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Robots. Wage Wars. Ghost Kitchens. Oh my! 2019 was quite a year in bar and restaurant news. To celebrate the upcoming New Year, we compiled a list of some of the biggest bar and restaurant news stories from the previous year.

Then, after our stroll down memory lane, we’re taking a sneak peek at the predicted bar and restaurant news trends for 2020. And so far, it looks like we have quite a year ahead…

A Brief Look Back at the Biggest Bar and Restaurant News of 2019

AI Is Hitting All The Right Notes With Consumers

Artificial Intelligence has taken bar and restaurant news by storm in 2019. Over the last year, we’ve seen more solutions roll out that can help restaurants predict orders for customers and even provide recommendations based on purchase history. Consumers love it. As a result, the industry is eating AI solutions right up.

The technology has already been adopted by major players in the game, especially in the QSR field. Earlier this year, McDonald’s began testing drive-through menus that feature machine learning technology.

Yes, that means the menu may know you’ll want extra fries before you do.

The Bots Are Taking Over

AI is one thing. But actual bots taking over the kitchens seems like a lifetime away. Or is it?

2019 had plenty of stories in bar and restaurant news that featured bots taking on common roles in the dining arena. We’ve seen bots taking orders, cooking, and even serving food. Or in some cases, like Captain Crabs Cajun Seafood and Bar, completely running the restaurant.

But while the novelty of the bots tends to be a crowd-pleaser in bar and restaurant news, there are still some critics…like the former CEO of Dominos Patrick Doyle (a pioneer in off-premise and customer-facing technology). According to Doyle, customers still want humans involved with making their food, so the bots may not have won the restaurant war just yet. But, there’s always next year…

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The Battle Over Minimum Wage Rages On

The minimum wage discussion has been a hot topic in recent years for bar and restaurant news. In 2019, the debate continued heating up and was met with mixed reviews. For example, one government study noted that a raise to $15 per hour has the potential to cause over a million lost jobs.

Yet another initial assessment states that the New York restaurant scene has been thriving since its wage increase was implemented. So, we may have to wait and see what the results will be.

But no matter which side you’re on, it looks like the wage increase is coming fast according to bar and restaurant news. So restaurateurs and business owners need to prepare to face the costs in 2020.

Meat Alternatives Are Taking Center Stage, Err, Plate

It’s the latest, greatest thing at restaurants and conventions across the country: Meat alternatives from brands like Beyond Meat™ that taste just like the real thing.

On course with current culinary trends that demand healthier menu items, these realistic meat alternatives provide options for “flexitarians” seeking a more plant-based diet.

Prior to the arrival of meat alternatives, vegetarian and vegan options often made bar and restaurant news because they tasted so bad (frozen veggie burger patty, anyone?). But as the meatless trend continued to rise, so does the taste and texture of these plant-based substitutes.

In 2019, bar and restaurant news highlighted how industry giants were embracing meat-free mania. For example, Pizza Hut began adopting the new imitation meat ingredients and even made it the main focus of the new specialty “Incogmeato” pizza.

Sustainability and Transparency Still Reign Supreme

Consumers want to know where their food is coming from, how it’s made, and exactly what’s in it. That’s why transparency became the name of the game in 2019 bar and restaurant news – as did sustainability.

With access to more information than ever, consumers can make conscious decisions about where and what they eat. And they want food that’s safe for them and the environment.

As evidenced by the 2019 bar and restaurant news headlines, businesses quickly realized they needed to play ball. We started to see some big brands like Starbucks going the extra mile to become as transparent as possible. In 2019, the coffee conglomerate rolled out a new feature that allows customers to learn everything about how their coffee made it to their cup: where the beans came from, how they were harvested and roasted, and what the company is doing to protect its farmers.

It’s All About The (Marketing) Experience

Taco Bell made a big splash this year in bar and restaurant news with their immersive hospitality experience for their biggest fans. The tortilla-toting quick service restaurant set up a completely Taco Bell-themed hotel (dubbed “The Bell”) that catered to the whimsy and zaniness of their brand – winning the hearts of some of their biggest supporters.

What we learned: Drastic marketing moves can turn regular restaurants into cultural sensations. And you don’t need a multi-million dollar marketing plan to reap the rewards of this genius tactic. Instead, curate an intimate knowledge of your customer base and embrace those qualifying factors in your own brand.

Ghost Restaurants Are Haunting the Industry

Off-premise demand is on the rise with consumers according to bar and restaurant news. And many restaurants are having to come up with options that allow customers to order on the fly. What’s scary is that their biggest competitors may not even be real restaurants. It could be third-party delivery apps that are collecting customer data with plans to start their own ghost restaurant (also known as virtual restaurants or cloud restaurants).

The concept of virtual restaurants popped up recently in bar and restaurant news and is seeming to stick. The idea is that these third-party delivery companies are able to provide food directly to consumers without the support of the restaurants they are currently partnering with.

Essentially, they plan to cut out the middle-man and provide their own food and services in a restaurant that is essentially just a kitchen, serving the food directly to your couch – and recreating what our definition of “restaurant” actually is.

A Look Ahead at Bar and Restaurant News for 2020

Culinary Trends on the Horizon

Whole Foods Market released its top 10 food trends for 2020 report, based on findings from nearly 500 locations. And while the retail store may be more consumer-focused than actual bar and restaurant news, some of the findings can be incorporated into your next menu revamp. For example:

  • West African Cuisine: Last year’s What’s Hot Culinary Forecast from the National Restaurant Association listed global flavors as a growing trend – and according to this bar and restaurant news, it’s one we’ll continue to see in 2020.
  • Elevated Kids Menu: Move over chicken nuggets and plain hamburgers. The kid’s menu is getting a facelift with fresh, organic, and even plant-based ingredients.
  • Beyond the Mocktails: As more consumers start flirting with alcohol-free lifestyles, they’re seeking interesting alternatives to cleanse their palates – like fermented teas, sparkling waters, and non-alcoholic ales.

New Decade = New Look

As we enter the 2020s, bar and restaurant news reports upcoming trends for dining decor. And things are starting to look very different. Vibrant colors replace the safe, neutral tones of yesteryear. Reclaimed wood is making way for Instagrammable murals. And tiki vibes are making a comeback in the form of “sophisticated kitsch.” A new look is on the horizon for bar and restaurant news and we are here. for. it.

Voice Technology Revolution

Voice activation technology has been on the rise for quite a while now. Just ask Alexa. And recently, we’ve been seeing more and more bar and restaurant news spotlighting the growing technology trend. According to this article by Forbes, voice tech doesn’t seem to be quieting down any time soon. If anything, bar and restaurant news encourages businesses to hop onto the voice-activation wagon or risk becoming obsolete on that channel.

Whew! It feels like 2019 has seen it all: AI technologies that continue re-defining the landscape of the industry. Consumer trends that call for restaurants to share exactly where your food has been. And alternative meat options that taste just like chicken…or beef. But if we’ve learned anything from the rapid-fire bar and restaurant news, it’s that the industry is ever-changing – which means we’re in store for a very exciting 2020.