What are some of the 2021 hospitality trends we can expect to see in the new year?

The hospitality and foodservice industries are ever changing. Year after year, businesses in these spaces are constantly working to improve themselves and their concept, fighting amongst dozens of competitors to bring in guests – and ideally keep them there for years to come. 

2020 has been a lot different than what we expected, especially in the hospitality industryAs we look ahead, it’s important to consider what we’ve learned and experienced throughout the year in order to understand what to expect for 2021 hospitality trends. What largely shapes that is the pandemic.  

As the pandemic gained speed in March, bars, restaurants, and hotels around the country were forced to shut down amid growing cases in the U.S. Over the course of a few months, thousands of employees were laid off and businesses were shuttered – some permanently. During the summer, most businesses were able to reopen with capacity restrictions because cases were declining. As we were getting used to our new normal, the country began a second wave of cases. As of November, restaurants face being closed once more as we enter what looks like a long and difficult winter.  

In order to set proper expectationswe’re putting together a list of what we can expect to see regarding 2021 hospitality trends. These trends are compiled based on LGC’s extensive experience in the hospitality industry, what we’ve learned from 2020, and what experts have begun to predict for the upcoming year.  

2021 Hospitality Trends

Improvement on QSR Concept
QSR – or quick style restaurants – is a term mainly used to describe fast food restaurants but can also include any establishment that prioritizes swift service where customers can be in and out with their food. QSR’s, like McDonald’s or Taco Bell, experienced the least disruption during COVID because their design already allowed for minimal contact between employees and customers, deeming them essential.  

Because of their continued popularity during the pandemic, well known quick service restaurants have been improving on their concepts, whether it’s to make them more COVID-friendly or to create attractive offerings to drive guests in. As we kick off the new year, we anticipate not only seeing unique updates to popular fast-food places, but also more options becoming available.  

2021 Hospitality Trends – LGC’s What to Watch:  

  • Keep an eye out for adjusted menu’s that offer more to-go friendly items and remove items that don’t travel well.  
  • QSR’s will begin adding more cost-mindful menu items to allow for guests ordering out without breaking the bank.  

Continued Rise of Ghost Kitchens
Although ghost kitchens have been popping up for a few years, they’ve experienced massive growth due to the emergence of the coronavirus. Known sometimes as a virtual or dark kitchen, a ghost kitchen is fully functional and set up to create restaurant-quality delivery meals without the need for dine in (or even to-go) business.

According to Restaurant Business Online, “The boom in ghost kitchens catalyzed by the coronavirus will likely outlast the pandemic itself: According to Technomic, sales via ghost restaurants from 300 facilities in the United States will rise by a projected 25% each year for the next 5 years—an estimated $300 million in yearly sales.” 

Ghost kitchens are great concepts for restaurants who still want to offer quality delivery items but can’t afford to or don’t need to have customers on-site. They also allow for one company to operate multiple brands out of one space, satisfying various culinary needs in one area. The wide variety of opportunities offered by ghost kitchens is why Eater suggests that the industry could be worth $1 billion by 2030.  

2021 Hospitality Trends – LGC’s What to Watch:  

  • Ghost kitchens allow for restaurant groups to serve a wide array of customers while keeping costs low(er) and abiding by COVID-related guidelines. Their flexibility will likely cause more businesses to jump on the bandwagon – especially if indoor dining continues to be prohibited in cities across the country.  

Hiring for Soft Skills
Tens of thousands of workers across multiple industries were furloughed, if not fully laid off, due to the coronavirus. In some cases, employees had to learn how to do the jobs of multiple people in order to keep business afloat, which taught us how to do our jobs more efficiently, and what skills were needed to accomplish that task. Although ‘less isn’t always more’, in some cases it had to be.  

Managers who are looking to rehire and rebuild teams should be seeking out candidates who have great soft skills; as in, the personality and character traits that make us who we are. Some examples of soft skills include great leader, effective communicator, or exceptional with time management. In comparison, hard skills are the technical abilities we possess that make us good at our specific jobs, like certifications or trainings. Whereas hard skills can be learned, soft skills typically cannot.  

