Even in the best of times (not a pandemic) making industry-wide predictions is kind of a guessing game. After all, anything can happen, a point underscored by the restaurant industry’s COVID-19-induced meltdown followed by a seismic shift to off-premises formats.
One thing we do know with certainty as we head into the new year is that those off-premises formats — delivery, takeout, drive-thru — are here to stay. So with that in mind, here are a few mini-predictions for 2021 that suggest how restaurants might further adapt to these new formats.
An overwhelming number of virtual restaurants will surface.
Some good news is that practically anyone can start a virtual restaurant brand. Some bad news is that everyone from established restaurants to celebrities to random internet stars is doing just that, quickly saturating the market in the process.
This is likely to increase, especially in the first half of 2021. However, there is a huge difference between launching a chicken wings brand and maintaining a successful, even profitable, concept for the long term. Over the next 12 months, we will learn more about what it takes to achieve the latter. In the process, many, many virtual brands will come and go.
There will be more off-premises options for high-end restaurants.
Full-service, high-end restaurants were hit hardest by the pandemic in 2020, since those experiences have historically relied on the full dining room experience to reach customers.
But towards the end of 2020, we got a glimpse of how these restaurants might both survive and prosper in a restaurant industry that’s irrevocably shifted to meal formats like delivery and takeout. Lunchbox and C3 launched a virtual food hall for fine dining, and Crave Collective showed us what an entire ghost kitchen operation for such restaurants would look like.
Rather than try to replicate existing fine-dining experiences in a to-go box, concepts like those of Lunchbox and Crave work with the chefs to imagine new ones that maintain a higher-end feel while being simpler and more travel friendly.
Expect more virtual food halls and ghost kitchens dedicated to higher-end dining to emerge in 2021, and more restaurants to take a chance with these formats.
Cell-based meat will come to more restaurants.
At the end of 2020, Singapore-based 1880 became the world’s first restaurant to sell cultured meat via a partnership with Eat Just. The combination restaurant/club/social enterprise threw a launch party for Eat Just’s GOOD Meat cultured chicken and will carry it on the menu in some capacity moving forward.
Restaurants are a logical stop for cell-based meat companies on the road from lab prototype to mainstream staple because they have historically always played a role in consumers’ eating behaviors and patterns.
Just Eat isn’t the only cell-based meat company currently in restaurants. In Tel Aviv, Israel, Supermeat has its own test kitchen-turned restaurant called The Chicken that invites consumers to dine on cell-based meat in exchange for feedback.
More restaurants around the world will play host similar developments in 2021.