Since 2020, restaurants have had to adapt quickly to unforeseen circumstances. From the biggest, established names in fine dining to brand new, smaller start-ups, restaurant owners were forced to think on their feet.
Whether it was innovating during a lockdown or engaging more with the local community, the pandemic has prompted transformation in the industry that will be key to future success.
Square surveyed more than 300 restaurateurs and 1,000 consumers to gain an insight into the present and future of UK restaurant businesses. Read on to find out the most important trends of 2022.
All data cited below comes from the survey results. For a more in-depth look at the 2022 industry trends, download The Future of Restaurants UK report.
Takeaway revenue is a key earner
When the world locked down in early 2020, restaurants of all sizes quickly realised they needed to adopt a takeaway model. This was warmly welcomed by a nation tired of home cooking, hungry for variety and a taste of their favourite dining experiences.
Further lockdowns may finally be behind us but the switch to home deliveries is predicted to have a lasting impact. An overwhelming 91% of UK restaurants expect to earn revenue from takeaways in 2022_, and one-in-five expect the majority of their sales will come from delivery and takeouts.
The rise in takeaways has resulted in an increase in online ordering over the past 12 months – 50% of restaurant owners have implemented online delivery technology.
Contactless remains critical to the dining experience
Contactless payments in the UK were firmly established before the outbreak of Covid-19, but the payments technology has become essential since. In 2020, 46% of restaurants introduced contactless payment options to increase safety. It’s now so commonly used that the maximum contactless spending limit was increased from £30 to £45 in April 2020. The threshold more than doubled, to £100, in October 2021.
With the pandemic continuing, good hygiene will continue to be key if restaurants want to prosper. A whopping 90% of consumers consider safety measures to be critically important when eating out in 2022. One-in-four of those surveyed consider contactless technology to be essential. The simplicity of touch-free payments for customers suggests that contactless payments will remain popular post-pandemic.
“Restaurants will increasingly use contactless payment options and QR-code menus in a way that will help them turn more tables and save overhead costs via physical menus and tough to find staffing. Technology like this enables restaurants to keep the heart of the beloved restaurant experience, just in a more efficient way”, says Bryan Solar, General Manager for Square for Restaurants.
Customers prefer restaurant-owned websites
The rise in online ordering has led to increased demand for restaurant-owned websites. Our survey revealed that 62% of consumers would rather order directly than through third-party sites such as Just Eat and Deliveroo. And the main reason is reassuring – 51% would do so to support the business directly, rather than give a percentage to a third party in already difficult times. Diners are keen for their favourite restaurants to still exist when the pandemic is over.
Understandably, customers would love to save money too, and 49% hope a restaurant-owned website would mean lower food or service charges. Some 38% would order directly to access better deals and promotions.
Restaurant owners also clearly see the benefit of having their own websites – 70% would rather use their own site to take online orders.
Kitchen automation technology is a smart investment
Although staffing is an ongoing issue, digital technology is providing restaurant owners with ways to simplify and improve internal processes.
In the past 12 months, 35% of businesses have invested in technology for kitchen automation, with 41% planning to invest in the coming six months. In unpredictable times, streamlining can improve efficiency across all channels and allows managers and owners to test new concepts.
Restaurants are adapting to hub-and-spoke models, with the kitchen at the centre, says Lior Koren, Product Manager for Square for Restaurants. “Restaurants are embracing new channels for customers to interact with their business, effectively meeting them wherever they are. Each of these channels represents a revenue stream for the restaurant, and they connect to the same kitchen and are all managed by the same localised POS and KDS.”
When the UK began its roadmap out of lockdown in spring 2021, restaurants began to reopen in line with capacity restrictions. Reservations became essential, and three-in-ten businesses introduced enhanced booking technology. Although restrictions have been lifted, businesses remain aware of the technology’s importance – 29% of restaurants will continue to use it during 2022.
It’s time to mix up the menu
With the industry undergoing such a dramatic change, and lockdowns providing time for businesses to take stock, it’s unsurprising that many want to make menu changes. A huge 82% are planning on changing what they serve up to adapt to customers’ changing preferences.
Three main trends have become apparent from the survey. Whilst 33% of restaurants have expanded their menus with new cuisines, 28% have done the opposite and reduced theirs, and 22% have developed completely new menus. These trends will be interesting to watch as the restaurant landscape evolves.
It’s likely that many of the changes have been made at restaurants popular amongst millennials, as 73% of those consumers stated they are willing to try new menu offerings.
With hygiene so important in current times, digital menus are now replacing physical versions, with 36% of restaurants introduced digital menus in the past 12 months and 27% of consumers insisted this is a critical safety measure for 2022.
Getting creative with experiences and offers
Now, more than ever, gaining and retaining customer loyalty is important to restaurants. Increasingly, businesses are coming up with creative ways to entice people through their doors or onto their websites. Special ‘off-menu’ items and marketing initiatives have been introduced by 75% of those surveyed.
Personalisation is also growing in importance across businesses, and restaurants are no exception. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed have decided to develop personalised dining for events, for example on Valentine’s Day. Other noteworthy ideas include meal and cocktail kits (28%), pre-made frozen food (12%) and subscription services such as wine clubs (14%). One-in-four restaurateurs have offered cooking classes online and virtual tastings or dining events to keep engagement high during tough times.
Loyalty programmes have come into their own during the pandemic – restaurants need consumers to support them through both the good and bad times. Some 26% plan to expand or offer new loyalty programmes in 2022, while gift cards also help customers support their favourite restaurants or share the experience with loved ones.
Community support is more important than ever
Despite the challenges many restaurants faced to survive in lockdown, 85% did the industry proud by supporting the community around them. And it worked both ways, with customers leaping at the opportunity to order from their favourite establishments to shake up their lockdown experience.
With this in mind, it’s reassuring that 91% of restaurants intend to keep hold of the community spirit by continuing to engage in 2022. 40% of those surveyed will provide supplies, discounts and/or vouchers to frontline workers, community service providers, emergency services and the NHS. Donating money and/or food to community organisations or for local events will be the focus for 30% of respondents.
Climate change continues to be a concern, and 24% of businesses showed a willingness to engage with sustainability, recycling, and waste management efforts.
Of course, customer demand on such issues is also a reason to engage – and 43% of consumers said they would like to see businesses donate food or supplies to community organisations and charities.
Reasons to be cheerful
The pandemic has made for some difficult years for restaurants, and we’re not quite out of the woods yet. However, our survey shows there’s much to be upbeat about. Innovative ideas combined with improvements in technology are inspiring, and so are the efforts to help communities.
Harnessing the latest payment technology helps restaurants to streamline and stay ahead of the curve. For more info, read our Future of Restaurants report.