Restaurant C-Suite Trends Issue | Winter 2021

Page 1


Restaurants are reopening for business, and we can fast-track their success: • Enhanced customer communication • Profit optimization program when every penny counts • Recipe costing program for improved food & paper margins • Marketing solutions, including coaching and loyalty programs



THE 2021 TRENDS ISSUE 04 Editor’s note 06 November restaurant sales 08 Around the industry 12 Restaurant trends 2021 17 Jollibee expansion QA 20 Digital makes the difference 23 Food trends 2021

BUSINESS Executive Editor Rick Zambrano Eatery Pulse Director of Photography Anthony Torres Assistant Editor Margaret McConnell Editorial Designer Ashley McCarty

About Restaurant C-Suite Magazine Restaurant C-Suite Magazine is distributed by Eatery Pulse Media. Eatery Pulse is a primary source of national restaurant industry news and content, providing information services, consulting and a creative, customcontent studio for business. This digital magazine was specifically created for multi-unit restaurant executives. It delivers the most highly-impactful news for the restaurant industry’s top leaders and visionaries. Today’s C-suite executives and their managers need information that is carefully selected, meaningful and delivered in a seamless, cohesive fashion. Stay updated with all our content at

Contributor Eric Nomis To place an ad, contact

Powered by On the cover: Photo by Marina Hannah. Photo Left: Photo by Scott Suchman for virtual restaurant Satellite Sandwiches.

Copyright 2020 - 2021 Eatery Pulse Media.


Editor’s Note As we approach the end of the year, there are some positive notes to offset some of the beating we’ve all taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, many diligent and flexible restaurant operators and the purveyors that service them can be thankful that they have survived 2020, and become stronger for it. Second, it looks like wide vaccine distribution in the first half of 2021 may start abating sickness and business disruption. Some primary challenges of restaurant operators are to recover business and regain the trust of customers willing to order to-go and/ or dine out at their establishments. Evidence from trend-tracking firm Datassential shows consumers hunkering down for winter, and potentially avoiding dining out as we enter the colder months. If that’s the case, a dual strategy of off-premises and dine-in is critical to restaurant survival. While multi-unit operators have been resilient, there are still numerous examples of permanent restaurant closures across segments. In a letter in November, the National Restaurant Association urged the National Governors Association to put forward an updated approach to restrictions. Newer data on COVID shows that restaurants are not the source of super-spreader events. Given the numerous challenges faced by restaurants trying to survive in this environment, only well-considered restrictions will help. In this issue, we explore trends that can equip restaurant operators for 2021. Page 23 features food and menu shifts that are likely to attract more diners, particularly as we enter the winter season. We also look at how technology can elevate restaurants’ ability to survive the long winter and spring, and then thrive after there is a return to some normalcy—perhaps by late spring or early summer.

Some primary challenges of restaurant operators are to recover business and regain the trust of customers willing to order to-go and/or dine out at their establishments.

The takeout window becomes a popular feature of restaurant design. Photo by Starbucks.

In the meantime, we see restaurant chains harnessing menu innovation and digital initiatives to maintain and grow their businesses during the health crisis. Wendy’s, Chipotle, Papa John’s and Panera Bread are just some of the chains that are generating success through reinvention, and, more poignantly, through doubling down on business fundamentals that every chain and multi-unit operator should consider. We are very glad to announce that after some delays, most of our Restaurant C-Suite Magazine content will move to video and web-conference formats in 2021. Modifying our news in this manner provides a way for our readers and subscribers to digest our content more easily and in less time. Another goal is to recruit a

RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 4

more robust and expansive list of contributors, with expert opinions and diverse perspectives on the industry. I’m happy to report that, thanks to your continued interest, feedback, and support, our monthly readership has quadrupled in 2020. We are extremely thankful, and offer you our continued commitment to support the restaurant industry with information services, consulting and our Creative Custom Content Studio. Sincerely,

Rick Zambrano Executive Editor Eatery Pulse Media

Not all restaurant operators are seeing a resurgence like Papa John’s, which is moving many of its functions to a new HQ in Atlanta; however, all multi-unit restaurant operators are hoping for a better higher-revenue new year and an end to the pandemic. (Shown here is Papa John’s new HQ as of this coming summer: Three Ballpark Center, The Battery Atlanta.) Photo by Papa John’s.


