Reflecting on 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021

Dec 17, 2020

As we say goodbye (and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!) to 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we know that the restaurant and hospitality industry will continue to face challenges, at least for the first few months of 2021. Looking towards Quarter 2 as vaccines are rolled out across the country and warmer temperatures allow for pleasant outdoor dining, we are hopeful that restaurants will see a surge in on-premise dining as consumers take advantage of the ability to dine out. Additionally, after the first quarter, there may be more optimism on the catering side of off-premise sales as at least some office workers return to their communal places of work. Catering menus may necessitate individually boxed or plated items instead of the traditional shared or large platter catering menu options as there is uneasiness concerning health and safety. If you haven’t adjusted your catering menus to include individual plates, boxes, or meals, now would be a great time to do so and update them across all ordering platforms.




We’ve learned a lot in the industry over the last year, including turning/reacting and adapting throughout ever-changing circumstances. Although some changes may be temporary, there is no doubt that many industry trends will be here for the long run.


  • A focus on food safety, cleanliness, and sanitation will be important to guests and potential guests into the new year and beyond. It will continue to be critical that you are not only practicing elevated sanitation procedures but that you are showing your guests precisely what your team is doing to ensure their safety. A great way to do this is to include photos and videos on your social media channels highlighting cleanliness and sanitation and the measures you’ve taken to make it easy for guests to ensure their safety, for example, sanitizing or dining room handwashing stations.


  • Contactless ordering and pickup will continue to grow and become a competitive advantage. Now’s the time to make sure your online ordering platform is user-friendly and is programmed correctly to ensure an excellent guest experience.
    • Does it prompt for upsells: sides, drinks, desserts?
    • Does it ask if the guest needs utensils?
    • Are menu items described correctly and easy to modify (photos are a bonus)?


  • Takeout and off-premise dining will continue to be popular with guests seeking menu items that travel well and are appropriately packaged along with value or perceived value, all being points of differentiation.
    • Take a hard look at your menu items and if they need to be modified for takeout
    • Make sure your packaging holds items well and that each container is the appropriate size for the item it’s intended for
    • Give your guests as close to the same experience for takeout as they experience with in-house dining. Appropriate sauces, condiments, and “freebies” (such as complimentary bread) should all be included with takeout orders
takeout packaging
Takeout packaging


One of the many challenges during this time has been to continue to provide great service with the many restrictions we have to follow while also supporting our teams and the challenges they face and, of course, fighting the labor dollar battle that never gets easier. We all know high turnover is not only costly from a training standpoint, but it also affects your guest experience and the potential they will return. Supporting your team, especially during these challenging times, will most certainly improve retention and reduce the headache of hiring and training new team members. As we look to 2021, the prediction is that forward-thinking organizations will look for ways to broaden team member empowerment, recognition, and contribution to improving not only guest experience but team member experience (along with business reputation and bottom-line profits). One thing we may take away from this experience is that the guest is not ALWAYS right…sometimes, we need to step up and support our team because it’s the right thing to do! As operators, ensure you’re checking in with your team regularly to understand how you can best support their work, goals, and even their life outside of work.


As we look to spring and summer, and our communities emerge from hibernation, operators should consider ways to bring entertainment value to their guest experience. We will all be thrilled once we can go out, enjoy a great meal and service and feel a sense of ease while dining, but there will be even more enthusiasm for communal experiences and entertainment once we can safely enjoy these types of events paired with great food and drinks. Consider planning for live music, live sporting events, trivia, or other games and holidays to deliver the entertainment your guests will likely be craving.


Lastly, if you will be re-opening (or opening a new) a location in 2021, consider how you can take this opportunity to retrain your team, implement systems to improve guest experience, improve and modernize your menu offerings. Build anticipation through marketing as you lead up to your re-opening. Sometimes, when you take a step back and regroup, it allows you to assess what needs to be done to put your business on the path towards success.