As we kick off the new year, it’s important for restaurant operators to understand and adapt to the latest trends in the hospitality industry. Here’s a look at six exciting restaurant trends that are set to reshape the dining landscape in 2024.
1. Experiential mindset and more intentional spending
Consumers are spending more on experiences like travel and dining out, even as they’re tightening retail spending. This trend is part of a longer-term preference shift in favor of high-value experiences, even under challenging economic conditions. Consumers want more out of every dollar they spend, which means they’re seeking out unique, exciting experiences and choosing them more selectively.
For restaurant owners, providing compelling experiences for guests is a key growth opportunity. Experience-focused, intentional spending signals that differentiation, personalization, and value are more important for hospitality businesses than ever. Concepts that lean into what they do best and nurture guest loyalty are likely to fare best in this landscape.
2. 6 p.m. is the new 8 p.m.
As remote work has become the norm for more people, their routines have shifted, and dining habits are no exception. Guests are hitting up their favorite restaurants earlier in the evening—a trend that’s reflected in Tock’s internal insights.
“There’s more flexibility in work, which means more flexibility in dinner time. We see 6 p.m. being more popular with our customers across the country,” Tock CEO Matt Tucker tells Restaurant Business’s A Deeper Dive podcast.
Earlier dining can have mixed benefits for a restaurant, however. Early tables tend to turn faster, which can provide a revenue boost. On the flipside, restaurants may be challenged to keep dining rooms filled later in the evening.
3. Data-driven insights shape experiences
In today’s competitive restaurant industry, the use of data is becoming increasingly crucial for staying ahead. Consumers create data at every interaction, and successful restaurants are gaining powerful insights they can use to provide top-tier hospitality and connect with patrons.
Platforms like Tock are surfacing this data and make it actionable for operators. With Tock’s guest management tools, for example, front-of-house staff can track guest preferences like preferred tables and favorite wines. Managers and owners can analyze reports for patterns and opportunities to drive bookings and build loyalty.
“We help enhance the guest experience by providing customer data in a very seamless way so you can welcome guests uniquely,” Tucker says. “That helps build that notion of hospitality our restaurant customers want to have with individual diners.”
4. An increase in solo dining
People are feeling more comfortable dining out alone, according to an analysis of online conversations and mentions. Guests may see the appeal in booking a table for one because they can choose the restaurant and leave when they want without seeking other input—plus, there’s no need to split the bill at the end of the meal.
Restaurants and bars can keep solo diners in mind by offering more flexible portion sizes—a half-chicken entree instead of a whole chicken, for example—and getting creative with promotions for solo diners. Seating is also key: keeping a few spots at the bar open, offering a communal table or chef’s counter, and fitting a table for one in your dining room are other ways to make solo diners feel welcome.
5. Restaurant reservations are the new Eras Tour tickets
Booking a table at the latest must-try spot can feel as impossible as scoring seats for a Taylor Swift concert. Tickets for Swift’s Eras Tour shows went for ten times their face value on resale sites—could restaurant reservations be next?
Tucker acknowledges that reselling reservations isn’t unheard of. However, it’s a practice that most restaurants want to discourage. In addition to making dining out more expensive, this practice gets in the way of staff’s mission to deliver high-caliber hospitality. “The relationship the restaurant wants with the guest is unique to that guest,” he tells Restaurant Business. “We know a lot of our restaurant customers are so averse to this resale idea that they will not let you in the door if you’re not the person who paid for the ticket.”
Tock’s all-in-one platform includes features to discourage and prevent the reselling of pre-purchased tickets for experiences. “We can tell if that is being done, and we have preventative measures in place to ensure that that cannot happen,” Tucker says.
6.Increased use of AI
The hospitality industry has slowly begun to embrace AI. Some quick-serve and fast-food businesses are deploying AI for guest interactions through capabilities like voice ordering and translating drive-thru menus. Others see more potential for AI to support operations by optimizing inventory management, analyzing customer insights, or enhancing food safety.
Tucker believes that AI is already showing its promise as a tool for guests to learn about new and exciting restaurants, bars, wineries, and hotels—and that its potential for restaurant technology is even more exciting.
“We see it being a great tool to automatically optimize and configure availability based on a wider range of data so restaurants can maximize demand throughout the year,” he tells QSR. Tucker sees AI as a way to help hospitality businesses plan ahead and react more nimbly to market conditions and seasonal shifts. AI could also help enhance security on the Tock platform and protect its restaurant customers from scammers and bots.
However, “what makes an experience great at a restaurant is the personal connection with the host, your server, the sommelier,” Tucker says. Those interactions that make a night out truly special are things that cannot and should not be replicated with AI.”
A new year brings new restaurant trends—and an opportunity for a fresh start. It’s a great time to take stock, evaluate your systems, and consider changing things up to ensure your business thrives in this dynamic hospitality environment.
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