Order Up! What’s Ahead for Restaurants for the Rest of 2022
  • Plant-based (not vegan) seafood has arrived. So have robots.
  • Ghost kitchens are smart, but some guests are leery.
  • Tech and big data, but make it useful.

RMS has been tracking the latest trends in the restaurant industry and was on hand at the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show to gather the biggest takeaways on what restaurants can expect to see in the second half of the year. During the coming months, our analysts and industry experts will delve deeper into some of these topics as they connect emerging trends and technology with insights, so you can turn your data into profit

1. The plant-based chicken of the sea

Move over, fake poultry, pork and beef, and make way for plant-based seafood. The show floor was chockablock with riffs on the standard animal-free fare, but the newest darling in the plant-based movement is the seafood category.

Researchers have been working overtime in labs and kitchens and, based on what some RMS attendees had to say, the crab cakes were “remarkable,” and the ahi tuna and salmon had the mouth feel of the real thing. Restaurant guests will find these meat alternatives attractive not just for their familiar flavors and texture but also for prices comparable to the items they replace. Based on our plant-based consumer report, these new entries will especially appeal to the younger generations (millennials and Gen Z). Fresh tip: The vendors RMS spoke to suggested using the term “plant-based,” not “vegan,” to reach those looking to reduce their carbon footprint rather than follow a specific diet.

2. Ghost kitchens

They aren’t meant to be seen, but they’ll soon inhabit cities everywhere. And for good reason — ghost kitchens offer low barriers to entry and opportunities for new revenue streams and operating models. With no front-end cost and fewer labor hours, partnering with a DSP becomes affordable, opening the door to operating outside traditional dayparts (or even 24×7). Brands can extend an existing brand or test a new one with little expense and less risk, a huge and cost-effective assist when identifying potential markets.

Be aware, however, that while launching a ghost kitchen can be a great opportunity, building brand and credibility is key, especially for not-yet-established restaurants. Some customers consider ghost kitchens less credible, especially new and unfamiliar brands. For more on how to optimize your ghost kitchen, watch our Revenue Stream episode featuring RMS’ Richard Delvallée. 

3. Digital-forward restaurants

These days, calling a restaurant to make a reservation over the phone seems almost quaint — not to mention that it’s tough to delegate staff to answer those calls. Now, diners accustomed to the convenience (and safety) of QR code menus and contactless ordering and payment expect a robust digital experience.

Tech is eager to fill that niche with software automation solutions. Seen at the show: automated phone systems that can handle many calls simultaneously and with a high degree of accuracy, and waitlisting solutions that let guests reserve a table in advance, receive a link to the menu and get a text message once their table is ready. Automated messages can remarket to guests by inviting them to review their experience and upload an image of the meal. As data accumulates, guests can opt in for personalized (automated) messages offering exclusive rewards to increase engagement, future traffic and revenue. 

4. Big data

Solutions that gather data before, during and after a guest’s experience are plentiful and seductive in their promises. However, as RMS clients know, data points aren’t useful until you parse the insights they contain. Any growth plans should be supported by a sound data strategy — otherwise, data can become noise.

5. Robots

If anyone is benefiting from the labor shortage, it’s the robots and their smaller brethren, bots. While basic bots (think moving something from point A to point B) have been around, more sophisticated robots are gaining traction to manage extreme staffing shortages in the restaurant industry. Robots aren’t economically feasible for all operators, but as the price of entry decreases and competition ramps up, we expect to see more of these helpers.

Their appeal? When a menu is complicated, with numerous customization options, robots can take an order much faster than humans, saving time and money. Robots can help out in back of house, too. (Chipotle is using them to make tortillas.) As RMS observed, robots can even deliver a full-service FOH coffee shop experience: When guests place an order, a bot creates the beverage and passes it off to another bot, which delivers it to the guest.

It’s clear that big data, technology and understanding consumer behaviors will be vital for restaurants moving forward. We are here to help. Unlocking the power of data and consumer sights to deliver actionable, profitable insights is what we do. Contact us for more information on how we can help optimize your business.

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