Check back here or sign up at

Restaurant industry sales fall 10.3% during November: Black Box Renewed restrictions, restaurant avoidance, coronavirus surge converge By Eric Nomis

November restaurant industry comp(arable) sales decreased 10.3 percent from last year. Comp traffic also dropped 16.3 percent, according to new data released by dataanalytics firm Black Box Intelligence. Comp sales results are down nearly 3 percentagepoints from October, when the industry posted a 7.5 percent decrease from last year. Starting with May’s sales results, each month had been sequentially better as 2020 progressed. November also marked the worst decline since the month of August, noted Black Box, when comp sales dropped 12.3 percent from last year. Downward pressure on the recovery has come in the form of the worst weeks of the pandemic and renewed restrictions and shutdowns by states. There are also signs that consumers are hunkering down for the winter, reluctant to expose themselves to local, general populations in which the virus, as a RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 6

Sixty-two percent of consumers agree that winter will make it harder for their local restaurants to stay open as they have thus far. Photo by Louis Hansel.

percentage, has grown exponentially. Maryland has restricted indoor dining to 50-percent capacity. Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, ordered restaurants, food courts, breweries and the like to stop serving onpremises alcohol by 10 p.m and to close by 12 a.m. Furthermore, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio have ordered bars and restaurants to stop serving earlier, according to Cable News Network. Massachusetts establishments will stop serving at 9:30 p.m., while New York and Ohio must close at 10 p.m., it reported. Survey data from Datassential suggests consumers will be less likely to dine out in the coming months: 64 percent of consumers agree that they’ll stay home to minimize the risk of getting sick as flu season unfolds, while 17 percent disagree. Moreover, 61 percent of respondents agree that COVID-19

will get worse in the winter months, while only 15 percent disagree. And 62 percent of consumers agree that winter will make it harder for their local restaurants to stay open as they have thus far; 15 percent disagree. Prior to new restrictions taking place, 60 percent of operators were offering indoor dining and 42 percent outdoor seating. As on-premise business curtails or even halts in some markets, restaurant operators are wise to have a multi-faceted business strategy that encompasses several off-premises options as well as indoor dining where permitted. Seventy-three percent of restaurant operators offer carryout, 44 percent offer curbside pickup and 34 percent offer delivery. In order to roll with the latest punches to their businesses, operators should work hard to increase these numbers. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 7




10% 3% 1 to 4 weeks

1% 3% 1 to 2 months

7% 8%

11% 10%

3 to 4 months

4 to 6 months


28% 21%

6 months to 1 year

24% 17%

More than a year

I don’t know

Indoors Outdoors Base: 505 (indoors) and 543 (outdoor) consumers who aren’t currently dining on-premise. Source: Technomic Economic Impact Navigator Program, survey from Nov. 4-7, 2020 and reported in Technomic Weekly Industry Insights.

Photo by Annie Spratt.

RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 8



Percentage growth on menus vs LY


Amid the pandemic, what are some foods that are trending at restaurants? According to Upserve, a provider of payment processing and data reporting for the restaurant industry, these foods are trending for dine-in at restaurants. This chart shows the growth of appearance on menus.

14% 8%


Sandwiches & wraps









Fried chicken







Source: Upserve: 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry.

Photo by Adrien Sala.




SATELLITE SANDWICHES, WASHINGTON, DC Virtual restaurants--that use existing restaurants as dark kitchens--have been trending in the industry. One such example is Satellite Sandwiches, a virtual restaurant that only offers pickup and delivery, operated out of a temporarily-shuttered beer hall in the nation’s capital. Washington-area diners will surely gravitate toward the Philadelphia-style cheesesteak-centric virtual sub shop. Using existing capacity to produce tasty sandwiches for those who want the convenience of takeout food Photo by Scott Suchman.

RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 10

is a brilliant business move. Prominent on the menu is a collection of classic cheesesteaks, including the traditional Philly Classic, a Pizza Steak topped with marinara sauce and fried mushrooms; and the Cheese Steak Hoagie. There’s also the Portobello Mushroom ‘Asteroid,’ a vegan iteration of Astro’s popular hot chicken offering, as well as Chicken Parmesan and a Grilled Lamb Gyro. And as winter fast approaches, wings, spice-rubbed steak fries, and a soul-warming chicken noodle soup grace the all-day menu.



NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION PARTNERS WITH THIRD-PARTY DELIVERY COMPANIES TO DEVELOP PUBLIC POLICY PRINCIPLES FRAMEWORK The National Restaurant Association developed seven Public Policy Principles of Third-Party Delivery to provide a framework for best practices and help guide lawmakers erecting public policy. The year-long work of the Association included input by restaurant operators, and reflects a mutual agreement between the industry and third-party delivery providers. Here are the percentage of customers who approve of framework items: All delivery customers during the past 6 months*

Policy Proposal

Delivery customers who used Delivery customers who did a third-party service during not use a third-party service the past 6 months during the past 6 months

Require third-party delivery companies to allow restaurants to respond to customer feedback or reviews of food that’s ordered from their restaurant




Require third-party delivery companies to ensure that a restaurant’s menu and pricing are accurately listed on their app or website




Require third-party delivery drivers to have knowledge of basic food handling and safety techniques




Require third-party delivery companies to show restaurants the average amount of time it takes for food to be delivered from their restaurant




Require third-party delivery companies to be transparent with all fees, policies and marketing practices that will be used as part of the delivery relationship with each restaurant




Require third-party delivery companies to allow customers to optin to direct communications (such as future specials or discounts) from restaurants, if desired




Require third-party delivery companies to get a restaurant’s permission before they can offer its food for delivery




Source: National Restaurant Association, online survey of 1,000 adults conducted by Engine, December 7-9, 2020. *Adults that ordered food for delivery during the past 6 months.

