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COVID-19 has turned the cultural, social and economic landscape of the international hospitality industry on its head. For most of the industry, the primary goal was simply to survive, with many looking for short-term solutions.

Restaurant closure in particular has put the medium-sized market sector under pressure worldwide and may indicate a future in which there is a greater discrepancy between affordable and fine dining.

The annual State of the Restaurant Industry Report by the American National Restaurant Association for the year 2021 also shows the effects of the pandemic on the US restaurant industry. As of December 2020, 110,000 bars and restaurants in the US had closed long-term or forever. 

Due to the large number of closings, the U.S. restaurant industry missed its overall forecast sales target for 2020 by 26%. In addition, OpenTable predicts that one in four restaurants in the US will not reopen if the country comes out of the closure.

The design and logistics of the restaurant industry is under critique, as business owners scramble to find innovative solutions. In a recent U.S. survey, 41% of restaurant owners said they believe slow customer return will be the biggest challenge when they reopen 

Yet, still, dining experiences are an unreplaceable environment sought out by our customers. In the Post-pandemic era, community members of all types are eager to return to the local watering hole if permitted in a safe manner. 

Hence, hygiene and social distancing will be embedded in a new dining experience. Plexiglass partitions, plastic tablecloths and individually wrapped place settings are just a few of the first steps. But these rough precautions run the risk of alienating consumers. On the other hand, the longing after the pandemic is great to get together with friends or acquaintances again for dinner or for a drink. The challenges and opportunities for the future lie in strategies that make a restaurant visit feel both safe and inviting.

New private dining concepts are one way of finding this balance. In Mediamatic’s “Serres Séparées” project in Amsterdam, tables were set up in individual greenhouses, which enable guests to distance themselves socially without having to forego socializing. Similarly, various Melbourne venues have introduced igloo eating, hinting at how future restaurant interiors might incorporate the design features of these indoor-outdoor food models.

Ghost Kitchens and Virtual Restaurants

The corona pandemic has accelerated the trend towards ghost kitchens, so-called ghost kitchens, and virtual restaurants. While Ghost Kitchens only produce for the delivery of food without dining or customer areas, virtual restaurants or concepts are brands that do not have their own location in a building. They only exist digitally, as apps or on third-party marketplaces, with the food being produced by real restaurants for delivery and  takeaway.

 These companies rely on a steady supply of takeaway and to-go packaging, furthermore, many businesses are opting for an ecological or eco-friendly alternative to the old method of food packaging. They’re utilizing products like compostable packaging, biodegradable cutlery, and minimizing plastic containers, all whilst keeping up with the increasing popularity of delivery apps and services. 

There are around 1,500 ghost kitchens in the USA, which puts them ahead of the British market with 750, but behind China with over 7,500 and India with over 3,500. According to Euromonitor Research, ghost kitchens will reach a global market of $ 1 trillion by 2030.

Number of current ghost kitchens according to Euromonitor International


Currently, third-party platforms like Uber Eats, Kitchen United, Cloud Kitchens, and Kitopi are leading the way in Ghost Kitchen development. But large restaurant chains are also trying their hand at this area.

McDonald’s opened a ghost restaurant in London, and Chick-fil-A is experimenting with kitchen-only locations in Nashville and Louisville, Kentucky, preparing custom and catering orders for delivery by DoorDash.

Micro Trend Augmented Restaurants - the digital future

One thing is for sure, the future of food is becoming increasingly digital in the catering industry as well. The internet changed the way we engage with what we eat, the restaurant industry is turning to Augmented Reality (AR) to further enhance dining experiences – from interactive menus to virtual interiors . Augmented Reality creates unconventional, interactive dining experiences that bridge the gap between the physical and digital environment.

With an eye to entertaining guests and unlocking digital culture, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate the adoption of such immersive technologies. Current forecasts predict that the global market for reality technologies – which include AR and virtual reality (VR) – could grow to £ 14.6 billion ($ 18.8 billion, € 16 billion) by 2020

In the age of media kitchens, AR offers a way for restaurants and grocery brands to invite customers to experience their worlds digitally through lenses and filters.

The technology’s ability to remotely enhance and enhance the dining experience also has the added benefit of appealing to those who shy away from returning to public spaces. Food delivery platforms are now creating digital touchpoints for customers to experiment with.

The future will show which developments in gastronomy will ultimately prevail in the end. One thing is certain: the analog and digital worlds will increasingly mix in order to offer customers the best possible gastronomy experience. Nevertheless, digital solutions will not really replace the personal meeting of people in restaurants, which will come into focus again especially after the pandemic.


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