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Restaurant Trends Impacting Going Out to Eat in 2024

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Justin GuinnAuthor

The restaurant industry is constantly evolving, surging with new trends, technologies, and challenges.

Recent years have seen going out to eat compete more and more with fast food, takeout, and delivery options. Successful restaurant operators have to account for all ordering channels that make sense for their business.

Toast is the point of sale system built for restaurants. We’ve conducted tons of research to help restaurant owners benchmark their operation with their peers — as well as understand the evolving preferences, behaviors, and dining habits of their guests across different guest demographic splits.

In this article, you’ll see insights from real restaurant operators and their guests that are impacting going out to eat and off-premise ordering in 2024. Discover common paint points and challenges in the restaurant industry and see what solutions operators are using.

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Restaurant Operator Insights Report

See insights from real restaurant operators which can help you benchmark your current and planned restaurant technology stack against your peers as we head into 2024 and beyond.

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Industry and guest insights impacting going out to eat

Boosting sales is a constant restaurant industry trend.

Operators constantly ask how to increase restaurant sales as one of their most pressing concerns. This goes for guests going out to eat in restaurants as well as takeout and delivery orders — also known as on-premise and off-premise dining.

We’ve broken the next two sections into on-premise and off-premise insights. 

First up are some operator insights to help benchmark how critical it is to boost sales, and some guest demographic insights that can help operators capture more on-premise sales.

Onsite restaurant dining

Increasing throughput is the top listed pain point for restaurant respondents we surveyed with $1M+ GMV (20%).

Similarly, guest foot traffic is listed as the third most common pain point for this $1M+ GMV restaurant cohort (15%).

One way that restaurants can help get more guests in their dining rooms is by focusing on speed and convenience — particularly for Gen Z guests going out to eat a restaurant meal on-site.

Takeout and delivery orders

There was a point during the pandemic and subsequent cost increases where a consumer could order food at a significantly lower inflation rate than they could make home cooking.

This paired with other pandemic dynamics to accelerate the adoption of online ordering for takeout and delivery orders.

Many Americans are still opting for convenience and speed with increases in takeout and delivery orders.

As the restaurant industry in America has evolved to cater to these digital takeout and delivery orders, millennials in particular are eating it up.

Though DoorDash and Uber Eats are ubiquitous with online ordering, different dynamics may prompt restaurant operators to bring ordering capabilities in-house. This is a move preferred by all age demographics we surveyed.

Menu and ingredient trends shaping restaurant food

Delicious foods and drinks remain table stakes in today’s competitive restaurant landscape. However, guest palates and trendy flavors and ingredients are constantly evolving. 

Whether it’s offering the latest Korean BBQ trend or making standout appetizers and small bites, restaurants must stay on top of menu and ingredient trends. This helps restaurants remain top-of-mind when guests decide where they’re going out to eat or ordering from.

Here are three menu insights that are setting the stage for dining out in 2024.

Spicy heat — but with more complexity

According to the food trends from the Whole Foods Market’s Trends Council, spice-heads are in for a treat when going out to eat in 2024.

Complex heat continues its evolution with global peppers taking off in every aisle — and the trend is only getting hotter. Specialty varieties like Scorpion Peppers, Guajillo or Hungarian Goathorn Peppers are found fresh, whole, ground or pickled, and a new wave of botana sauces and chili oils are popping up in condiment aisles nationwide. Pepper-infused drinks are going beyond kombuchas, cold-pressed juices and smoothies, with ready-to-drink beverages like canned tepache filling up the fridge with a refreshing kick. Even Tajín is expanding from candies and cocktails to spicing up grocery store sushi, desserts and more.

Specifying origins of featured menu item ingredients

According to Technomic, the restaurant industry is going to see more menu items with greater emphasis on ingredient origins and specifications.

Vague menu descriptors are in the past as more transparent listings become vogue. Cocktails won’t contain just any apple flavor, but rather that of a Granny Smith. Generic red wine vinegar will move aside for Barolo wine vinegar. And raw beef dishes will become more distinct as filet mignon carpaccio and tenderloin steak tartare. Not only will ingredient varietal types find momentum in menu descriptions, but so will callouts of regions or countries of origin and influence, especially lesser-known ones, such as Haitian honey and Senegalese-style chicken. 

Honing in on such ingredient details can enable operators to feature relationships with producers, provide greater transparency, and more comfortably list items at premium prices to potentially enhance profitability.

More global cuisines on the menu 

According to Datassential, European cuisine is set to come into fashion — finding its way on menus and on guest minds. 

As consumers gravitated toward Mexican and Asian cuisines, many European cuisines were stagnating, both in the U.S. and in their home countries. Look across the country and you'll find new Italian restaurants with bolder, spicier, often TikTokfriendly dishes on the menu; French spots that combine both light and indulgent dishes, new takes on classic desserts and pastries, and a less stuffy view of fine dining; Greek concepts that feature a fun, party-like atmosphere alongside serious seafood that highlights the Mediterranean; and mashup restaurants that combine English and Indian flavors in crowd-pleasing pub fare.

