Picture a robot calling out an order number, your lunch clutched in a brown paper bag by their metal grip. Or perhaps you’re wearing a VR headset, taking in the bustling streets of Mumbai while eating a comforting Butter Chicken and Roti. Or does the future of foodservice simply look like a thermal box on wheels, automatically bringing your lunch to your door at 1pm?
No one knows for certain, but we do know that the future of foodservice is always an exciting topic. It’s human nature to want to get ahead of the trends and come up with innovative ways of growing, making and serving food.
I recently attended the Future Foodservice Forum, led by industry expert Simon Stenning. Simon provided a wealth of ideas about the evolving landscape of the contract catering industry. Reflecting on Simon’s presentation these are my key takeaways about the emerging trends and opportunities that will shape the future of the sector.
Low spend and experience-driven concepts
Successful restaurants will either be characterised by low spend, such as food courts and market halls, or by high spend, focusing on providing memorable experiences. These two extremes tend to outperform middle-of-the-road establishments, as they cater to the desire for affordable convenience or exceptional dining experiences.
One such idea is ‘just walk out’ stores. Similar to Amazon Fresh stores, ‘just walk out’ stores are expected to become the norm in the contract catering industry. These stores eliminate the need for traditional checkout processes, and utilise advanced technologies to track and charge customers seamlessly.
Unique food offerings and personalised nutrition
To attract customers, foodservice establishments should focus on offering unique and distinctive food options that cannot be easily replicated at home. Additionally, personalised nutrition is gaining popularity, with customers seeking personally tailored dietary choices that align with their specific health and wellness needs.
Mobile-friendly and gamified staff training
Staff training in the foodservice industry will embrace mobile-friendly platforms and incorporate gamification elements. This light and fun approach can enhance engagement and effectiveness, enabling employees to acquire and retain knowledge more efficiently.
Changing consumer demographics and preferences
By 2030, Gen Z will make up 70% of the workforce. They will value honesty, transparency, and digital engagement. This generation shows a decline in alcohol consumption and a preference for leisure-tainment activities. Understanding and catering to the preferences of this demographic will be crucial for contract caterers.
Many GenZers and Millennials no longer bother having a kettle to boil water. In fact the most startling statistic that Simon shared was, “More than 30% of those under the age of 35 do not own a kettle.” Younger generations rely heavily on cafes to provide their caffeine fix, due to their ease of use and social prospect. Recognising the importance of this and tailoring offerings accordingly will attract a loyal customer base.
Rise of unmanned restaurants and dark kitchens
Unmanned restaurants, often referred to as glorified vending machines, are emerging as a prominent trend. These establishments leverage automation and technology to provide quick and convenient dining experiences. Furthermore, dark kitchens, operating multiple digital brands from a single location, are on the rise, enabling efficient delivery-only foodservice operations.
Transition towards a 4-day work week
The trend towards a 4-day work week is gaining momentum. Many businesses are considering shorter work weeks for their employees, which can have positive effects on work-life balance, productivity, and overall well-being. I have been surprised at how many jobs advertise the role as a 100:80:100 model, which means that employees receive 100 percent of their pay while working 80 percent of their contracted hours, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100 percent productivity.
Emphasis on healthy snacking and light lunch alternatives
Snacking and all-day grazing are growing in popularity. It is important for contract caterers to prioritise healthy snack options, keeping in mind the nutritional needs and preferences of customers. Light lunch alternatives, such as smoothies and bubble tea, present profitable opportunities.
Street food and hyper-regional foods
Street food and delivery services continue to be popular options for workplace meals. Moreover, hyper-regional dishes, highlighting specific locations rather than generic ethnic categories, is gaining popularity, reflecting a desire for unique and authentic dining experiences.
Sustainability is the key consideration for the future. By 2030, restaurants should strive to achieve minimal food waste by using all edible parts of fruit, vegetables and meats. You can find food waste ideas on our TikTok such as how to use leftover bread to make noodles or almost expired milk to make cheese!
Simon provided some really valuable insights into the future of the industry. My take is that the most successful contract caterers will be those poised for continuous innovation and ready to take advantage of the exciting transformations about to happen.