Photo by Zhuo Cheng.




> RESTAURANTS IN RETAIL Restaurants are diversifying their income by offering food and kitchen products for use at home. Consultancy Baum + Whiteman identified “Restaurant Brands in the Home Kitchen” as one of its top trends in 2021. ”Proprietary spice mixes, dumplings, noodles and pasta sauces, inventive breads and signature pastries, fancy cheeses and charcuterie, rendered duck fat, CSA boxes, fresh meat and fish—even professional cookware, meal kits and prepared dinner... are invading home kitchens emblazoned with restaurants’ logos,” according to its report.

Photo by STK.

RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 12

The pandemic has created a silver lining, for diners to enjoy restaurant brands beyond the typical menu experience, that will continue into next year. Both STK and Ted’s Montana Grill have launched online marketplaces for steaks: Ted’s launched a Butcher Shoppe, while STK opened a Meat Market. And Chipotle has even been peddling a line of minimalist clothing online. Fine-dining destinations are also jumping on the bandwagon. Fiola in Washington DC is selling its curated wines for carryout business. Under current regulations, customers must order at least one food item in order to purchase bottled wine to enjoy at home. This increasingly popular retail trend will becomes an easy-to-implement solution for restaurant operators seeking incremental revenue to help offset COVID impacts.



> DIGITAL EVERYTHING As Starbucks has, Chipotle is also launching a new (digital) pickup-only store, announcing the move in November. Restaurant chains have been upgrading their digital game by moving much of their ordering process to apps, online and third-party delivery services. Forty-nine percent of Chipotle’s sales now come from the digital sphere. 2021 will be the year that chains perfect a full-digital implementation of the drive-thru as pandemic-wary consumers continue to flock en masse to order-ahead. Even when not online or on their phones, customers will still be treated to advances in technology. QSR drive-thrus will incorporate additional technology and continue to implement digital menu boards that link to historical and customer data to suggestive-sell. Loyalty apps will power some drive-thrus to personalize the client experience. Virtual restaurants will exist only online and in

apps, expanding the menu and sales potential for restaurants in all categories and segments. Burger King recently revealed its Restaurant of Tomorrow with drive-thru and curbside pickup playing prominent roles. Where it makes sense, future BK restaurants will be built with smaller, minimal indoor dining spaces. One version of the new prototypes features a living wall, where drivers will be able to see the preparation of BK’s menu items, and a conveyor belt, emphasizing the fact that food is minimally-touched. For much of 2021, restaurants will continue to compete heavily in the digital world. Multiunit operators will need to adopt advances to help attract customers wherever they are. Until consumers can resume interacting freely in the real-word, patronizing restaurants for sitdown service and exploring the dining scene in person, nearly all the action is in the machines. Photo by Chipotle.




> CONVENIENCE IS CRITICAL There’s no doubt about it now: convenience is king. The pandemic hasn’t just spotlighted this mega trend, it has accelerated it. Today’s consumer is looking for both safety and minimal contact in foodservice occasions. Embedding convenience in restaurants’ operations will help them become safer and more appealing both now and in the postpandemic long term. Consumers need to protect themselves and adhere to national and local safety guidelines. They expect restaurants to be their partners in this effort. Therefore, contactless payment and pickup, drivethru visits in limited service and delivery will be the pillars of the restaurant experience now and beyond the pandemic. Restaurants can tap into this trend,

if they haven’t already, by making their ordering and dining experiences frictionless. While frictionless may be a word that has become nearly cliche in 2020, it’s still an important concept for all restaurant operators to embrace. Even beyond the pandemic, consumers will want to seek experiences that are efficient and quick, and don’t create extra burdens. After all, the consumer is paying for a food experience, whether they are betting on their fine-dining reservation time to be honored and be seated without much fuss, or whether they are looking to order dinner quickly online. Millennials and GenZers have become today’s predominant purchasers of food. Very few restaurants today have the luxury of making their customer experience anything but easy and enjoyable.

Darden’s Seasons 52 has consistently received high marks for making the restaurant experience enjoyable and easy. Photo by Darden Restaurants.

RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 14



> THE DRIVE-THRU IS GOLD The drive-thru lane is now not just for quick-service operators. Some independent operators and multiunit operators have noticed that the drive-thru they inherited when they leased or purchased their property has just undergone an enormous appreciation in value. This is because consumers are seeking consummate convenience and safety as they navigate the pandemic. Consumers want shorter, more efficient quick-service experiences. It’s easy to see how this viewpoint will take hold and endure long beyond the pandemic. Starbucks will feature digital menu boards in the drive-thru that incorporate inventory, historical

data and consumer behavior to offer consumers suggestive-selling options. Other restaurant chains totally revamping their drive-thru experience include Burger King, Tim Hortons, Dunkin’, sweetgreen and El Pollo Loco. Order-ahead has become popular, and more drive-thrus will be dedicated to customers picking up pre-orders. Dine-in will return in time, and the pent-up demand for it will be enormous. But the pandemic will shift consumers toward quick-service over the next one or two years. Customers that seek social experiences or special occasions will certainly return to dining in at sit-down restaurants, but those who are seeking functional food experiences (eating for its nutritional and hunger-fighting value) will gravitate toward quick-service or other concepts that offer similar attributes. Photo by Starbucks.


Q&A | Maribeth Dela Cruz of Jollibee Group Jollibee has big expansion plans for next year QSR chicken chain Jollibee plans to continue major expansion in 2021, coming off tremendous growth this year despite the pandemic. The Philippines-based chain will have added 17 stores by the end of the year. In the United States, Jollibee will open new stores in California and Texas. In Canada, a new Toronto store will be unveiled on the historic Yonge Street.

this level of service in the U.S. and it has been very well-received by our customers here. RCS: What geographic areas outside of California and Texas are targeted for development in 2021?

For more details on the expansion, we turned to Maribeth Dela Cruz, president of Jollibee Group North America, Philippine Brands.

As we progress in our mission to expand to 300 stores by 2024, our areas of focus within the U.S. over the next year include states like Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Hawaii; and we’ll be opening our first store in Maryland.

Restaurant C-Suite: First, tell us about the characteristics of your Chickenjoy and Jollibee’s menu that have become popular in the US.

RCS: Tell us about your use of a ghost kitchen in Chicago, and the use of these to expand. Are they included in the 28 stores planned for next year?

Maribeth Dela Cruz: Jollibee’s menu is headlined by our worldfamous Chickenjoy, fried chicken that has been delicately handbreaded to be crispy on the outside with a secret marinade that makes it juicy on the inside. Other popular menu items include our Jolly Spaghetti which many first-time Jollibee customers are surprised to see on a fast-food menu. This dish is beloved by adults and kids alike and features spaghetti topped with our signature sweet-style sauce loaded with chunky slices of savory ham and hotdog and a generous sprinkle of cheese. Finally, no Jollibee meal would be complete without our Peach Mango Pie which features a delicious filling made with real Philippine mangoes surrounded by a light crispy crust. Our customers keep coming back not only for our unique menu, which is best described as a joyous mashup of Western comfort food with a delicious Asian twist, but also for our warm and friendly service. The Jollibee brand has always been very welcoming and hospitable. We have continued RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 16

Cloud kitchens are an innovative store model that allows Jollibee to meet the rising demand for delivery among consumers. We are planning to first optimize our Chicago Cloud Kitchen before expanding the concept to other cities across the U.S.; but there will definitely be cloud kitchens among our 300 stores by 2024 in North America. RCS: What are the plans for East Coast expansion? In 2021 Jollibee will be further expanding its network across New Jersey and New York, with our first store in Times Square and as I mentioned, opening our first store in Maryland. RCS: Please tell us about two or three things you have learned about adapting Jollibee’s practices in light of the pandemic. I’m so proud of each member of the Jollibee family for swiftly adapting to this ever-changing environment that we’ve been navigating

Photo Center and Above by Jollibee.

together this past year. Our team really rose to the challenge and continued to use this time to focus on the customer experience and to unlock ways of serving our customers better. In a time when our customers have been asked to stay at home and limit interaction with others, we have emphasized increasing accessibility to the Jollibee comfort food they crave in a safe, convenient manner. In April, we rolled out our nationwide delivery service in partnership with DoorDash and encouraged our fans to experience Jollibee from the comfort and safety of their own homes via call-ahead pick-up, take out, drive thru and delivery. We also continued to safely open stores in new markets across the country. By year’s end, Jollibee will have opened 17 new stores in North America this year across New Jersey, Texas, Nevada, California and Ontario, Canada. Throughout the pandemic we have adhered dutifully to our food, service and sanitation quality standards. We have taken the extra measure to secure every order with a tamperevident seal to ensure the food is not touched

after being packed in-store. We have also created a new set of procedures in our stores designed to ensure the safety of Jollibee staff members and customers, including adding markers throughout the store to direct staff and customer movements, mandating that all staff and customers wear masks, frequently sanitizing high-contact surfaces and adding acrylic shields to our cashier stations inside our stores to keep staff and customers separated. We have also adapted to the current environment by adding more bundle options to our menus, giving our customers better value for their money. Finally, the pandemic gave us a heightened sense of awareness for helping the communities that we serve. As a small thank you and to show our appreciation, we have donated thousands of meals and delivered notes of encouragement to hospital workers across the country. We’re especially proud to have added jobs to the local communities where we have opened this year. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 17





