less personal and more functional.

Operators will use technologies like geo-tracking and face recognition to recognize customers and identify preferences, in an effort to keep socially-distanced customers loyal and connected to their favorite restaurants. Restaurant entrepreneurs may leverage analytical methods to make better decisions regarding operations, customers, campaigns, and strategies to outdo the competition and stay relevant.

These analytical methods enable a better understanding of online customer buying behaviors, most liked foods, preferred offers, order size, source of traffic, and much more. Restaurants will use such information so that they can influence customers by recommending or displaying relevant products they might like, and streamlining decision-making to eliminate customer withdrawal.


7. Smaller and Specialized Menus

You can expect a reduction in restaurant size and menus soon. Large restaurants having pages and pages of menus and oversized dining areas will become less common due in search of a better return-on-investment. They will also have higher break-even points (when total cost equals total revenue) as the restaurant and dining markets struggle to regain footing in the pandemic and post-pandemic economy.

You might see an influx of single-product restaurants that focus on just one product, food, or dish, trying to do it with excellence. But that’s not a new idea. Dunkin Donuts has been around since 1950 and Baskin & Robbins since 1945. Cities have seen trends in fast-casual restaurants that just serve burgers, pizzas, salads, falafel, and so on.

Single-product restaurants will feature more classic comfort food and trends already suggest people are going to love this concept!

The Way of the Food-Future

Restaurants that ensure proper privacy among diners, offer high cleanliness standards, and use technological methods to make the dining experience as touch-free as possible, convenient, and relaxing will surely experience positive returns in the near future.

People want to socialize and gather while feeling safe and healthy, so restaurants will transition into the way of the post-pandemic future by providing guests with sincere and genuine hospitality, and feel-good food, and socially-distanced efficiencies, while still filling the need for comfort and connection we all desire to share around the table.

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American travel photographer and writer, based on the beautiful island of Bali. Two years ago, I left my job as a Washington DC lawyer, sold everything I owned, and booked a one-way ticket to Indonesia to turn my creative dreams into reality. I have traveled to 60 countries, have worked with major airlines, luxury hotels, tourism boards, and fashion/adventure goods companies. When I’m not working or traveling, I spend my free time writing, doing yoga, learning to surf, or swimming at my favorite beaches in Uluwatu in south Bali.


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