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7 top UK restaurant trends to watch in 2024

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By Tock Staff

Experiential dining, data-driven insights, and the potential of AI are just the beginning.

The hospitality industry is constantly changing, and the new year has brought new developments in dining out. Restaurant owners and operators must stay on top of the latest trends to stand out in a crowded marketplace and adapt their businesses for success. These are some of the top UK dining trends to watch out for in 2024.

Ynyshir – Ceredigion, Wales     

1. Experiences drive demand

Despite inflation and the rising cost of living, guests are still eager to dine out—but they want restaurants to provide more than a meal. UK diners are still spending on memorable, immersive experiences that stimulate their senses and excite their emotions. Interactive dining, chef’s counters, innovative flavour combinations, and playful presentations appeal to this desire for excitement and novelty. Gen Z diners put the most importance on experiences, according to a BDO survey, with a shift towards spending on leisure and hospitality activities at home as the cost to travel abroad remains high.

The trend towards one-of-a-kind dining experiences extends to the whole family. High-end restaurants and fine hotels are offering children’s afternoon teas and elevating kids’ menus with healthier choices and more variety.

The Black Swan at Oldstead – Oldstead, England

2. A focus on sustainability

For eco-conscious restaurant guests, sustainability remains an important consideration when dining out. Veg-forward menus and whole, plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, and tempeh are having a moment. Chefs increasingly seek to source from farmers and purveyors using regenerative growing practices that support biodiversity and work in tandem with nature.

Reducing food waste is also big in 2024, with whole-animal butchery, fermentation, composting, and other zero-waste practices highlighting chefs’ commitment to going green. On the operations side, restaurant tech like digital menu boards, QR code menus, and inventory management software can help reduce waste in restaurants while increasing efficiency and lowering costs, according to EHL insights.

Junsei – London, England

3. Value is top of mind

In a time of economic uncertainty, diners want more when they go out to eat: quality, variety, and affordability. UK restaurants are getting creative with offers like tasting menus, discounts, and rewards programs that emphasize value. One way restaurants can capture diners is by following another 2024 trend—earlier dining times—with early bird menus that shake off the stodgy reputation of the pre-theatre dinner reservation.

Gen Z is still willing to spend more than other demographics on highly engaging dining experiences, but restaurants can target Millenial and Gen X guests with value-driven promotions such as family discounts as interest rates remain high, according to the BDO survey. Conversely, consumer sentiment is looking up for Boomers, who anticipate spending more on dining as inflation is expected to ease up. An emphasis on personalized rewards and loyalty programs can prime this demographic to visit restaurants more often as economic conditions improve.

4. Delivery keeps growing

Restaurants can expect delivery orders to continue growing this year. The pandemic-era surge in ordering out is still going strong, with more than 50 million users anticipated in the UK’s online meal delivery market by 2028, according to Statista. Restaurant delivery revenue is projected to increase by about 20% and exceed £16 billion in 2024, with Millennials and Gen X making up more than 70% of the market.

Chains like Domino’s, the EHL Hospitality report notes, have developed their own proprietary delivery apps to capture market share. Meanwhile, third-party platforms like GrubHub and UberEats have rolled out new features like searchable maps and stadium delivery to create more convenience for diners. Restaurant tech startups are even experimenting with using sidewalk robots and delivery drones to cut down on wait times, labour costs, and carbon emissions.

5. Data-driven decision-making

Increasingly, restaurant owners and managers can use data-driven insights to inform strategic business decisions—both to get diners in the door and to make operations more efficient and cost-effective. Tech tools like reservation platforms and POS systems put essential guest information at operators’ fingertips, allowing restaurant staff to provide more personalized service and cultivate guest loyalty.

Analyzing patterns during service can help managers optimize table management and turn more covers when compared with round-robin seating, according to Harvard Business Review. Crunching POS data on how wait times impact customer behaviour and how demand from different ordering channels affects revenue can show restaurant owners how to make operations more efficient while keeping guest satisfaction high.

6. ChatGPT and AI Chatbots

Physical robots aren’t the only restaurant tech trend shaking up the industry. AI chatbots have been used by early adopters like Pizza Hut since 2016, and burger chain Wendy’s recently rolled out voice-activated AI for taking orders in noisy drive-thru lines—innovations that could soon impact the casual dining space. This technology has the potential to save time, streamline operations, and reduce costs in restaurants in other ways. Generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT could support staff training and provide automated recommendations for tasks like procurement and scheduling based on past inventory and sales data.

AI may even play a role in fine dining, where human elements like hospitality, flavour, and service are essential to the guest experience. AI tools can cut down on time spent filling out food safety logs, reducing labour costs and letting cooks focus on the food. Front-of-house staff could provide highly individualized service thanks to guest data and preferences compiled by AI—everything from personalized greetings to suggestions for wine pairings based on favourite bottles in a diner’s order history.

Roots – York, England

7. A rise in solo dining

The trend towards dining solo, rather than in couples or groups, has been on the rise for years, and it’s expected to continue in 2024. According to 2018 data from Sainsbury’s, a full third of adults in the UK eat alone all or most of the time. Those who enjoy solo dining cite reasons like the freedom to choose when and where you want to eat, a desire to “treat yourself,” and difficulty coordinating busy schedules with others, but some may still feel a stigma around eating out alone.

Restaurants can show solo diners they’re welcome with seating options like communal tables, using space creatively, and reserving bar seats for walk-ins on their own. On menus, offering half-portions of entrees and allowing tasting menus for one give solo diners more flexibility. Promotions like complimentary beverages for guests eating alone or keeping a table for one with an intimate view of the kitchen can provide a unique experience that turns solo dining into something to celebrate.

In the hospitality industry, Q1 is the ideal time to take stock and think about switching things up. Along with inspiration from the latest restaurant trends, new tools and smarter solutions energize staff, re-engage guests, and make operations more efficient, setting your business up for success for the year to come.

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