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Restaurant trends

Latest Restaurant Industry Trends to Help Operators Thrive in 2024

Justin GuinnAuthor

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Restaurant Operator Insights Report

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The restaurant industry continues to evolve, with new trends and data shaping the way businesses operate.

From Valentine's Day sales to menu pricing strategies, employee training, and online ordering preferences, the following restaurant industry trends offer valuable insights for restaurant owners and operators.

In this article, you will learn critical restaurant industry trends that restaurateurs can use to help improve customer experiences, streamline labor costs and staffing needs, and boost profit margins.

Consumer behaviors impacting menu items and food trends

Toast is able to analyze menu item trends on food popularity, menu prices, and more from our ordering systems. Take a look at these customer data trends that can help improve guest experiences.

Food and alcohol trends during the NFL season

Restaurants in cities with an NFL team can keep up with food and alcohol trends during the season to capitalize on increased sales. Here are some trends we see from the past NFL season.

Chicken wings are the most popular game day food in NFL cities during the season — with a 25% increase in average order volume on Sundays in the season compared to Sundays out of the season.

Hard seltzer is the most popular game day alcohol in cities with a team during the season — with a 47% increase in order volume on Sundays in the season compared to out-of-season.

Green Bay boasts the largest increase in restaurant spend on food and alcohol across all 30 cities with a team in season compared to out of — with a boost of 27% for food and a whooping 169% for alcohol on in-season Sundays.

With a 7% increase over the in-season Sunday average, week 5 of the season (10/8) saw the most food and alcohol sales at Toast restaurants across cities with a team.

Checkout our insights on all 30 cities with an NFL team.

Valentine's Day sales soar

Valentine's Day restaurant sales proved to be pretty lucrative in 2023.

Compared to the annual daily average, there was a whopping 34% surge in overall foodservice sales (measured by GMV) attributed to food on that day — and that’s only on a 1% increase in total food items sold. This means that guests purchased more expensive items on the day.

Notably, restaurant businesses saw steaks get the biggest jump in spending on Valentine's Day, with guests spending more than double (+108%) compared to the annual daily average — $191,000 versus $92,000.

Wine orders saw a remarkable increase, with nearly three and a half times more wine ordered compared to an average day throughout the year (+248%).

Busy dining hours and popular reservation days

Based on research from Toast's data across 17 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), 7 p.m. emerged as the busiest time for transactions in every area, except for Miami.

Moreover, when it comes to making reservations, Saturday was the most popular day of the week for dine-in on the Toast Tables platform during Q3 2023, followed by Friday and Sunday.

Demographic preferences

Different restaurant target market demographic groups prioritize specific factors when choosing where to order from.

Baby Boomers and older demographics prioritize affordability, while suburban and rural diners share the same preference. 

Millennials and Gen X value online ordering and delivery convenience, aligning with urban diners. 

Restaurants targeting Gen Z and younger demographics may benefit from offering quicker service models, such as Toast's New Steps of Service — which uses restaurant technology to streamline customer experiences at full-service (FSR) and quick-service restaurants (QSR).

What restaurant industry trends are influencing restaurateurs

Restaurant operators continue to see advancements in restaurant technologies, including front-of-house functionalities and back-of-house automations.

Along with and beyond restaurant point of sale (POS) systems, here are a few technologies trends that can help boost bottom lines and improve customer experiences.

Inflation remains a top concern

Our restaurant operators report found that for the second year in a row, inflation continues to be the primary pain point for restaurant operators.

Rising costs of ingredients and supplies put pressure on businesses to maintain profitability while keeping menu prices competitive.

In response, an increased number of restaurants raised their prices in 2023 compared to the previous year — 42% versus 37%.

Increasing throughput

The report also found that when looking at restaurants with a GMV of $1 million or more, increasing throughput emerged as the top listed pain point.

Efficiently managing operations and streamlining processes to handle higher volumes of customers became a priority for these establishments.

Catering market growth

The restaurant catering market is projected to witness substantial growth, with expectations of reaching $72.67 billion by the end of 2023.

It is anticipated to further increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2 percent, reaching $124.36 billion by 2032. This presents an opportunity for restaurants to tap into the expanding catering segment.

Restaurant expansion plans

Approximately 29% of surveyed restaurants expressed a strong likelihood of expanding their locations within the next 12 months—a significant increase from the 17% reported in 2022.

This demonstrates a heightened optimism among restaurant operators for growth and expansion.

Online ordering preferences

Online ordering for takeout and delivery remains crucial, with a notable preference for ordering through a restaurant's own website rather than a third-party app.

This preference holds true across all generations, with older demographics expressing a stronger preference for ordering directly from restaurant websites.

Importance of employee training

With ongoing restaurant labor shortages, it’s critical that operators look at restaurant employee retention strategies.

Employee training is critical for fostering such retention. Training continues to be a top operational factor for restaurants, emphasizing the significance of well-trained staff in delivering exceptional dining experiences and maintaining high standards.

Loyalty rewards programs

Loyalty rewards programs have gained significant traction, with 37% of guests expressing the expectation for restaurants to offer such programs.

Fast food, cafes, pizzerias, breweries, and fine dining establishments are where guests predominantly anticipate loyalty and rewards programs. A Deloitte survey also reveals that 47% of guests use loyalty programs several times a month, and 32% use them several times a week.

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Ongoing trends that restaurant operators need to keep top of mind

The restaurant industry continues to navigate various trends and challenges.

From capitalizing on special occasions like Valentine's Day to managing inflation and adapting to evolving customer preferences, restaurant owners must stay informed and agile to thrive in this competitive landscape.

Restaurants can help position their business for success in the ever-evolving market by embracing these trends and implementing strategies that align with shifting consumer demands.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.