Restaurant industry trends 2020

The food and beverage industry faces constant change and various challenges but that hasn’t stopped the industry from flourishing. The 2019 worth of the restaurant industry is $863 billion, which is up from 2018's value of $825 billion. As a whole, the industry will continue to thrive, but independent restaurants will feel the impact of shifting trends. 

Every year restaurant owners must decide how to handle changing guest preferences, challenges such as the labor shortage, and the ups and downs within the industry. Here is a look at the new and continuing restaurant industry trends expected for 2020 with insight into how they might affect your restaurant.

Guests in a trendy restaurant

Restaurant menu trends

Restaurant menus are not meant to stay the same forever. You should consider revitalizing your menu every once in a while, even when there aren't trend changes. These new restaurant trends might allow you to evaluate your store's food concept and what room you have to update your menu.

Health-conscious movement continues

Last year the restaurant industry saw their customers swap plates for bowls in the hope of a healthier meal. From Buddha Bowls to Power Bowls, they were a hot topic. While people aren’t stuck on bowls anymore, they still put a heavy focus on health.

Younger generations are willing to pay higher prices for healthy meals specifically tied to buzzwords such as GMO-free, all-natural, or organic.

The aftermath of the Great Recession still sits with many adults, but it hasn’t dissuaded people from paying more for healthier food options. This trend will probably stick around as it seems only to continue growing but look at a few different ways to approach introducing health into your restaurant.  

Most diners can see right through a gimmick version of healthy food. They won’t buy into establishments that use sugar substitutes that are still high in fructose or over-refined such as Agave nectar.

To create healthier options for your menu, consider:

  • Removing processed or prepackaged ingredients from your inventory.

  • Focusing on seasonal produce to ensure peak freshness.

  • Sourcing ingredients locally or from all-natural farms.

  • Serving smaller portion sizes.

  • Visibly marking your vegan or vegetarian options on the menu. 

There are many ways to introduce healthier menu items. Look at areas of opportunity within your restaurant that will minimally disrupt your operations. New trends in restaurants, specific to health-conscious eaters, include marking your menu items that are additive-free or made with only all-natural ingredients.

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Ethnic preferences change again

Put down your tacos, and sous vide eggs. Among the top restaurant trends is a change in ethnic preferences. Look out specifically for Pan Asian and Middle Eastern menus.

Middle Eastern cuisine, the noteworthy comforting herbs and spices are popping up everywhere. Kebabs make a comeback, and desserts that showcase dates and rosewater are gaining a lot of popularity.

Trending restaurants that got a head start here include Cava and Roti. After establishing many locations along the United States East Coast, Cava is taking off. Not only do they focus on Middle Eastern dishes, but they're also one of the best healthy-fast-food choices available.

Pan Asian is about the entirety of Asian cuisine, not exclusively Chinese, Vietnamese, or other Asian dishes. Vietnam's Pho slowly began making a presence throughout the U.S., and now, Pan Asian menus are gaining a lot of traction globally. It’s the opportunity to have curry, Banh Mi, and tempura on the same menu.

It's crucial to not confuse Pan Asian with Asian Fusion. Pan Asian simply means that the menu plays host to a variety of Asian dishes from different countries. Fusion cuisine focuses on blending various elements to create something new.

To develop an exceptional Pan Asian menu, look for classic Asian dishes that use the same family of ingredients. Then develop a short but diverse menu. New food trends in restaurants include introducing Spam Musubi, Singaporean Rice Stick Noodles, or Bibimbap.

Small menus dominate

Menu variety plays a substantial role in every dining experience. A huge menu is the restaurant’s attempt to make something for everyone, rather than doing a few things really well. New trends in restaurant business tactics show that restaurants are on board and understand the difficulties that long menus create. Craft a short menu or split your menus between meal periods.

The days of never-ending menus are coming to an end. Diners simply don’t want the low food-quality that often comes with long menus.

This trend can directly impact your profitability. A short menu can slim down your food costs through streamlined inventory management, as well as reduced food waste. When trimming down your menu, it also gives your chefs the chance to build more proficiency with the menu items, ultimately, improving food quality.

A barista in a trendy coffee shop

Restaurant industry trends

These latest restaurant trends may change the way you think about your business and your competition. In 2020, restaurateurs are finding unique ways to operate. They’re forcing the industry and the public to reconsider what to expect from a dining experience. 

Pop-up restaurants

It seems like pop-up restaurants and food trucks trade-off as a significant trend every few years. Pop-up restaurants offer a fun experience which many diners can't get anywhere else. This trend is coming hand in hand with the revival of popular fandoms such as Friends. Central Perks locations have popped-up throughout New York City and have begun to make their way across other major cities.

An unexpected pop-up restaurant that set this trend on fire is the Gucci Astoria. In 2019 they used a pop-up restaurant in Singapore with a three Michelin star chef as their first food venture outside of Italy.

It's clear that the pop-up trend isn't exclusive for themed spots, casual dining, or even fine dining. A pop up can be anything, but it always comes with exclusivity. The pop-up trend is something that restaurant owners are learning to embrace. While the work to plan the pop-up event is demanding, the payoff is usually well worth the effort.

Restaurants can choose a few specific dishes, or even a set menu, and charge substantially more than they would normally.  Of course, the success of a pop up is only a flash in the pan. Use a pop up to feed business back to your stationary restaurant.


