For some people, eating at a fast food restaurant is a way of life and happens several times a week. For others, it’s a periodic event. When in comes to fast food of all types, there are exciting and interesting trends that will expand or emerge in 2021. Below you’ll find the top 10 trends that are taking shape.
Trends Shaping the Fast Food Industry
1. Vegan Options
Given all of the hype and veganism that has hit social media platforms, it’s no surprise that many restaurants are integrated vegan options. Restaurants that already have plant-based foods on their menu are expanding the number of options available. Some restaurants are in partnership with brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to offer quality vegan burgers. It was actually the popularity of these brands and the success of their partnership with different fast food restaurants that spurred the excitement. For instance, there are meatless fast food options at Carl’s Jr., Burger King and Del Taco locations across the nation. Even KFC is exploring the addition of plant-based options to their menu.
2. Expanded Delivery
The proliferation of delivery options for fast food restaurants is accelerating and will continue into 2021. For some restaurants, the focus is on providing an in-house delivery option, while others are taking advantage of services like Uber Eats, GrubHub and DoorDash to make sure they accommodate the needs of their customers. Casual restaurants that have existed for decades without offering delivery options are now using third-party services. This includes Subway, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Taco Bell, to name a few. In fact, many consumers are starting to expect the option of delivery, whether it’s provided by the restaurant or a third party. Something new and exciting is on the horizon for some restaurant chains, which is delivery-only locations. This means they will prepare food exclusively for delivery in what’s being called ghost kitchens.
3. Smart Appliances
Energy efficiency isn’t just important in the home environment, it’s also important in business. Many fast food restaurants are implementing smart appliances to conserve energy. Some restaurants have examined all appliances used throughout the production process to identify opportunities to reduce energy and this is a focus that is expected to increase in 2021. There is machinery specifically designed to cook food faster, which conserves energy and optimizes operational efficiency. Some appliances integrate WiFi for the purpose of communicating more effectively with team members. Simply put, smart appliances can significantly impact the bottom line.
4. Artificial Intelligence
The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across all industries is increasing and fast food restaurants are getting in on this technology. For instance, voice-command features for ordering food is expected to hit the scene in the near future. Since AI technology is intuitive, when used in the fast food industry customers will be able to place orders and receive recommendations from a programmed system. What’s even more exciting is that voice recognition can simplify orders by remembering preferences from prior orders. In some instances, the food ordered during the last visit will pop up on the screen for an easier decision-making process.
Generally, consumers have come to expect the same types of foods on a kids’ menu. Given the increase in the number of people that are interested in plant-based food, there is a change occurring in the types of foods offered on kids’ menus. There is an understanding that many kids eat the same types of foods their parents eat. For instance, if seafood is offered on the main menu, it’s something that may now be offered on the kids’ menu. Restaurant owners are thinking outside of the box when it comes to what’s offered to kids. This will more often include plant-based and organic options. While the portion sizes will remain smaller than that of the main menu, the types of foods will expand in coming years.
6. Butter Alternatives
As part of the trend to incorporate healthy food options, fast food restaurants have started to integrate different types of butters that are considered healthy alternatives. For instance, some restaurants use macadamia butter and chickpea butter to replace some of the controversial oils. In addition to accommodating customers that prefer not to consume saturated oils, there’s also a desire to eliminate the consumption of palm oil. For some, this is an environmental issue because harvesting palm oil is a cause of deforestation and a threat to wildlife.
7. Healthy Sweeteners
The use of some sweeteners is controversial because there is conflicting information concerning safety. It’s the main reason why healthy sweeteners are hitting the market and expected to become a trend in the fast food arena. These sweeteners will be used in recipes for baked goods and other menu items that call for sugar. Some of the sources of sweeteners beyond sugar and honey include sweet potato, monk fruit, coconut and pomegranate.
8. Expanded Beverage Options
It’s common to see a lot of the same beverages at fast food restaurants. However, this is something that has been changing and will continue to change. For instance, some restaurants will offer sparkling water and specialty beverages that may not be widely available. Similarly, when you go to a happy hour event at a casual restaurant, there’s usually an expectation that you will consume a beverage that contains alcohol. This is changing in that casual restaurants are now offering more non-alcoholic beverage options during happy hour.
The entire concept of fast food is effective partly because of the convenience factor. In an effort to satisfy the expectations of customers, some fast food restaurants are implementing self-ordering options. This includes being able to order foods online for quick pickup. Another option is the use of onsite menu boards that are digital and enable self-ordering. When this technology is used, the entire experience is faster and there usually won’t be any long lines. An even more advanced option is the use of a pick-up cabinet that allows customers to pay for their food remotely, then pick it up from a cabinet at the fast-food restaurant by entering a code. While this innovation is just in the infancy stages and not widely used, some fast food industry leaders feel hopeful about how it could benefit their operations.
10. Flour Alternatives
The use of flour alternatives is expected to increase in coming years. These are flours made from different fruits and vegetables and used in a variety of foods served at fast food restaurants. The types of flours include coconut and almond, among others. Since flour is used in a wide variety of foods, the possibilities are endless. The health benefits of using flour alternatives are comprehensive and it can also accommodate the needs of consumers with gluten sensitivities. You will start to see these flours used in packaged foods sold at fast food restaurants. In addition to fast food restaurants, flour alternatives will also show up in grocery store aisles across the country.
These are all trends that are anticipated in 2021. It’s clear that the fast food industry will remain a big part of the cultural landscape. By integrating the trends discussed, restaurateurs are accommodating the needs of consumers, especially as it relates to efficiency and eating in a way that’s more health conscious. Given that the consumption of fast food is often linked to poor health, some of the changes on the horizon will contribute to a better perception of the industry. While fast food clearly isn’t designed to be consumed every day of the week, the changes that are taking place will provide better options for regular customers.
Fast Food Industry Stats and Growth Projections in 2021
- There are currently more than 200,000 fast food restaurants located across the United States.
- Burger King experienced an 18.5 percent increase in foot traffic by adding the Impossible Whooper in 2019.
- Approximately 30 percent of the fast food restaurants that exist are hamburger-focused.
- Digital orders at fast food restaurants have increased by 23 percent since first implemented. It’s anticipated that this will triple in 2021.
- Approximately 50 million customers in the United States eat at a fast food restaurant daily.