The Top Restaurant Trends in 2022

restaurant trends

The restaurant industry is taking bold steps in 2022. The most popular restaurant trends show that owners are finding innovative ways to improve on-site and off-site experiences for guests, whether they’re running a fast-casual restaurant, a full-service establishment, or exploring a completely new concept entirely.

Consumer dining preferences and economic conditions point to the top restaurant trends and strategies that stick. Whether that is adopting contactless payment strategies, experimenting with online ordering, or using automation to combat the labor shortage, restaurants are finding creative ways to build meaningful relationships with their staff and customers.

To discover the strategies that will shape the restaurant industry in 2022, Square teamed up with Wakefield Research to investigate what 500 restaurant owners and managers and 1,000 consumers across the U.S. are thinking about the current state and future for food businesses. We analyzed the survey results, insights from the Square restaurants team, and interviews with restaurateurs leading the charge to identify the most popular restaurant trends for local businesses to explore this year.

All data cited below comes from the survey results. For a more in-depth look at these 2022 restaurant industry trends, download the second installment of our Future of Restaurants report.

  1. Contactless ordering and delivery is here to stay
  2. The labor shortage can be managed with smart restaurant technology
  3. Many restaurants plan to diversify revenue streams in 2022
  4. Kitchen automation is a huge priority
  5. More direct food orders are coming through
  6. Restaurants are rethinking experiences to build deep customer loyalty
  7. Community still means everything for the restaurant industry

#1. Contactless ordering and delivery is here to stay

From fine dining to fast food, contactless tech and food delivery may continue to be key investments in 2022 as restaurants look for ways to improve the customer experience while meeting evolving expectations.

Contactless ordering and payment options, like digital QR-code menus and touchless payments, will become more mainstream in 2022. In fact, 94% of restaurants surveyed say they currently offer contactless payment options. More than three out of four restaurants say they take mobile wallet apps, while 50% take QR code payments.

Nearly half of restaurateurs (45%) plan on continuing to offer QR code menus in 2022. Jeff Krupman, owner of San Francisco’s PizzaHacker, captures the benefits of QR code menus succinctly when he asks: “How often is there a technology that costs nothing, saves a restaurant money, improves the experience for the customer, reduces errors, and ends up effectively increasing the employee tips?”

Online ordering is also a permanent fixture for many restaurant businesses, with 69% saying they will continue to offer digital ordering post-pandemic.

#2. The labor shortage can be managed with smart restaurant technology

One major restaurant trend for 2022 is that technology is helping owners navigate the labor shortage. Nearly three out of four restaurant businesses say they are experiencing a labor shortage, with 22% saying the shortage is significant. And 28% say more than one out of four of their open positions are currently unfilled.

So what’s the solution to not finding enough workers? Restaurant technology that can help managers and owners be more efficient.

Restaurant owners are exploring solutions that help the team stay productive by speeding up the time it takes to complete manual tasks. Nearly two out of three restaurants say that automating online orders at the restaurant and through delivery apps would help fill gaps when they’re not at full staffing capacity. A little over half say automating customer payments would help fill gaps, and 46% say the same for automating customer communications.

“[An omnichannel strategy] really helps us take the pressure off of our staff,” says Wally Sadat, the CEO of The Kebab Shop, a fast-casual Mediterranen restaurant on track to open over 30 locations. “And that’s what helps us reinforce the brand culture of, ‘We’re kitchen guys. We believe in labor and people first — and not just our customers. Our customers and our staff should be treated the same exact way.’”

#3. Many restaurants plan to diversify revenue streams in 2022

For many restaurants, an important strategy is to diversify revenue streams by pivoting from their primary offerings and branching out to other verticals, like retail. Half of restaurant owners added new products or services as a result of COVID-19, and 75% of them say those changes are here to stay, including offering subscriptions, grocery and retail, and meal and cocktail kits.

David Rusenko, Head of eCommerce at Square, describes these businesses as “multi-hyphenates.”

“We’re seeing that the defined, straight vertical lines of your retail business versus your restaurant versus your services business are all blurring,” says Rusenko. “A restaurant-bar-store, for example, might be a place that sells mixology classes, retail gear, and tastings in addition to serving patrons food and drinks.”

The good news is that consumers are receptive to these new ways of doing business. In fact, 44% of customers bought something outside of their standard meals at restaurants, with 30% saying they bought retail items several times. With consumers open to these identity experiments, there’s no reason not to spice things up, especially if it can translate to more revenue for your business.

#4. Kitchen automation is a huge priority

As many restaurants go all in with contactless payments, offers, and channels, streamlining kitchen operations can help effectively deliver a consistent guest experience.