Ghost kitchens

What is a ghost kitchen, and is it sustainable? Ghost kitchens are reliant upon another hot trend that will continue into 2020, food delivery. A ghost kitchen is a restaurant that only operates out of a kitchen with no dining space. For restaurant owners, this structure means much lower overhead costs, no service staff, and delivery-only ordering

Ghost kitchens first appeared in cities where the property lease prices make it nearly impossible to open a profitable restaurant without substantial financial backing. As the popularity of delivery services rose, hopeful restaurateurs started leasing commercial or shared kitchen space and operating through third-party delivery services. 

It is possible to operate a ghost-kitchen in less built-up areas, although the definition, scope, and expectation of ghost kitchens are changing. Ghost kitchens of 2019 almost exclusively referred to restaurants that worked only through third-party delivery services.

The ghost kitchen definition is evolving to include restaurants that have a small pick-up area for guests to grab their food themselves. Restaurants using ghost kitchens may directly provide delivery or use delivery services.

These restaurant business trends are changing the way the industry works. There are now restaurants that have to approach customer service, and brand management without ever actually meeting the customer.

Delivery options

Delivery has increased again and again over the last two years. We’re way beyond ordering in on a lazy night. In fact, with apps like Caviar, you can have fine dining in your living room while you binge your favorite series.

Restaurant delivery sales should rise with a compound rate of at least 22% annually for the next four years.

What is changing in 2020 though is how small businesses look at delivery options. Pizza companies have long managed their delivery services independently. However, those new to the game mostly chose to let a third-party delivery company handle their orders. 

Small restaurants quickly learned that the terms of third-party delivery services were unreasonable. Uber Eats can charge as high as 30% to the restaurant on every order. About 84% of restaurant owners said that the fees that ate into their profits weren't worth the increase in business.

Other issues that are causing restaurants to leave third-party delivery services include:

  • Customer service complaints on drivers and delivery personnel

  • Lack of urgency in delivery as the driver has limited accountability to the restaurant

  • Missed opportunities for customer impact such as having condiments or napkins on hand.

  • The delivery service taking the recognition leading to your brand losing its value and reputation

Adding a delivery service to your company isn't that difficult. It's entirely possible to start delivering quickly, with or without a third-party service. Carefully decide whether you need the benefits of a third-party delivery service of if you can make a delivery system work independently.

A bartender in a trendy bar

Restaurant customer service trends

Customer trends will cause restaurants to make changes to maintain their customer base. In the past, these trends have included choosing certain suppliers, certain cleanliness practices, or even working as a "no-reservation" location. Don’t worry, current trends in the restaurant industry are less daunting than past fads. These trends are likely something you are working on already anyway.

New ways that customers find restaurants

This trend is a minor shock because it seems that Yelp and other online review forums have dropped in popularity. Only 12.5% of diners will post about their experience but diners have started using technology for more than just reviews.  

What your diners do before they arrive can severely impact your store. 88% of customers make a reservation online, and 86% expect to have access to a menu online as well.

It’s time that standalone, small-chain, or mom-and-pop restaurants take a different approach to online reputation management. Not only are you on the lookout for complaints to address. But, also need to make it easy for guests to request reservations online and review your menu.

Creating a website is a long-term solution, although it's a significant investment for many companies. You can also evaluate options such as OpenTable, Reserve, or even allowing guests to make reservations through Yelp. These companies aren't new, but they were struck by the no-reservations trend and struggled. Now, they're coming back into the light. Make it convenient for hungry people to find you, book a reservation, get directions, and review your menu.

Unexpected customer concerns

When there is a mass awareness of a social issue, people will look at what businesses are doing about the problem. Customers often give companies an ultimatum; they can choose to be part of the problem or the solution. Trends in the restaurant industry aren’t always about food or service. 

The most recent issue which will no doubt lead to substantial changes in the food and beverage industry is the environment. Water pollution and plastic waste have made many people looking at restaurants. 

Restaurant staples such as plastic straws, plastic cups, and lids, or take home bags have people asking why those things are necessary. The solution isn't to get rid of takeaway or disposable small wares. It's to find an eco-friendly alternative. 

Using biodegradable wares such as paper straws, wax paper cups, and fiber to-go containers are steps in the right direction.

McDonald's saw this trend coming a while ago, and they announced their plan to take action. They promised to only use 100% renewable or recycled materials for all of their guest packaging by 2025.

You don't need to take such an aggressive approach but choosing environmentally friendly options is an excellent way to stand out from your nearby competitors. When you make the change, host an event, or a small celebration for minimizing your impact. Spread the word about how you’re contributing to the solution. Alternatively, you can put effort into reducing food waste.

Watching the restaurant industry's trends can help you take quick and decisive action. Rather than falling prey and responding too slowly to a changing trend, you'll stand out from the other restaurants in your area.


Taking part in recent trends can help get more people in the door, but then you and your staff need to make guests want to come back. Of course, quality of service and food are necessary to build long-lasting customer loyalty. To balance high-quality, consistency, and changing trends, you need software that can give you an edge.

A POS software for your coffee shop, restaurant, or bakery can help you make easy menu changes, reduce costs, and control your finances. Maximizing profit and staying relevant are both critical in planning success for your restaurant.


Mercedes Diaz
Independent content creator for business and foodservice niches. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.

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