The remote work phenomenon, at first thought to be a temporary legacy of COVID, now looks to have legs and the traditional five-day in-office workweek may be a permanent casualty of the crisis as many employees are resisting and many employers are beginning to embrace the advantages of smaller offices and a wider, remotely accessed talent pool. If there is a bright spot for corporate dining it is that a big incentive for employees to go to the office at least some of the time is the chance to interact in person with colleagues and team members, and that’s something best done over food and drink, presenting more opportunities for ancillary food and beverage related services like meeting catering, happy hours, coffee/snack breaks and office parties where staff can socialize.
Labor will keep getting more expensive
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While layoffs in a slowing economy may shake loose some extra workers, the labor crunch in hospitality markets is not expected to ease any time soon, and that means competition for the available bodies will continue to be fierce. The inevitable result is higher wages as well as signing bonuses, extra perks, etc. In a related development, unionization drives will continue to pick up steam as existing employees feel the pinch of inflation and demand higher pay.
Food waste concerns will continue to grow
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The combination of rising food costs and concern for the environment are making the reduction of food waste a growing priority for all foodservice operations. One casualty may be the all-you-care-to-eat dining hall, traditionally a major contributor to food waste, so look for increased reliance on strategies like trayless dining and smaller plates to cut down on customers taking excessive amounts of food that they don’t end up eating. In a related development, more volume foodservice programs are likely to explore ways to donate their excess production to social service programs like hunger centers, food pantries and homeless shelters rather than simply throwing it away.
Robotic kitchens will proliferate
Major commercial chains are already piloting robotic kitchens that produce staple items ranging from burgers and pizzasto chicken wings and French fries, and this is likely just the beginning as labor shortages combine with the demand for ever more production efficiency to drive innovation and experimentation that eventually will reach across the foodservice industry. In a related development, automated service points like smart fridges and high-tech vending machines that dispense customized dishes ranging from pizza and burgers to frozen yogurt and cereal bowls will continue to pop up in places where 24/7 access to food is in demand.
The automation of convenience retailing will accelerate
Automated retail technologies like Zippin and Amazon Just Walk Out have been cropping up with increased frequency over the past year in sports/entertainment venues, colleges, apartment buildings and other sites with a traditional need for quick, convenient shopping. The coming year is likely to these fully automated alternatives replace ever more traditional convenience retail outlets, and also begin to penetrate the full-line grocery store market, one Amazon has already begun to explore.
More robots will be on the streets
The robot revolution is well underway at college and universities with dozens of schools already seeing automated units delivering from their campus dining outlets, with more sure to follow as the various vendors of the units seek to expand market share. The phenomenon is also starting to penetrate into the wider public arena with towns and cities signing up for test runs and pilot projects of robots delivering from commercial restaurants and retailers in defined parts of their communities.
Food as medicine emerges as a thing
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While healthful dining trends (and fads) have been around for a while and the connection between diet and overall health has been long acknowledged, it is only over the past year or so that the idea of food as a clinical tool has seeped into public and institutional policy, with some healthcare organizations now providing healthy food as part of their “prescriptions” for patients with specific, diet-related ills like diabetes and hypertension. Some states and even some federal programs have begun subsidizing such endeavors, encouraging more providers to jump on the trend.
Onsite/commercial restaurant partnerships will continue to expand
The COVID pandemic accelerated the already existing trend of onsite dining programs teaming with local commercial restaurants as a way to provide those restaurants with extra sales and a marketing opportunity, and the onsite dining programs with more menu diversity and a tangible way to show their support for the local community. And while the pandemic may be receding, the partnerships are not only not going away but are expanding, with colleges, hospitals and offices welcoming local chefs, restaurants and caterers onto their premises either as full-time stations, parts of concept rotations or as short-term pop-ups.