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Published January 20th 2022

The Biggest Restaurant Industry Trends for 2022

Brandwatch's data analysis tool gives in-depth insights into the biggest trends in the restaurant industry for 2022. Read on to find more.

The pandemic limited the number of activities on the table, so we often turned to food for comfort.

Restaurants have had a difficult time, suffering lots of stops and starts along the way with new variants and lockdowns curtailing reopening plans.

As restrictions have lifted, restaurants have opened their doors with many different measures in place. Some have turned to inventive measures like outdoor huts for diners. Others got creative with plastic screens and other distancing measures.

In 2022, however, consumers' expectations had evolved a fair bit. The pandemic meant lots of people learned to love their home kitchens, whether that was via investments in new kitchen gadgets or signing up for regular meal kits to recreate that dining out experience. Restaurants may need to fight harder to get consumers back through their doors, so let’s take a look at some trends that could help the cause.

1. Cost-conscious consumers consider eating out a treat

In 2021, we saw restaurants continue to consume their fair share of online conversation. However, compared to the same time last year, the volume of conversation dropped by 50%.

We turned to the data to pinpoint some of the reasoning behind this decline and narrowed the issue down to three main categories.

Dining out was perceived as not worth the cost: Some consumers coming out of the pandemic perceived prices at restaurants to be too expensive.

Smart gadgets supercharged the pandemic kitchen: With dining out canceled and limited to one’s kitchen during the lockdowns, consumers were inspired to seek out recipes and new, exciting kitchen gadgets to help those recipes come to life. Lockdowns might be over, but the pandemic kitchen with all the associated gadgetry is still a great dining option.

Changing expectations around customer experience: Whether it’s food quality that wasn’t on par with expectations or a lack of restaurant staff that slowed down the service, consumers who didn’t get the experience they sought questioned whether it made sense to dine out at all.

As the financial impact of the pandemic continues to weigh on the public, consumers are thinking more about what’s in it for them when it comes to outsourcing their meals. 

2. You want a pizz-a these insights?

Do you know that the most used emoji in conversations around food? If you guessed pizza, you’d be right. There have been over 75m mentions of pizza since 2017.

Numbers were declining for a couple of years, there was some recovery in 2019 and then a sharp jump in March 2020. Since then, pizza mentions have remained pretty steady throughout the year, suggesting there isn’t much seasonal effect on pizza interest. Another testament to pizza’s staying power.

Mondays and Fridays are the big days for pizza cravings, but other days aren’t that far behind. For the pizza sellers out there, these are the days that you’ll get the most bang for your ad dollars.

Bottom line: You just can’t go wrong with pizza. Whether you’re a pineapple lover, or a cheese pizza purist, there’s something about that piping hot cheese and warm dough that makes our hearts sing. If it’s not on your menu, perhaps it’s worth considering it!

3. Plant-based menu items, superfoods, and bowls take centerstage

Between January and September 2021, we found nearly 3 million mentions of the vegan diet. While that doesn’t mean all 3 million mentions represent new vegan converts, it does mean that many consumers are exploring – whether that be trying new vegan products or recipes, or going vegan for a month. For example, January is known as Veganuary and is a popular time for mentions to spike.

Bowls also shot to popularity in 2021, and the term was used in online conversations around food this year over 1 million times. By breaking down the data, we see many mentions for salad, smoothie / acai, and poke bowls.

Superfoods were also a big topic of conversation, perhaps due to their health-giving benefits. For the second year in a row, avocados and blueberries were once again the most popular superfoods. Together, they account for almost half of the superfood conversation we studied. Restaurants that keep their fingers on the pulse of new consumers' favorites and adjust their menu items accordingly will likely have an upper hand.

4. Quality food sparks joy, wait times spark anger

Food can be a source of great joy, bringing families together over a good meal or enjoying dinner out with friends. This year, the most joy-sparking aspect of the restaurant industry had to do with the undeniable joy of some really great food.

In difficult times, people wanted a treat which explains why quality food was a key driver of positive conversation. Consumers also discussed what kind of food they were craving and many professed their adoration for particular brands. For example, we picked up on thousands of people simply stating that they loved Taco Bell.

On the other side of the coin was time spent waiting on delivery food – this topic sparked anger among audiences. It’s worth noting that when things go wrong with delivery, consumers won’t always contact the guilty party. For example, a delivery company might get a negative tweet if there’s an issue with the way the food was prepared – not the fast food brand itself.

5. Dating makes a comeback in 2022

Did someone say table for two?

Trying to date in a pandemic is a weird experience. Last year saw the rise of Zoom dates and socially-distanced meetings as people tried to keep romance alive amidst lockdowns. These periods of isolation made it much harder to meet new people without relying on technology. Search interest in dating apps has peaked this year, but this comes after a slowdown in 2020.

This renewed interest in dating indicates that people are ready and raring to go on the date front, and this shouldn’t be seen as a frivolous conclusion. Dates contribute a lot to the economy, and can be especially important for bars, restaurants, cinemas, and other date-friendly venues. It’s these establishments that have been hit incredibly hard by Covid, so this will be good news for them.

Download our free report to discover more trends.

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