How to shine in a digital world By Rick Zambrano

How restaurant operators can set themselves apart in the digital realm Restaurants can stand out in a digital world by implementing technology solutions that appeal visually, speed convenience, organize and increase sales and promote safety--especially during a pandemic. Creating a frictionless ordering process is key to appeasing homebound or homebased consumers. Ghost kitchens, whether cloud-based or dark kitchens, while trendy at first, are now keys to survival and growth. And artificial intelligence is enhancing a variety of ordering and tracking functions for multi-unit operators. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 19

for most multi-unit operators. If the digital storefront is optimized to attract business, it will build incremental revenue. Each website should have an appetizing layout and clear, user-friendly instructions, steps and clicks that guide customers through efficient, friction-free ordering. The website should make it quick and easy for customers to identify service options that are available (curbside, pickup, delivery). Larger chains such as Applebee’s have invested heavily in making their websites the first point of ordering, featuring each customer’s local menu. “Order Now” is prominently displayed on the homepage and at the top right corner of the site, diners can easily sign in with their credentials to prepopulate many subsequent information details.

Photo by Scott Suchman for virtual restaurant Satellite Sandwiches.

Ordering and payment systems Ordering and payment systems are likely the biggest digital differentiator in the shortterm, notes David Henkes, senior principal at foodservice consultancy Technomic, Inc. Chipotle, Domino’s and Wingstop are prominent examples of restaurant chains that have excelled in this area and performed well amid the health crisis. In the Chicago and Washington, DC areas as well as other markets, fine-dining restaurant companies have gravitated toward Tock, a reservation system and ordering provider. In addition to these functions, Tock has created a marketplace to help customers find local restaurants, specials, pickup and delivery options within a particular territory. Many of Tock’s options require up-front payment; this ensures restaurants will receive their revenue on a timely basis. For third-party delivery, Tock will redirect to the appropriate service. A restaurant website serves as a storefront RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 20

Across the country, single-unit and multi-unit operators who are still able to accommodate dine-in services face an uphill battle, with the flurry of new restrictions due to the surge of coronavirus. Restaurants are utilizing QR codes and mobile ordering more frequently as customers who dine-in seek out lower-contact options for placing their orders. In Washington for example, Puerto Rican restaurant La Famosa provides a QR code that links to an ordering portal where diners can select menu items and complete payment tableside. DoorDash, a third-party delivery service that went public in November, is among third-party providers across the United States that also fulfill ordering and payment services. As the largest such provider in the country, DoorDash has a penetration of half of the third-party market share. Restaurants can encounter drawbacks to thirdparty delivery: ordering may be easy, but delivery is not always precise and can take up to an hour in many markets. When ordering is made frictionless but the delivery is not so smooth, consumers may still end up disappointed. Today’s pandemic consumer wants to order without friction and expects food to be delivered hot. Cold food and other delivery problems can damage a restaurant’s brand equity over time. Conversely, as technology improves over time,

the third-party delivery experience will also become more diner-friendly. When restaurant operators are overwhelmed with various orders from different marketplaces and third-party providers, orders don’t get fulfilled quickly. Juggling tablets and interfaces doesn’t help operators turn tickets. Integration of disparate online ordering systems, including third-party, can help operators be more efficient in fulfilling orders at the restaurant, producing a quicker turnaround time and making it more likely that food will be delivered hot. Tech company Olo has created a tool that is becoming more and more essential: their online ordering mechanisms integrate all facets of ordering into the POS at a restaurant. Consolidating the vast array of ordering sources positions operators better for success.

The ghost kitchen trend: cloud and dark kitchens Cloud kitchens help restaurant chains and other multi-unit operators expand into new markets without Investing in full-scale restaurants. Jollibee partnered with Epic Kitchens to expand into the Chicago market and fulfill orders across much of the city without building a restaurant.

