How 2021 Changed the Restaurant Industry

How 2021 Changed the Restaurant Industry
2021 has brought ups and downs between regulatory rules, mounting supply chain challenges, rapidly evolving customer ordering behaviors, and a constant labor crunch. Here's how Square has pushed and pivoted to provide restaurants with the tools they need.
by Bryan Solar Dec 17, 2021 — 5 min read
How 2021 Changed the Restaurant Industry

For restaurants, 2021 has brought many ups and downs with COVID-19, mounting supply chain challenges, rapidly evolving customer ordering behaviors, and a constant labor crunch. But for restaurant owners in the United States,  uncertainty in the industry and the need to survive financially have led them to innovate like never before, adopting a patchwork of technology tools to provide customers with experiences they’ll remember inside and outside the dining room.

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Square has been focused on providing the tools, resources, and technologies that restaurants need to meet the challenges they face daily. We’ve pivoted to prioritize product updates and features to help restaurants grow their revenues, work more efficiently, manage their employees better, and create a customer experience that builds loyalty and community.

As the general manager of Square for Restaurants, who grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents who owned restaurants, I’ve seen firsthand how these last few years have changed the restaurant industry. 

Pivoting and innovating to grow revenue 

Restaurateurs are known for their grit, and it’s no surprise that the industry has pivoted to continue to provide great food and service to their customers, all while knowing they might have to pivot again tomorrow. At Square we focused on making sure we had the solutions that restaurants needed fast. 

Pickup and delivery options quickly became a vital source of revenue for many restaurants at the beginning of the pandemic, and in 2021 they remained a top ordering channel. To support the influx of orders that came through online ordering channels, which was brand new for many restaurants, Square launched a handful of new features this year.

Embracing new technology 

This past year brought a stronger emphasis on embracing new technology and modernizing restaurant systems, both for the back and the front of house. With labor in short supply and operational complexity increasing, 2021 was all about teams working smarter and doing more with less. 

QR codes quickly gained popularity among restaurant owners and customers for their ability to provide an easy and touchless ordering and payment option. To maximize the benefits of using self-serve ordering, we added features to keep tabs open, helping to grow ticket sizes, to increase staff tips, and to expand awareness of your menu. 

Another emphasis for restaurants this past year was on how to use technology to build and strengthen customer relationships. Customers are the lifeblood of restaurants, but often it feels as if restaurants are only able to glean bits and pieces of who their customers are. New tools help restaurants recognize who their regular customers are, which customers churned and why, and how customers experience the restaurant overall. This unlocks opportunities for restaurants to build a larger loyal customer base and launch new revenue streams that will appeal to customers. Square Loyalty can be synced with Square for Restaurants, which makes it easy to engage and reward diners after every interaction they have with your business.  

Working more efficiently 

The influx of new channels this past year brought with it a need for more efficiency and streamlined operations. With orders coming in across online ordering hubs, QR codes, and tableside, the need for all orders to run through a centralized system became paramount. That’s where a Kitchen Display System (KDS) can help. We identified and prioritized restaurants’ top needs and implemented new features to our KDS system, including the ability to control the order in which tickets show up, 86’d items, recall items and tickets, and print directly from the KDS.

There is also a stronger need to process orders faster as more restaurants take on an omnichannel strategy. To make in-person ordering easier, Square for Restaurants added new features that simplifies order mapping by grouping stations together, such as bar, dining room, and patio. For online channels we focused on how to simplify the online ordering experience on mobile devices. We also enabled more options to sync across online and in-person menus. 

Finally, given that many restaurants use multiple technology providers to run their operations, we expanded the ecosystem of apps that work seamlessly with Square for Restaurants to simplify your life. You can now connect your Square account with leading solutions from ItsaCheckmate, Groupon, Otter, Menufy, GRUBBRR, MarginEdge, OrderUp, Tapin2, and more.

Prioritizing and managing staff 

This year it became even more clear that a happy and motivated team is key to running a successful restaurant. To help staff feel that your business is investing in them, we built a number of features that make your team’s day-to-day easier. Here are ways you can provide support to you employees through streamlined technology solutions:


Taking care of your team means taking care of your managers too. Square Payroll can ease the administrative work of managers and will calculate the business and employee taxes for employees, now across multiple locations, including employees who work from home. To support hiring efforts we partnered with Checkr so that you can access an all-in-one employee background check solution.

Looking ahead

2022 is just around the corner, and we expect another busy year, as outlined in the Square Future of Restaurants report. Some of the trends I see emerging include:


Thanks to your feedback, we’ve already started work on features you’ve asked for. If you have a feature you’d like to see us work in, head to our Seller Community and keep an eye on what’s to come in 2022.

Bryan Solar
Bryan Solar is based in Austin TX, and before coming to Square he spent over 5 years at Google where he served as General Manager and Product Lead of the Google Restaurants Tools Team. Prior to that, he led SMB New Products & Markets, and Reserve at Google. Before Google, he was Co-Founder and CEO of a company named TownHound (which was acquired by Google) that built real-time marketing technology to help restaurants and small businesses drive customer traffic during low traffic times, and prior to that he spent three years running a nonprofit that helped turn around struggling restaurants.


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