Overcoming inflation challenges with menu prices and cost control

Operationally, inflation remained the top pain point for restaurant owners in 2023 — for the second year in a row.

The survey shows that the difficulty in managing inflationary pressures have grown more YoY for quick-service restaurants (QSRs) with <$500K GMV and full-service restaurants (FSRs) with $500K+ GMV — with 19% of both segments listing inflation as a top three paint point.

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How Restaurants Can Navigate Food Inflation and Protect Profitability

Put rising food inflation into historical context and uncover action items to help protect profits and remain agile in the face of sustained economic pressure.

To combat inflationary pressures, an additional 5% of restaurants we surveyed indicated that they are raising menu prices in 2023 compared to restaurants we surveyed in 2022 (37% and 42%).

Menu prices are one side of profitability. Cost control is the other.

Restaurant prime costs can be a great metric to help with cost control. Prime costs are the combination of cost of goods sold and labor costs

Here’s a breakdown of each. Typically, prime costs (COGS and labor costs) are around 60% of revenue — and that’s usually a pretty even split, so an average labor cost is around 30%.

Restaurant cost of goods sold (COGS)

Restaurant COGS refers to the cost of all the ingredients a restaurant uses in a given time period.

Knowing how to calculate COGS is critical for the restaurant industry for monitoring and controlling restaurant costs. It’s not some calculation reserved for accountants. Restaurant COGS numbers change over time, and you'll see a completely different number when comparing your COGS for one shift to your COGS for an entire year.

Calculating COGS requires you to track restaurant ingredient costs over a given amount of time. Tracking total food cost percentages can enable you to stay lean and keep operating expenses low — allowing restaurant operators to save money on food inventory by identifying patterns and trends.

COGS typically vary between restaurants depending on factors like size and concept.

Consider a fine dining restaurant vs. a fast food one. Fine dining generally has higher COGS because they use better quality, more expensive ingredients. This higher COGS isn’t necessarily alarming because they then charge a premium to more than cover these costs.

Restaurant labor costs

Restaurant labor cost describes the total dollar amount your restaurant spends on labor, including pay for salaried and hourly workers, as well as taxes and employee benefits.

Restaurant labor costs include more than just restaurant hourly wages:

  • Salaried employee wages (tricky because salaries technically fall into fixed costs, but they also obviously roll up to labor costs)

  • Hourly employee wages

  • Bonuses

  • Overtime pay

  • Payroll Taxes

  • Health care

  • Sick and vacation days

Anything that can be categorized as “labor-related” goes into your labor cost percentage calculation.

Technologies that can help restaurant owners succeed in 2024 and beyond

Restaurant technology continues to evolve with operator needs and trends in the industry. There are numerous platforms for restaurant owners to streamline operations and offer personalized experiences to guests.

Guest-facing tech affecting going out to eat and off-prem orders

Our research shows that restaurant operators we surveyed are turning to more guest-facing technologies to help achieve growth goals and address guest challenges.

These marketing tools can help power a comprehensive restaurant marketing strategy. And formalized restaurant loyalty programs can be essential for answering how to increase restaurant customer loyalty.

Cost control technologies helping restaurants protect profitability

Cost management software, such as xtraCHEF, and payroll automation services are additional tools that restaurant operators are planning to adopt.

These tools allow restaurant owners to manage expenses and track inventory in real-time, minimizing waste and preventing loss. By leveraging these technologies, restaurants can better control costs and reduce waste, leading to a healthier and more profitable business.

icon RESOURCE

Restaurant Operator Insights Report

See insights from real restaurant operators which can help you benchmark your current and planned restaurant technology stack against your peers as we head into 2024 and beyond.

Toast

Restaurants can deliver great experiences in 2024

The restaurant industry is navigating changes and adaptations at a faster rate than ever before.

Growing restaurants need to be aware of the changes and remain agile to keep their businesses profitable and successful.

By keeping up with industry trends and adopting appropriate technologies, restaurant owners and operators can offer exceptional service and stay ahead of the competition in the years ahead.

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Methodologies

2023 Survey Methodology

To help better understand the restaurant industry, Toast conducted a blind survey of 847 restaurant decision-makers operating less than 15 locations in the United States from May 26, 2023 to June 20, 2023. Respondents include a mix of both full-service and quick-service restaurants. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Panel providers granted incentives to restaurant respondents for participation. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3%.

2022 Survey Methodology

To help better understand the restaurant industry, Toast conducted a blind survey of 956 restaurant decision-makers operating less than 15 locations in the United States from May 13, 2022 to June 28, 2022. Respondents include a mix of both full-service and quick-service restaurants. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Panel providers granted incentives to restaurant respondents for participation. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3%.

Guest demographics

Toast conducted a blind online survey of 969 U.S. adults ages 18 and older between January 6-23, 2023. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study.  All respondents ate out (via dine-in, delivery or take-out) at least 1 time during the previous 3 months. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3%.

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