Likewise, Fat Brands used a cloud kitchen to expand its presence into the Dallas market. Two of its brands, Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express, entered the market as a result of a partnership with franchise partner Croft Ventures. Additional ghost kitchens will launch as a result of this development agreement. Some restaurant companies will grow through dark kitchens, which enable the use of commercial kitchens and underutilized restaurants to launch new brands. At existing restaurant establishments around the country, restaurant operators are launching new concepts that are delivery & pickup only but have no storefront. In Washington, DC, Astro Beer Hall is providing Philly-inspired cheesesteak sandwiches for takeout, from an underutilized restaurant space. Check out the Satellite Sandwiches experience on page 10 of this issue. Another multi-unit operator launched pop-up Itty Bitty Sandwich City, peddling tiny sandwiches and big cocktails out of Washington, DC’s The Imperial. Offerings include mini-sandwiches in 3, 6 and 12 portion sizes per box, such as Filet O-Fish-inspired cod (IPA battered); a crispy, onion-straw-topped sloppy joe; chili mapledrizzled fried chicken on herb waffles, and

The Steak and Egg Sub is a Satellite Sandwiches offering geared toward breakfast. Photo by Scott Suchman.


vegetarian Buffalo’d cauliflower po’boy.

Artificial Intelligence Looking beyond the next six months, artificial intelligence provides an opportunity for restaurant operators to use historical and customer data to build systems that help boost the likelihood that production planning and suggestive selling efforts will succeed. The more data that AI is fed, the better it can be utilized, says Henkes. With regard to production planning, AI can help predict sales based on weather. It can also predict dine-in demand versus carryout/delivery. AI is also helpful in creating a dynamic-pricing environment. Starbucks is tapping AI to suggestive-sell to drive-thru customers. Upon ordering, customers will be presented with various menu options that like-minded customers have selected in the same store and/or market, with the objective of increasing the average check per customer. McDonald’s acquired AI company Dynamic Yield one year ago. According to Restaurant Dive, the acquisition will help suggestive sell to customers based on location, time of day and previous purchases. Dynamic Yield will help McDonald’s build incremental sales at the drive-thru. McDonald’s accompanied this acquisition with the purchase of Apprente, a voice-order technology company, to further improve the ordering experience inside and outside its restaurants. At this time, the largest restaurant chains will be the benefactors of AI technology, which still needs further vetting. Restaurant chains want to drive revenue and reduce costs and AI will help; however, “it’s not a solution for every chain,“ says Henkes. “It’s just for the big guys.” RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 22

Virtual pop-up Itty Bitty Sandwiches offers tiny sandwiches to let customers experience a multitude of flavors. Photo by The Imperial.

Coming Soon SPRING-RECOVERY ISSUE 2021 Forecast Tomorrow’s restaurant workplace Virtual food businesses The state of suppliers PPP

LATE SPRING-BEVERAGES ISSUE What’s hot as summer approaches A dive into plant-based Functional beverages Barbecue spotlight Farm to glass

Top food trends for 2021 By Rick Zambrano

To say that 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement. Restaurant operators have found themselves in a precarious position as they face increasing amounts of government regulation and take cautious approaches to help forestall transmission of the coronavirus in their communities. Along the continuum of food trends, consumers will still want to find new flavors and new experiences in the coming year, whether at home or dining out. According to global consultancy Alix Partners, some of the areas receiving the most consumer attention these days are health, hygiene, home, and habits. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 23

Vegan cheese Oatzarella by Rucksack Foods has a consistency that is better for baking and cooking. Photo by Rucksack Foods.

Immunity food and beverage Foods promoted as boosting immunity are “booming,” says research firm Packaged Facts. Turmeric, ginger and orange juice have been highly sought-after as consumers seek to strengthen themselves amid the pandemic. In the beverage category, immunity has been a particularly hot topic. Turmeric has long been believed to ward off disease and illness. It has also been identified as a top trend by the food practice of WGSN, a global trend forecaster based in the UK. It “contains the functional phytochemical curcumin, which may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties,” according to its Immunity Supporting Ingredients report. Turmeric has been perhaps the hottest ingredient to boost immunity in foods and beverages,” according to the US Beverage Market Outlook 2020 by Packaged Facts. RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 24

Boathouse Farms, now a popular natural juice brand at the retail level, added a Carrot Ginger Turmeric Juice. True Food Kitchen, a chain featuring better-for-you foods built on a nutritional pyramid, offers an Ancient Grain Bowl, with miso sesame glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snap pea, grilled portobello, avocado, and hemp seed. Sales of turmeric are set to grow 7.2 percent on a compounded annual growthrate basis through 2026, according to, a research report syndicator. Whether in food or drink, incorporating turmeric is a smart move for foodservice operators as consumers seek out immunity-boosting ingredients. Ginger, which has long been a remedy for stomach ailments, is another popular perceived immunity booster. As the Beverage Market Outlook notes, Coca-Cola’s new AHA sparkling water is on trend with its Apple + Ginger beverages. As another example, sweetgreen offers a Cranberry Ginger Fresca

and incorporates ginger into its Miso Sesame Ginger Dressing. Orange juice sales have been going through the roof as consumers seek to boost their immune systems. Orange juice already accounts for 44 percent of the juice category. Following initial pandemic stay-at-home orders in several states, Citrus Industry reports that orange juice sales grew by another 44 percent in the four-week period ending April 11, compared to the prior year. Restaurants can incorporate turmeric and ginger into more food and beverages; the easiest implementation is in beverages and proteins, but ongoing experimentation will yield further innovation. These ingredients will remain popular well beyond the pandemic. Orange juice’s resurgent popularity could be short-lived after 2021; but having orange juice available as a staple beverage this year can definitely reap short term rewards.

