Dishing It Out
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15 Ways Restaurants Have Changed Over the Past Decade

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Dishing It Out
Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images CC

Dishing It Out

A decade ago, as the Great Recession was ending, there was a great amount of uncertainty about how we would move forward as a country. Luckily, there has been a lot of moving forward, including and especially when it comes to food trends and dining out. In fact, in 2019, restaurant industry sales will reach a record high of $863 billion, according to Hudson Riehl, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association. Read on for 15 ways restaurants have changed over the past decade, plus how they might continue to change in the following decade. (For a look at recent hits and misses, here are 30 Best and Worst Menu Items of 2019.)

A Shift in Top Trends From "Locally-Grown" to "CBD-Infused"
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A Shift in Top Trends From 'Locally-Grown' to 'CBD-Infused'

In their annual survey of chefs and restaurateurs, the National Restaurant Association found in 2010 that the top trends were locally grown produce, locally grown meats and seafood, and sustainability in general. In 2019, the top trends of the survey were CBD-infused drinks and CBD-infused food, with zero-waste cooking coming in third.

Related: What You Need to Know About CBD

Continued Focus on Sustainability
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Continued Focus on Sustainability

We certainly haven't forgotten about sustainability, though. Hyper-local sourcing made the top 10 list in 2019, and the survey shows that Americans are searching for sustainability by opting for more plant-based and veggie-centric foods, even for those who aren't vegetarians.

Related: 14 Cheap Meatless Meals for Calorie Counters

 98461450
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Come and Gone

In the category of "yesterday's news," the chefs surveyed in 2019 said that overnight oats, anise-flavored cocktails, and pretzels in dessert are all decidedly out. In 2009, chefs said the top ethnic food was "Regional ethnic cuisine," fusion, and North African Cuisine. In 2019, the trends still include North African cuisine, but also West African cuisine, and Peruvian cuisine.

Related: 23 Traditional Hispanic Foods Most Americans Don't Know About (but Should)

The Sweet Stuff
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The Sweet Stuff

The top five dessert trends for 2010 were: bite-sized; artisanal/house-made ice cream; dessert flights and combos; savory desserts; and gelato/sorbet. In 2019, the artisanal/house-made ice cream stayed on the list, but moved to last place. Above it? Thai-rolled ice cream; doughnuts with non-traditional fillings like liqueurs or earl grey cream; chocolate (especially that which is responsibly sourced); and injera chips.

Related: 49 Unique Doughnuts You Have to Try

A Focus on Global Flavors
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A Focus on Global Flavors

The next trends cited in the 2019 survey? A new focus on global flavors. The restaurateurs surveyed said globally inspired breakfast dishes and global flavors in children's meals were up and coming. The corresponding trends from the survey in 2010? Bite-sized and mini desserts, and locally made beer and wine.

Related: International Food Chains Americans Are Missing Out On

New Concepts
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New Concepts

In 2010, the hottest new restaurant concept cited in the survey was restaurants with gardens, shortly followed by cooking classes and demonstrations. In 2019, we've gotten more excited about chef-driven fast casual concepts and pop-up temporary kitchens.

Related: 22 New Restaurant Chains the Rest of the Country Needs

More Food Trucks
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More Food Trucks

In 2010, food trucks were mentioned in the top restaurant concept trends, and they've continued to grow in popularity and utility. While they weren't cited in this year's survey, Riehle says that there's been a surge in major national firms testing out new markets and menus by way of food trucks.

Related: 42 Food Trucks Worth Following in Every Major City

Points of Access
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Points of Access

In fact, says Riehle, the way we experience restaurants is quickly changing — over 60% of all restaurant traffic is what's called "off-premises," meaning carryout, delivery, drive-through, curbside, etc. "Location is more of a point of access," says Riehle, and success means gaining more points of access.

Related: 25 Food Halls and Markets That Offer a Taste of Something for Everyone

Ghost Restaurants
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Ghost Restaurants

A new phenomenon Riehle cited: virtual or "ghost restaurants" that no longer have a storefront. Orders come in digitally, they're prepped in a facility that may be several stories up or may not have a façade on the street, then delivered. No leaving the house required! "The basic definition of what constitutes a restaurant in America is changing," Riehle says.

Hitting the Gig Time
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Meeting Off-Premises Demand

"This doesn't mean," says Riehle, "that traditional American restaurants are going to disappear." But, the majority of growth over the next decade will be in meeting that off-premises demand, especially for younger consumers who have grown to expect that convenience. Seamless, Grubhub, DoorDash, UberEats, and similar options will only continue to grow.

A Different Kind of Hospitality
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A Different Kind of Hospitality

And, while the restaurant industry will still be based on hospitality, "technology combined with more loyalty systems" will be increasingly important, Riehle says. "Young consumers expect to be rewarded for their spending," and technology will have to evolve to meet that expectation with the ability to "know who the customers are and know their demographics and ordering history," he explains. Technology will be important in furthering those relationships — a technological step up from your favorite server remembering your name and order.

Related: 50 Ways to Spend Less When Eating Out

Occasion-Based Decisions
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Occasion-Based Decisions

The traditional dining experience can still hold weight for consumers, says Riehle, but there's a "decision matrix to use a specific food service operation." For today's lunch, a quick salad delivery may be most important, but for dinner, the same consumer may be in search of an elegant restaurant to celebrate an anniversary.

Related: 60 Iconic U.S. Restaurants to Try Before You Die

Different Kinds of Technology
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Different Kinds of Technology

Riehle cautions that technology is not the "panacea of all the challenges for a particular operator" but can be an important tool "for growing and capturing a larger market." He also points out that technology can play a role in each element of a restaurant — tablets to facilitate quick seating and service, video menu boards for ordering, a system to quickly transmit information to the back of house, etc. Consider something like the iPad, launched in 2010, which has made intra-restaurant communication virtually instant, making it easier to transmit orders and changes.

Related: These 32 Restaurants and Stores Are Getting Rid of Cashiers

We've Gotten More Critical
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We've Gotten More Critical

And, because we have more choices than ever, "If that last restaurant experience for a consumer hasn't met their expectation, they can be quite quick to vote with their feet," warns Riehle. Restaurants have gotten more competitive and will only become more competitive. Today, thanks to social media, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and similar websites, it's much easier to compare notes and call out restaurants for not meeting our expectations.

Related: The Best Cities in America for People Who Love Food

Restaurants Play a Greater Role in Our Lives
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Restaurants Play a Greater Role in Our Lives

Riehle points out that there are more than 1 million restaurant locations across America and "the Typical American palate is more sophisticated than ever." So, it should come as no surprise that we spend a greater percentage of our food budget at restaurants — over 50%, in fact. That growth means more people working in restaurants — over 15 million individuals. Three out of 5 people in the U.S. have worked in the restaurant industry, and 1 out of every 3 gets their first job in the restaurant industry.

Related: Companies That Have Changed the Way We Live Over the Past Decade