Many restaurateurs are investing in digital technology to improve back-of-house processes, and 36% of owners and managers have upgraded their business technology. Streamlined kitchens can mean better efficiency across channels, giving managers and owners the confidence and freedom to test out new restaurant concepts.

“With a streamlined and equipped kitchen, there’s nothing physically stopping you from trying four or five new restaurant concepts at a time and then picking the winner once one of those concepts is proven,” says Rajat Deva, a Product Marketing Manager for Square for Restaurants.

#5. More direct food orders are coming through

More restaurateurs want to take charge of their online ordering and delivery in 2022 and decrease reliance on third parties, with 49% saying they’ll continue offering food delivery directly through their restaurant.

The reason is simple: They want to control the end-to-end restaurant experience.

Consumers also want to skip the middle person, with 68% saying they would rather use a restaurant’s own website or app for food delivery rather than a third-party app. Their main reason for doing so is to support the restaurant directly.

If restaurant owners use couriers or On-Demand Delivery from Square they can make the customer experience even more frictionless. By taking more direct orders, businesses will have more control over customer engagement. They will have access to centralized customer data, which can help them deliver better marketing and loyalty programs.

#6. Restaurants are rethinking experiences to build deep customer loyalty

Restaurants are coming up with creative ways to boost customer engagement and loyalty. About 90% of restaurateurs plan to implement customer engagement initiatives to keep customers coming back throughout 2022.

Even restaurateurs who are not ready to try out new verticals like retail are making changes to their identities, starting by making services and products inspired by the pandemic permanent. Three out of four restaurant owners say the new strategies spurred by COVID-19 are here to stay, with 44% continuing to offer subscriptions and memberships, 37% selling meal or cocktail kits, and 27% investing in virtual tastings in 2022.

To make the most out of these initiatives, restaurants are also focused on rewarding customer loyalty. Well-planned loyalty programs can provide deep insight into the needs and preferences of customers, helping food businesses improve customer satisfaction. This is why 41% of restaurateurs added or improved their customer loyalty programs and incentives this past year.

By providing creatively revamped services and investing in fresh initiatives, owners can provide great restaurant experiences whether people are dining in or doing takeout, helping to boost retention and sales.

#7. Community still means everything for the restaurant industry

“Without the community, I can say that we wouldn’t be standing here today,” says Kenneth Brown, owner of Sisters of the New South, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, that specializes in homestyle Southern cooking. “It brings you back to your roots. Even though Savannah has a lot of tourism, your roots are your customers, your everyday customers.”

Restaurants play a special role in communities. It’s the venue for many important life events — first dates, reunions, and business meetings. Strong community ties mean stronger connections with patrons, which is why many restaurants plan to invest in more community service initiatives in 2022.

Ninety-two percent plan to continue and do more community engagement in 2022, such as cooking for community service providers, donating food or money to community organizations, and offering support to local minority-owned businesses.

By participating in more community engagement initiatives, restaurant owners and managers can win more brand love while delighting guests with new experiences.

Restaurant owners and managers have remained enduringly resilient in the face of challenges. From contactless service delivery to kitchen automation, restaurateurs say there’s no slowing down. Going digital is taking center stage as owners and managers explore ways to improve internal efficiency, deliver more spectacular restaurant omnichannel experiences, and stay connected with their customers.

You can adapt these top restaurant trends in your business. First, take stock of your current challenges and consider the trends that could deliver the most benefit to the people you serve. For example, embracing digital technology could help you run your restaurant more efficiently and stay relevant in a digital future. An efficient tech-driven restaurant that is in touch with the community could be the future of the restaurant industry in 2022.

FAQs on the top restaurant trends

Fast-casual restaurants give customers the warmth of a sit-down restaurant with the benefits of getting food on the go, typically with counter service. The Future of Restaurants report found that when people are eating at fast food restaurants, 60% prefer to place their orders using a kiosk or online system instead of ordering through a staff member or server. And at casual dining establishments, 45% of consumers prefer to do the same.

In 2022, full-service restaurants are incorporating more pandemic-inspired offerings into their business models. Full-service restaurants prepare food individually for each diner and guests typically get seated and served food in a dining room.

This year, full-service restaurants are continuing to use contactless payment options to streamline operations, with 52% offering pay-at-the-table devices and 50% offering QR code payments.

Consumers are engaging with their favorite restaurants in different ways in 2022. To start, they expect convenience, from payments to ordering, with 29% preferring to pay contactlessly at a restaurant. Digital menus are also popular, with 71% of consumers having used a digital menu and 30% saying they always choose digital over physical menus.

With supply shortages, many restaurants are forced to charge more, but their customers get why — 77% of consumers understand if restaurants raise prices because of the pandemic.

Want a deeper look into how restaurants are innovating in 2022? Get more information on these popular restaurant trends in our 2022 edition of the Future of Restaurants report.