The future of fast food in 2022: a new form of restaurant is emerging

A restaurant today is no longer a kitchen and a few serving tables. Visually speaking, think of a friendly organism with tentacles that reach the consumer wherever they are. It’s the new shape for restaurants in an evolving COVID landscape.

The future is here

Post-pandemic, while many old habits have largely returned, prolonged exposure to stress during COVID and acceptance that the world is changing in more recent ways have had four major consequences:

  • More and more people want greater ownership of their future. Franchising as a business model will therefore grow rapidly. Entrepreneurs will find more options for starting a business, with the safety net of a brand. This could potentially lead to a win-win situation.
  • Customers will be spoiled for choice, so businesses will need to deliver greater “value, efficiency and trust”.
  • Growth will be aligned with core business improvement, not blowouts. Companies must therefore innovate and grow carefully.
  • Second-hand social meals are back with lockdown relaxations, even though…
  • The mobile command exploded.
  • Curbside pickup has found new life.
  • Third-party delivery has gone from an experience to a necessity.
  • Drive-thru has found more takers

Now, these may seem like small changes. But for restaurants and quick service, each new type of service requested by the customer involves “systemic redesign”. Each of these customer requests has gently guided the industry into the future, often pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a restaurant.

Yet a new future will unfold

If you look through a prism to 2030, there are many more transformations on the anvil. Starting somewhere in 2010 and accelerating at a breakneck pace from 2022, the fast food industry in India is set to change beyond recognition. Established brands will play a major role here.

  • 20-24 Indian brands that survived the pandemic will grow to over 1,000 stores. Their familiarity has served as a soothing balm for a world recovering from two ambiguous years. They will continue to innovate, deliver value and retain the trust they have earned. Moreover, many of them are a million mistakes old and have survived one of the most difficult periods in the history of human affairs. Therefore, they will learn to focus and thrive.
  • There will also be 20-24 international channels that will continue to grow and have taken their business to similar levels.
  • These approximately 50 rapid consumer-facing services will spawn dozens of companies in the contract manufacturing space to meet their needs, resulting in a thriving supply chain ecosystem.
  • Around this hub, there will be an ecosystem of cloud kitchens, online deliveries and offline retail. Each will find their place in people’s lives and they will expand the market rather than cannibalize each other.
  • As each individual seeks to contribute to household income, the demand for catering will increase. Indians will eat out 14 to 15 times a week, up from two to three times now…this will cause the market to explode and quick service restaurants will be the main beneficiaries.
  • With more brands joining the organized sector, the demand for value-added agricultural products like lettuce, packaged vegetables, a variety of sauces and condiments, etc. will see a J-shaped growth chart.
  • Competition will intensify as companies seek to increase their market share. Consolidation will start happening around 2030, now is the time for more startups to join the fray.
  • With improved road infrastructure and connectivity, brands will have an easier time penetrating Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Restaurant brands will be able to unleash their potential and increase availability by a million.

The customer-first approach will intensify

  • There will be a drastic improvement in restaurant design, as young people with their aspirations will want to associate themselves with brands they have a relationship with.
  • As community-dwelling social groups grow, drone and robot-based delivery may find favor with small orders in demarcated areas in the future. Dominos has looked into the delivery of autonomous vehicles with Noro since 2019.
  • Brands will look to a digital menu for products that “travel well” during delivery and a separate in-store menu for foods that are best served hot in the store itself.
  • With the virtual presence of fast services amplified beyond physical locations, offsite catering will grow. This will have a huge impact in terms of needing more back-end staff, to pack and serve off-site orders during peak hours. The relationship between reception staff and background staff will change.

Literally, the table is set for ingenuity and customer focus. While none of us will remember the pandemic fondly, we will always have to acknowledge that this period helped us quickly usher in a new era for the restaurant industry.

Dheeraj Gupta is the Founder and Managing Director of JUMBOKING Foods, India’s largest brand of veggie burgers. He was instrumental in the widespread acceptance of franchising as a framework for doing business for the fast food industry. He believes in building a strong and symbiotic partnership with a cohort of many motivated individual entrepreneurs who want to experience the 10X benefits that a well-developed franchise system offers.

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