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What to expect for food service in Canada in 2021


Restaurant operators across segments are moving forward with investing in off-premise for their long-term growth strategies.

Trend research firm Technomic has come out with predictions to help equip food-service businesses in Canada for what’s to come and prepare for a post-pandemic world. Read on for a glimpse into 2021 through five key trends.

1. The road to recovery steadies

Food service will experience the start of a financial recovery in 2021, but sales results across segments will be a mixed bag. Limited-service restaurants will turn in a solid performance, as this sector is expected to return to 2019 revenue levels by the end of next year. On the other hand, full-service restaurants will rebound more slowly, as the segment continues to be challenged by unit closures and consumers’ cautious return to dine-in occasions. Investment in off-premise initiatives will be central to sparking a financial comeback across segments. Though we anticipate moderate growth in 2021, overall industry sales will still be below 2019 levels.

Investment in off-premise initiatives will be central to sparking a financial comeback.

2. Taking a stronger stand

Although social and environmental progress paused when the pandemic hit, the degree to which these calls to action have become louder and more urgent means we’ll see operators double down on efforts over the coming year. Operators will take a firmer stance on climate change by adding to their menus more plant-based substitutes, marketing carbon footprint levels of items and restaurants, and supporting suppliers who implement environmentally friendly practices. To tackle social inequalities, we’ll see an uptick in donations to fight food insecurity and support minority organizations; more diverse hiring and promotion practices; and the expansion of inclusive tipping to ensure fair pay of employees.

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We’ll see . . . more diverse hiring and promotion practices; and the expansion of inclusive tipping to ensure fair pay of employees.

3. Sustainable off-premise strategies

While the extent to which consumers will return to dining rooms remains unknown, operators across segments are moving forward with investing in off-premise for their long-term growth strategies. For full-service operators, evolving to an off-premise-focused business model will provide a better chance to survive the pandemic and potentially even thrive. Look for smaller dining rooms that accommodate more walk-up ordering windows, multiple drive-thru lanes, designated curbside pickup spots, and in-store pickup and grab-and-go stations that minimize time at the restaurant and contact with others. To help make the off-premise experience seamless, expect further development of mobile ordering, geofencing and other technologies; more delivery services brought in house to better control costs and quality; and further adoption of ghost kitchen models that efficiently fulfil the influx of delivery and takeout orders.

Expect further development of mobile ordering, geofencing and other technologies; more delivery services brought in house to better control costs and quality; and further adoption of ghost kitchen models that efficiently fulfil the influx of delivery and takeout orders.

4. The many facets of comfort

As food continues to provide solace, operators will find more ways to serve up comfort fare. In conjunction with new craveable classics, we’ll see a surge of quirky dishes that cheer the heart, including the revival of wacky mashups (think sushi casseroles) or simple vintage recipes (think peanut butter bread). Stressful times will also open the door for controversial ingredients, such as MSG and fats, to sneak onto menus. But, health won’t take a backseat entirely. In addition to more anxiety-alleviating items, such as lesser-known leafy greens, citruses and mushrooms, expect operators to disguise better-for-you meals as indulgent, including alternative noodles and fries or vegan desserts and cocktails.

Expect operators to disguise better-for-you meals as indulgent.

5. Homegrown solutions

As travel limitations persist both within Canada and at its borders, traditional restaurants and noncommercial venues will find new ways to generate revenue by drawing local visitors and endorsing “our home and native land.” As a nod to the local tourism campaigns mounted by cities and provinces this year, operators will similarly ramp up promotions of authentic hyperlocality in marketing materials, such as by celebrating local farms and businesses by sourcing products from them. Further, new grassroots movements around supporting local independents and small regional chains will spread.