Vegan WOW and the vegan bakery As the number of omnivores and flexitarians grow, the value proposition of vegan products has increased. A new trend popping up across menus and restaurants is craveable vegan, according to Kara Nielsen, director of Food & Drink, WGSN. Vegan is permeating menus across categories, popping up on American, Mexican and soul food. According to Packaged Facts’ Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers report, 17 percent of consumers are eating more plant-based meats than in 2019. When thinking about the possibilities of vegan, one only needs to turn to Vegan MOB, a soulfood operation out of Oakland, Calif. The MOB Combo plate features plant-based brisket, ribs or fried BBQ shrimp. The MOB Gumbo Bread Bowl is prepared with a vegan shrimp and sausage in a rue, with Creole spices, and rice. As with the Kung Pao Cauliflower dish on Truluck’s menu in Chicago and increasingly a vegetarian and vegan option replacing the more traditional chicken version on menus nationwide, Nielsen notes there is much exploration yet to be had in global

vegan dishes. Mexican, Chinese, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine can yield dishes that are ripe with flavor and unique vegan ingredients. The availability of plant-based meat alternatives expands the range of options. Vegan tacos have been trending lately and some operators are getting on board without embracing meat alternatives. Chaia Tacos, a restaurant chain in Washington, DC, creates hearty vegetarian tacos with a flavorful combination of legumes, vegetables, fungi, root vegetables, and yogurt. A popular example is the Braised Mushroom Tacos, prepared with feta, salsa roja and cilantro. Chaia can easily make many of their other dishes vegan-style as well. With so many plant-based products emulating eggs, cheese and meat, a complete vegan menu can easily be developed in today’s restaurants. The vegan bakery/baked goods category also presents a ripe opportunity. With a few adjustments, restaurants can tap a wide swath of consumers seeking plantbased options. According to Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers, 28 percent of consumers are eating more protein from plant-based sources in 2020 than in 2019. In addition, 24 percent of consumers say they are eating more plant-based dairy. Nielsen notes a growing opportunity in chickenless egg products and vegan cheese. Chickenless eggs make it possible to prepare all types of baked goods and breakfast sandwiches without using normal eggs. Clara Foods and Just Egg are two mainstream brands that are helping foodservice providers create vegan egg menu items. Dairy-free cheese is getting a boost from oat milk, which on its own is a popular plant-based product. Oat milk can improve the consistency, taste and texture of vegan cheese. Oatzarella is an oat milk-based dairy-free cheese made by Rucksack Foods in Mclean, Va. It has already been a star at food shows, and is said to melt for better utilization in recipes and taste more like cheese. With an increasing improvement in the taste RESTAURANT C-SUITE 25

and texture of plant-based products, vegan is edging closer to mainstream. As with plantbased dairy beverages, vegan bakery and craveable vegan are sure to open up new opportunities for restaurant companies that want to broaden their consumer bases. As Starbucks has shown with its expanding use of plant-based milk creamers, restaurant operators will likely see the advantage of having more vegan options on their menus. Getting started is key; appetizers, sides, dressings and select baked goods can be the first step.

Low-alcohol and no-alcohol adult beverages With Dry January just around the corner, it’s a fitting time to discuss the merits of the lowABV (alcohol by volume)/no-ABV trend. Nonimbibers and those temporarily abstaining from alcohol want a taste experiences from restaurants and bars they patronize. When social settings resume post pandemic, they will want to partake in enjoyable dry options. WGSN’s Nielsen notes that there is a growing movement of “sober curious” individuals. With major breweries investing in loweralcohol and no-alcohol versions of beer, it’s clear to see the trend is here to stay. The Boston Beer Company, which produces Samuel Adams beer, recently announced the release of a non-alcoholic hazy IPA. “Just the Haze,” which is two years in the making, will be added to the Samuel Adams lineup in 2021, according to Beer Connoisseur. The hard seltzer movement has also paved the way into exploring lower-alcohol drinks. White Claw is a top brand, and Bud Light and Corona have come out with their own versions. According to market-and-information company Nielsen, for the 15-week period ending June 13, 2020, hard seltzer sales quadrupled to $1.2B from $300M for the same period the prior year. Currently, hard seltzer is on track to account for 15 percent of its category, which includes beer, flavored malt beverages and cider. It has made gains not just within its category, but also at the expense of wine. RESTAURANT C-SUITE | Restaurant news that’s fresh, informed, inspired (by you) 26

Chaia’s vegetarian and vegan tacos have become uber-popular in Washington, DC. Photo by Chaia Tacos.

