Fast-Casual Restaurants Will Thrive in 2021 with These Trends

Drew Whitehurst | April 15, 2021

Restaurant trends - Restaurants must create safe work spaces without cutting into their profits - and one way rethinking hiring (or re-hiring).

Restaurant booths and tables sat empty for most of 2020 – leaving management and staff to deal with a whole lot more than boredom. Thanks to the shutdowns, full-service restaurants experienced an average 36% drop in revenue and even some of the top fast-food chains struggled during the pandemic.

Yes, it was a rough year, but we’re impressed by the creative solutions that many restaurants adopted to not only stay afloat but grow their businesses. From what we, and industry experts, see for 2021, here are restaurant trends that large and small fast-casual restaurants need to consider to keep profitability on the menu:

What’s old is new again: build a drive-thru and train a new team

At the start of lockdown, everyone was getting food delivered to their homes. Yet as even the most casual of diners went stir crazy, they turned to drive-thrus to feed their fast-food fix, craving any excuse to get outside of the house. Limited face-to-face contact – and the space between the drive-thru window and their vehicles made people feel comfortable – enough so that fast-food habits changed. 

In Q3 of 2020, drive-thru visits were up 26% and made up 42% of all restaurant visits throughout the United States. This was great news for locations with existing drive-thru lanes. But for those fast-casual restaurants without a drive thru, it became clear that they had to adapt.

Fast-casual chains ranging from Smashburger to Chipotle are hustling to get in on the drive-thru profits by either expanding on or building this capability from scratch. Even after concerns about COVID-19 go away, this will likely still impact consumer buying habits.

Adding drive-thrus also means that fast-casual restaurants will need bigger teams from more front-of-house employees to store managers.  And they will need to hire and train these new team members for roles and responsibilities that were previously not needed. 

Fortunately, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that tools that make virtual hiring and onboarding possible are here to stay – and many restaurants have already started using these tools.

Take orders via text – the 90s is back and your pager is blinking, again

Fast-food and fast-casual chains are no strangers to the idea that convenience is king, but digital technology took that concept to a whole new level last year: making order-taking via text one popular old but new restaurant trends.

The concept has been around the block. Domino’s Pizza launched a campaign allowing customers to text a pizza emoji to order their favorite pizza pie. And last year, brands like KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut pursued a similar strategy. If this proves profitable, they’re likely just the beginning for a major shift in restaurant trends.

Navigate the onslaught of third-party apps and delivery services- and risk a hit to your reviews

If restaurants were hesitant at all about using third-party delivery services, they quickly jumped on the bandwagon in the past year. Apps like Uber Eats, GrubHub, Postmates, or DoorDash were a vital resource for the industry and diners. In fact, 37.5% of restaurants said their business likely would not have survived without third-party apps. Heck, even some ancillary restaurant services like Tock, who raised $10M in funding after a quick pivot to delivery and pick up services, made changes in 2020 that weren’t simple but paid off. 

That’s not to say that everything has gone smoothly. As many as 38.5% percent of restaurants in the same survey said that they received negative reviews from customers because of third-party delivery services. Restaurants will need to weigh the advantages and reputations of different applications to ensure that they can expand their reach to customers without damaging their brands.

So if you’re still hesitant or are not yet relying on third-party apps to meet your diners increasing demands for accessible delivery experiences- ask yourself why?  If it’s because you need to build out your in-house service options to include curbside pickups, in addition to normal and contactless deliveries – we understand.  We also understand that it will require you to either hire delivery drivers in high volume or potentially even bring in temp staff while you figure out how to best meet the delivery drivers and restless customers picking up to go orders that will arrive at your door in droves.

The  recipe for success: hire (or re-hire) your new team members safely and swiftly

With the pandemic, turnover in the restaurant industry was over 75%, which had the potential to cost $5,864 per person. Fast-food and fast-casual restaurants must create safe work spaces without cutting into their profits – and one way is rethinking hiring (or re-hiring). 

In the spirit of contactless delivery restaurant trends, more restaurants are exploring interviewing platforms they can use to accurately screen for their ideal hires while keeping all of their candidates safe. Using a one-way interview platform will speed up your screening process and decrease the hours spent on each interview by 80% and reach 20% more top candidates.

At the end of the day, making sure that you find the right people who are eager to help you serve up great food to customers – in person, through a window, or even via SMS, is the best way to bring in more customers (and diners) now and in the future. Chat with a remote interviewing expert today to learn how using digital video and scheduling tools can help you ramp up your hiring as you drive more diners in through your virtual (and physical) doors.

About The Author

Drew Whitehurst is the Director of Marketing at interviewstream. He's been with the company since 2014 working in client services and marketing. He is an analytical thinker, coffee enthusiast, and hobbyist at heart.


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