What Trends are Restaurants Seeing in 2021?

February 9, 2021
min read

The calendar turned its annual page and 2021 has already brought a glimmer of an optimistic outlook for the hospitality industry.  While times are still tough, particularly in the currently cold Northeast, restrictions are loosening in many cities and states.  Boston lifted its dining curfew as of mid-January and Chicago may lift indoor dining restrictions by February 2021. Experts report most of the nation will be vaccinated by Fall.  While unemployment rates within the hospitality industry continue to largely outweigh any other industry as of the close of 2020, hospitality industry leaders are calling for an industry recovery in late 2021.  

So the question is, how does the hospitality industry make it through to recovery when restaurant sales are at their lowest since the middle of 2020?  Jitjatjo connected with culinary experts to gain some insight on what trends restaurants are seeing now in 2021.  

Innovation and Comfort Continue 

In a previous post, we shared that innovation and comfort were poised to drive food and beverage success in 2021.  In uncertain times, it is human nature to turn to things known, foods that make a person feel good, experiences that are familiar.  So there is no surprise that early 2021 has seen these two trends materialize.  Some consumers seek a sense of normalcy outside the home and while others seek to bring these comforts into their homes.

Hospitality Business Model Changes

In terms of innovation, again, perhaps there is not a surprise that big changes are afoot for the hospitality community.  Where there is challenge, opportunity abounds, and certainly, 2020 brought plenty of challenge, with opportunities for those who knew where to look.  This may be as simple as updating a point of sales system for some, but for others, it may be far more extensive.   

“Smart and effective collaborations with technology partners have moved from being a luxury to being a must-have,” says Karen Browne, Chief Executive Officer of Nine-Time James Beard Award-Winning One Off Hospitality, Chicago.  “Whether it's ordering, delivery, or providing seamless accessibility to your customers, this element will remain paramount moving forward.”

For many, the road to success in 2021 is a re-imagination of the overall business model.  As restaurants scale up and down quickly due to ever-changing local legislation, sometimes as specific as neighborhood by neighborhood, it is very difficult to maintain financial stability.  To that end, labor transformation continues to be a major business model innovation opportunity in pandemic recovery.  

“Restrictions on restaurant dining will continue to challenge the industry to re-create offerings that allow more mobility than ever before,” says Browne.  “Restaurants themselves, admittedly, do not have the best systems in place. Instead, using platforms such as Tock make ordering and providing experiences easier. Shopify or Squarespace allow strong e-commerce performance and provide valuable analytics on demand. This shows what is moving to the cart and what is stalling, so adjustments can be made quickly and productively. Restaurants with historically low margins will need to manage fees and costs associated with these partnerships, but this is a chip that must be played.”

Jitjatjo’s Flex  and Ondemand are designed for just that.  An on-demand staffing platform for the hospitality industry, Jitjatjo leverages A.I. and Empathic Intelligence to instantly and accurately provide quality, vetted talent to hotels, restaurants, and catering companies as well as to some of the largest hospitality organizations in the world, as quickly as within an hour.  Without the burden of employees, restaurants already in a precarious position are afforded the opportunity to seamlessly scale up or back as needed with Ondemand.  Hospitality industry workers can create the work schedule that works best for them. 

“The current climate has left the hospitality industry in a very volatile state. For those who are able to reach the other side, it’s absolutely mandatory to build a variable workforce that will allow operators to fluctuate their talent as required,” says Browne.  “Organizations will need to transform their payroll to larger hourly pools versus salaried employees so demand can be rightsized to the particular needs of the business in the midst of unexpected changes.”

Browne goes on to point out that cross-training is also an essential tool in recovery.  She notes that this can be as simple as providing a host/hostess with additional training to serve and run food, or transitioning solid performers in auxiliary roles to help where the demand is. For example, catering and sales positions may have to help with the increased demand for delivery and take out. Managers can also be empowered to be more hands-on with the overall operation. 

The good news is that hospitality workers are innately as adaptable as they are resilient.  Jitjatjo, with its mission of human betterment, sees this global experience as a moment for hospitality workers to reimagine their careers and jobs to define their personal best path forward, whatever that means for them. 

AthenaWise Founder Nancy Medoff reminds us that, “there are always good jobs for good talent.”  

“Those that are not able to adapt in these areas will watch the model pass them by and struggle to manage labor costs in an already challenging market,” says Browne.  

Take-Out Takes New Meaning
Take out meal subscriptions are key to restaurant survival this winter, according to Eater.  When the pandemic first hit, a number of restaurants were able to change-up their model quickly.  As an example, Dante New York, considered one of the best bars in the world, moved to large format delivery service early on in the pandemic, including their world-famous cocktails. Now, in destinations where even the cutest igloo dining setups are less appealing with temperatures dipping into the 20s, subscription services are helping to carry struggling restaurants and bars through.  Third Place, a San Francisco-based tech start-up, is one business aiming to make it easier for consumers to find local businesses to subscribe to.  In late 2020, culinary zeitgeists Infatuation and Zagat launched Outpost, a curated marketplace with iconic NYC dining experiences.

With that said, Chicago-based chef & restaurateur Lamar Moore believes restaurant dining will come back with a vengeance.  “More exclusive types of dining experiences in the dining room will be in demand as well as private dining experiences that go above and beyond with ingredients.”

Chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol fame, in an interview with WSJ. Magazine, notes there seems to be a more collaborative relationship in the midst of Covid-19 between guests and restaurants. How that happy coexistence evolves and if it stays remains to be seen. 


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