guestXM – by Black Box Intelligence

Restaurant Industry Growth Trends to Know in 2022

Facing the challenges of a turbulent past, 2022 offers a mix of cautious optimism and innovative strategies for the restaurant industry, emphasizing the importance of adapting to the 'new normal' and leveraging data-driven insights for growth.

State of the Restaurant Industry in 2022: Key Trends and Challenges

It’s been a rocky couple of years for the restaurant industry. While 2021 represented a shift back towards normalcy, we haven’t quite recovered as much as we’d like. If you’re heading into 2022 with cautious optimism, that’s understandable. We’ve put together five of the most important trends we think brands should be on the lookout for to drive growth, address ongoing labor challenges, and ride the waves of change. Here are the restaurant trends for 2022.

2021 Restaurant industry news

2021 saw the industry continue to rebound from the difficulties of 2020. However, staffing shortages and supply chain challenges cut into profit margins and created operational headaches. These issues, along with continued surges in COVID-19 infections, are slowing the recovery.

But it wasn’t all bad news. 2021 was a major year for restaurant mergers and acquisitions. And technology adoption signaled that the future of the restaurant industry has arrived. From robotics to contactless payments, customers and operators began using technology to engage with one another in new ways. And off-premise dining continued its dominance, as consumers enjoyed the safety and convenience of eating at home.

Restaurant industry overview

With those evolving restaurant trends in mind, let’s take a closer look at the state of the industry at the beginning of 2022. On the financial side, sales growth is up, but rising check costs play a major part in that growth. Foot traffic is declining. As consumers grapple with the impact of inflation, they’re eating out less, representing a concerning trend for many restaurants.

On the labor front, turnover is still sky-high and wages are rising as well. When we look at restaurant review data, issues with understaffing come up regularly, especially in full-service establishments. Guests are noticing the long wait times and service inconsistencies that result from being short-staffed, and it’s driving down sentiment.

Things are changing quickly. Keep up with the latest restaurant industry statistics by signing up for BBI’s webinars, where we recap the latest industry news each quarter.

Restaurant Industry Trends 2022

What to Expect

While those data points may be a downer, it’s not all bad news for the year ahead. Here’s our restaurant forecast for 2022.

Staffing will continue to be a challenge

We predicted that staffing issues would persist into 2021, but there was an expectation that things would begin to return to normal when supplemental unemployment benefits ended. That hasn’t been the case. Even with rising wages, companies are struggling. More than one million jobs in the restaurant industry are unfilled. To attract and retain quality employees, operators must get in tune with what their employees want, and come up with strategies to help deliver on those expectations.

Keeping guests happy will be complicated

The restaurant industry is facing challenges from all fronts: rising food costs, supply chain shortages, and ongoing COVID-related issues. That is impacting the guest experience and decreasing the value sentiment. With inflation squeezing their wallets, operators will need to get creative to keep consumers happy.

Curbside will continue, and it’s time to get creative

There was a perception that, as the pandemic subsided, on-premise dining would return. For some consumers, that’s true. Between the vaccine and pandemic fatigue, they’re ready to dine in again. But, according to credit card data, diners over the age of 65 are still forgoing on-premise dining. For them, and other germ-weary consumers, curbside may still be their favored way of dining out. And with ongoing staffing issues, it may be a good time to reconsider your approach to curbside (such as pick-up lockers and storage shelves).

Sales and traffic will be steady

The pandemic caused drastic swings in sales and foot traffic. Now that we’ve reached a point where we’re adjusting to a “new normal,” consumers are adapting. Permanent changes, like contactless payments, will make customers feel more comfortable. There may be some localized swings in sales and traffic due to surges, but generally, things should remain steady.

Expect to see more creative incentives

As inflation inhibits the growth of the dollar, many brands are getting creative with incentives and focusing on value. For example, Taco Bell recently launched a subscription service. We expect to see more creative promos and incentives to attract customers and make them feel like they’re getting more value for their dollar.

Restaurant industry trends FAQs

Is the restaurant industry growing or shrinking?

We expect that the growth of the restaurant industry will remain steady throughout 2022. The rate of closures has slowed down. And while openings haven’t caught up to pre-pandemic levels, there are many indicators that the industry is beginning to consider growth again.

Is the restaurant industry recovering?

The industry is recovering. The number of closures bottomed out in 2021 and there is some traction around new openings, indicating potential for restaurant industry growth in 2022 or 2023.

What is the restaurant industry worth?

The restaurant industry’s total sales were $659 billion in 2020, according to the latest data available from the National Restaurant Association.

How many restaurants have closed due to COVID-19?

According to the National Restaurant Association, 90,000 restaurants closed due to COVID-19. More independently owned locations are closed than chains.

How can restaurants thrive in the next normal?

Staffing is a key challenge. Restaurants need to offer a compelling value proposition to employees to attract and keep them. Companies with lower turnover have better traffic, better sentiment, and overall performance across the board. Offering more money may help, but to encourage loyalty, you need to do more.

Preparing for the future

Although 2021 didn’t provide the relief that we would have liked, and there are still hurdles ahead, there is reason to be hopeful. The brands that were able to survive and thrive through the pandemic were able to use restaurant industry insights to identify new opportunities. To keep your business one step ahead, sign up for the Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse. To get weekly data on what’s new in the restaurant industry.

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