Gone are the days of plain-Jane mocktails made with an abundance of juice, too. Seedlip is a manufacturer that was ahead of the curve when it introduced its line of non-alcoholic spirits. The company produces three varieties that are gin alternatives, with varying degrees of spice and botanicals: Garden 108, Spice 94 and Grove 42. Others have followed, including Lyre’s, which produces a non-alcoholic Dry London Spirit, American Malt and Italian Orange. On its website, the company markets its products as low-alcohol and no-alcohol alternatives depending on the amounts used in drinks. Ritual produces a tequila alternative that has ranked high on flavor from the Beverage Tasting Institute, according to the company. This is another example of a non-alcoholic beverage bringing excitement to the lowABV-no-ABV drinking experience. Customers wanting to enjoy a “virgin margarita” now they have tasty alternative, rather than a seemingly incomplete drink. When restaurants and bars add choices that offer taste while keeping ABV low, they’ll help non-imbibers and low-imbibers enjoy social outings with ease. During the pandemic, restaurants that are allowed by law to have cocktails for pickup and delivery should consider having low-ABV/noABV selections to allow diners more choice. The

beginning of the year, when more consumers may be refraining from alcohol, is a particularly crucial time to expand these options.

Elevated pizza pies Pizza has become a staple during the health crisis; as borne out by their financials, pizza chains have fared well because of the timehonored ease of producing and delivering pies to hungry households. As pizza becomes over-commoditized, some pizza chains that have elevated their art are getting noticed. Elevated pies is a way that WGSN’s Key Trend 2021: Pizza report recommends restaurant operators stand out from the crowd. Premium ingredients can certainly enhance a pie. The main ingredient—the dough—for starters can be an differentiator. L’Industrie Pizzeria in New York cold-ferments its dough for 3 days to enhance flavor, one of a few shops taking their dough very seriously to appeal to the discerning palate, notes WGSN. Another example is Shackamaxon in Philadelphia, which serves up slices of pizza some have described as art. Its pepperoni pizza features Pilgrim Provisions pepperoni, First Field tomatoes, low moisture mozzarella, fontina, and pecorino romano; and is finished with house-dried oregano and olive oil. Due to high demand, Shackamaxon is not taking oneoff pre-orders: currently, customers must come into the shop for orders of fewer than 4 pies. WGSN recommends that operators tell the story of the origins and potential benefits of the premium ingredients they use. For those that are not primarily pizza restaurants, incorporating a distinctive pie on the menu can be a wise, strategic move throughout 2021 and beyond.

Cultured meat The sustainable aspects of cultured meat make it a trend that will eventually take hold, but not necessarily within the next few months. Eat Just, Inc, producer of Just Eggs, announced that it had begun to sell cultured meat in a

foodservice setting in Singapore. The restaurant debut of GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken, created from animal cells for human consumption, followed Singapore’s regulatory approval of the product in November. It’s a trend to which larger foodservice companies and restaurant chains will need to start paying attention. Although there is a fair amount of diner reticence to laboratory-grown meat, many consumers are concerned about the impact of meat processing on the environment. But the sale and consumption of cultured chicken on December 19 at 1880’s restaurant dinner series was historic, and there is no turning back. The impact on food production, particularly in countries that cannot safely or consistently rely on animal farming, cannot be overstated. While any approvals will take longer here in the US, American restaurant chains operating or licensing their brands abroad will likely consider implementing cultured meat products on their menus in the near future. According to Packaged Facts’ Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers report, “Companies may tout many reasons they make their products as an alternative to meat, such as being better for animal welfare or lessening the environmental impact of raising animals for slaughter.” Impossible Foods, producer of meatalternative Impossible Meat, and Eat Just, Inc., are doing just that: explaining the sustainable impact of their products while vilifying animal meat production.

Looking forward In 2021, those restaurants that have survived or even thrived will need to up their game. Pursuing and enhancing meaningful food trends will help them gain traction and visibility, and increase their likelihood of success. Diners will eventually return to the restaurant on-premise experience once the coronavirus has been subdued through the strategic rollout of vaccinations. This will take as long as it takes; meanwhile, COVID-19 still looms large in the United States and must be factored into any forecasts. RESTAURANT C-SUITE 27


MORE WAYS TO SUCCEED: > On-the-go news briefs > Data-driven trends and analysis > Digital magazines > Video-based news updates

Stay in touch with all our news on the local and national scene. Now more than ever, restaurant operators need access to the latest news and best practices to run their businesses. Eatery Pulse Media is a primary source of news within the restaurant industry, a consultancy and creative content studio for business.


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.