By investing in a candidate with the right soft skills, you’ll be able to identify the employees who will be able to make it through tough times. For example, if you’re a restaurant who is operating with a smaller team, you’ll be seeking candidates who can multi-task, are accepting of changes, and are resilient amidst adversity –– these are all soft skills.  

2021 Hospitality Trends – LGC’s What to Watch:  

  • When hiring, managers will be looking for candidates who can stand up to challenging times as we continue to navigate our pandemic landscape. Hard skills will take a backseat in favor of flexible workers who are willing to hop in where necessary 

Outspoken Company Culture
In addition to the pandemic, 2020 has been a year of reflection regarding social issuesMore and more companies have chosen to speak upwith many choosing to voice their opinions about topics like racism and police brutality. While this likely stems from company’s own beliefs and moral obligations, it’s also driven by the consumers demands. 

According to a 2019 survey, “A major consideration for brand purchase is now “I must be able to trust the brand to do what is right,” at 81 percent.” The report also shows that “53% of consumers agree that every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business. 

For these reasons, companies should continue evaluating when and how they speak out about social justice issues. To help create a communication plan, check out these tips from Harvard Business Review, including “Three Questions to Guide Your Approach.”  

2021 Hospitality Trends – LGC’s What to Watch:  

  • Consumers will need to understand a company’s social stance before being willing to spend their hard-earned money.  
  • Brands will be providing more visibility into their beliefs so consumers can decide if they align with their own.  

Inclusive Menu Offerings
Recently we’ve seen a rise in restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan options. The Impossible Whopper from Burger King and the Veggie Power Bowl from Taco Bell are just two examples of the creative options restaurants are offering to fit a growing vegetarian crowd 

This year in particular, vegetarian- and vegan-ism has become more popular. Google trends data shows that veganism is appearing higher on search trends than in 2019. Research company SPINS “found sales of plant-based foods in the US increased by 90 percent during the height of pandemic-buying in mid-March when compared to last year’s sales during that time period, with sales of plant-based meat spiking by 148 percent.” Coupled with the fact that the U.S. experienced a meat shortage earlier this year, it’s safe to say that the number of consumers interested in vegan and vegetarian options will grow.  

Health-conscious eating has also been a popular topic this year. Along with offering more vegetarian options, it’s expected that for 2021 hospitality trends, we’ll see restaurants ranging from QSR’s to ghost kitchens to fine dining will also integrate more organic and gluten free options to their menus.

2021 Hospitality Trends – LGC’s What to Watch:  

  • The need for increased revenue will drive restaurants to be more inclusive in their menu offerings, targeting a variety of consumers who have ‘alternative’ eating habits.  

Increased Need for Temp Workers
Hotels and restaurants are no strangers to working with a staffing company. But there are several factors from this year that lead us to believe we’ll see an increase in temp worker usage in 2021. One of those is the rise in delivery services. Doordash, one of the most prominent and popular delivery platforms, reported almost $2 billion in revenue this year from January to September, an increase of over 200% for the same time period the year before. With competition high amongst the food delivery services, they’ll be competing for available workers to take on the delivery driver role. This will be a huge factor in 2021 hospitality trends and operations. 

Other reasons include the need for social distancing monitors and temperature takers, and other coronavirus-related concerns, like the inability to keep a full staff on payroll. Because of this, businesses will either choose to supplement their current teams with temporary employees or will go full-temporary if needed.   

2021 Hospitality Trends – LGC’s What to Watch:  

  • Businesses will be turning towards temp staffing in order to reduce costs and accommodate the needs caused by the pandemic.  
Key Takeaway 

Restaurants and other hospitality venues will be pulling out all the stops in order to attract guests and drive revenue. We can expect to see unique operational decisions that optimize delivery and to-go services, making businesses stand out from the competition. Because managers are concerned about future layoffs caused by COVID, they’ll be hiring workers who can fit a number of roles – and will reach out to third parties (I.e., staffing vendors) when the candidates dry up.  

With so much uncertainty this year, it’s hard to imagine what 2021 hospitality trends will look like. But by staying up to date on industry updates and newswe can do our best to be prepared for what’s to come.