Art by Nico Heins via Shutterstock
2022 was an eventful year for the restaurant industry, but what’s in store for 2023? Come along with the Restaurant Business editors as we peer into the future. From changes in labor costs to mushroom mania, here’s what we foresee.
Jonathan Maze, editor-in-chief
Given my personal track record in making predictions this time of year, I figured I’d do something a bit different this time.
I’ll write them in haiku. Here we go.
Restaurant sales will
Increase next year but will be
Tougher to come by.
But alas! There’s hope
Labor costs will get better
And so will food costs.
But I still do think
Will not be as strong.
Hey, you remember
When restaurants went public?
Yeah, that won’t happen.
IPOs will still
Be as rare for restaurants
As healthy margins.
Yet let me say this
I think someone big gets sold
Maybe it’s Wendy’s?
Thank you for reading
This long piece of pure nonsense
Peter Romeo, editor-at-large
One of 2022’s big labor stories was the sudden success unions found in organizing Starbucks and a number of small quick-service chains. Among the developments we’re likely to see in the new year is a shift in organized labor’s attention to full-service brands, with priority given to combating the tip credit.
Washington, D.C., has already lost the concession to full-service operators, and a Michigan court is deliberating right now on whether that state’s credit will be scuttled, too.
But that’s just the beginning. Republicans’ control of the U.S. House of Representatives makes the possibility of killing the credit on a national basis unlikely, but expect to see considerable activity on the state, county and municipal level.
Another trend likely to pick up considerable steam in 2023 is the strategic shutdown. With labor availability likely to worsen for restaurants in the coming year, more places will be questioning the convention of remaining open six or seven nights a week. Similarly, more are likely to reduce their hours on the nights they are open. A hard look will be taken at the payback of staffing for shifts that aren’t gangbusters.
Patricia Cobe, senior editor
Mushroom mania. Mushrooms are exploding as a plant-based meat alternative as consumers look for less processed ingredients. Even the rootlike network beneath the soil called mycelium is being used to create plant-based protein products. Mushroom coffee is also trending. Mushrooms have protein, are rich in umami and boast a low carbon footprint. Expect to see more next year.
Sober bars. There’s only a handful of completely alcohol-free bars now, but as sober socialization gains popularity, especially among Gen Z consumers, more of these will pop up. They serve inventive drinks made with alcohol-free spirits, and offer games, events and other fun activities to entice guests. There already are shops that sell only zero-proof spirits, beer and wine.
Upcycling is the new recycling. Upcycled food products made from spent grains and other normally discarded ingredients are prevalent in retail but expect to see more coming to foodservice in 2023.
Employees, not customers, first. Restaurants are doing more to promote work-life balance and wellness to attract and retain labor in this still-tight market. Mental health resources, flexible hours, alcohol-free staff socialization and enhanced training are going to ramp up even more next year. Customers who abuse employees will no longer be tolerated.
Celebration of global cuisine. Chefs are showcasing ingredients, dishes and techniques that reflect the culinary roots of themselves or their families. Restaurants serving the cuisines of Nigeria, Ghana, the Philippines, the Balkan countries and other lesser-known parts of the world will be ones to watch in 2023.
Lisa Jennings, executive editor
The industry struggled mightily with both commodity inflation and higher labor costs in 2022. Now the former is expected to ease, and the industry will be forced to face the stark reality that restaurants still have a serious workforce problem. We’ll see operators find new ways to get their restaurants up to capacity with fewer workers, but we’ll also see innovation that will make work in restaurants fun again—and that’ll take more than money.
It will be a year of commitment: for richer or poorer, caviar or wings. With the economic gap between higher and lower income households getting wider, independent restaurants will be forced to choose whether they will position to serve the very wealthy or those struggling to make ends meet. We’ll see more exclusive high-end tasting menus priced at $300-plus. But we’ll also see a broader swath of consumers say, “Enough with the menu price increases,” forcing restaurants to offer more affordable options.
Joe Guszkowski, senior editor
Restaurants will continue to automate. They’ll have to in order to manage rising costs and smaller staffs. And that won’t just mean robots, which are still out of the question for a lot of operations. Instead, automation will happen on the margins: Think handheld server tablets, phone-answering voice bots and software that helps with scheduling and inventory.
Restaurants will flock to TikTok. The mega-popular video app is quickly becoming a source of restaurant recommendations and food trends. The New York Times has called it Gen Z’s answer to Google. Restaurants will want to be there not only to get in front of customers, but also to keep tabs on what the next viral dish will be. Negroni sbagliato with prosecco, anyone?
Reyna Estrada, associate editor
Experiences. The restaurant industry will see a big boom in the eatertainment sector, but it won’t be just traditional eatertainment concepts that see growth. Instead, we’ll see a big effort from all sorts of restaurants to provide a unique experience. After spending time indoors during the pandemic and facing the pressures of inflation, consumers are looking for more than just a place to eat.
In general, sustainability will continue to be a big trend in 2023. Consumers will continue to place more pressure on restaurants to address the climate crisis, and as a result, we will see more efforts to be earth-friendly. One major issue we will see restaurants attempting to address: food waste. In addition to the sustainability benefits, addressing waste can also translate to cost savings. From upcycling to waste prevention programs, it will be one of the major ways we see restaurants addressing their carbon footprint in 2023.
And speaking of reduced carbon footprints, the plant-based wave took the restaurant industry by storm. We will see a continuation of this trend in 2023 as restaurants attempt to curate more carbon-friendly menus. Plant-based seafood products will see a big boom as consumers look for more innovative twists on traditional fare.
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