What Restaurant Owners Need to Know in 2020 [Report]

We surveyed 6,000+ restaurant owners in 9 markets to find out what you need to know about running a restaurant in 2020. Here’s what we found.

Restaurant Owners Care Deeply About the Customer Experience

When we asked restaurant owners to rank what they were most passionate about, customers came first. Restaurant owners care about customer experience more than anything else — more than their menu, more than their profit, and more than their business. The hospitality they can offer matters the most.

As the new decade begins, restaurant owners are prioritizing delighting their customers with fantastic experiences. 42% of respondents to a write-in question about their key priorities mentioned the customer experience.

Customers even beat out “keeping my business profitable,” the second most popular response, which owners recognize as the most important business element of running a restaurant. They’re prioritizing this in 2020 as well, with 35% of respondents to the write-in question mentioning profit and revenue and 31% mentioning growing their business. As much as they hate to admit it, restaurant owners know that if a business isn’t profitable, then there’s no customers you can delight. (That’s where we can help.)

Please rank in order what you are most to least passionate about with regard to your business.
  1. Consistently offering my customers an excellent experience
  2. Keeping my business profitable
  3. My cuisine and menu
  4. Training my staff
  5. Marketing my business
  6. (Tie)The logistics of operating my business
  7. (Tie) Accounting

In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard. Danny Meyer

Owner, Union Square Hospitality Group

Unsurprisingly, very few respondents opened a restaurant to crunch numbers or market their business, favoring their cuisine and menu concepts (#3) over training staff, marketing, logistics, and accounting.

Please rank the following items in order of what you’re most to least optimistic about in 2020:
  1. Attracting new customers to my restaurant, Retaining existing customers (tie)
  2. Achieving/maintaining a positive online reputation
  3. Hiring/retaining employees
  4. Staying ahead of the competition
  5. Sustainability
  6. Keeping up with restaurant industry trends
  7. The local economy
  8. Technologies that make my business easier to run
  9. The global economy, Government regulations tied for last place

And restaurant owners are confident they can succeed. They’re most confident about attracting new customers to their restaurant and retaining their existing ones, which each received about a quarter of the votes. They’re also positive about taking control of their online reputation, which has become increasingly challenging with the proliferation of online platforms.

Sustainability Is the Number One Trend of 2020

Across each type of trend we asked restaurant owners about — operations, food and beverage, and marketing — sustainable practices won out.

Operational Trends: Environmentally-Friendly Practices

Reducing Food Waste Is the Operational Trend of 2020

On average, restaurants create 50,000 pounds of food waste each year — and that’s in the U.S. alone! Food waste remains the number one item tossed into landfills.

Reducing food waste or becoming a zero-waste restaurant came up as the number one operational trend, both for what restaurants are currently implementing in 2019 (41% of respondents) and what they want to prioritize in 2020 (25%). It’s more important than ever for restaurants to consider how they can reduce, reuse, and recycle what they throw out — for the environment and for their business.

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Last Updated: 16 January 2019
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Day-to-Day Trends Restaurateurs are Currently Implementing

%

Zero-waste or low-waste

%

Updated infrastructure

%

Building culture to prevent employee turnover

%

Online reservations

Day-to-Day Trends Restaurant Owners Want to Implement in 2020, But Haven't Yet

%

Zero-waste or low-waste

%

Updated infrastructure

%

Building culture to prevent employee turnover

%

Online reservations

The easiest way to become a more sustainable restaurant? Planning your menu creatively to use as much of your supplies as possible and focusing on seasonal and local food to start with. That may mean grinding up lemon peels from drink garnishes to make seasoning, turning cilantro stalks into pesto, or utilizing fermentation to preserve ingredients past their prime.

Don’t Believe the Hype on Delivery

There’s no doubt that delivery had a moment in 2019 and it continues to shake up the industry. But restaurant owners remain skeptical on it, with only 12% of our respondents currently implementing third-party delivery and only 1% working with “ghost restaurants,” or delivery-only spaces. Similarly only 13% planned to add third-party delivery in 2020 and only 5% planned on implementing delivery-only spaces.

Delivery adds a layer of convenience for the customer, but it takes away the experience of dining in a restaurant owners cherish. They’re not there to make sure every second of the experience is perfect — and putting their brand in the hands of a third-party delivery service, who may not be up to standards, isn’t something restaurant owners are excited about. It remains to be seen whether or not they’ll get on board in the coming years since delivery won’t be going away any time soon.

Food and Beverage Trends: Sustainable Cuisines

Sustainable and Healthy Cuisines Key 2020 Food Trend

It’s clear restaurants have been listening to their customers, who are overwhelmingly beginning to demand allergy-friendly menu items (51%) and healthier choices (45%), and sustainable options (37%).

Food Trends Restaurant Owners are Currently Implementing

%

Allergy-friendly

%

Healthier menu options

%

Sustainable foods or produce

%

Small plates

These same trends carried through for 2020, with 19% looking to implement sustainable options and 16% looking to add more allergy-friendly items to their menu. When we asked for more information on what trends we missed, owners doubled down on sustainability, focusing on locally-grown produce, high quality foods, and accommodating dietary restrictions.

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to double down on plant-based and vegetarian options, too — with a smaller carbon footprint and more likely to be found locally, you’ll be helping the environment and helping your customers make a healthier choice.

Natural Wine Is Having a Moment

29% of respondents told us they had added organic or natural wines and alcoholic beverages to their drink menus and 13% told us they were planning to in the near future.

Beverage Trends Restaurant Owners are Currently Implementing
  • Organic or natural wine 29% 29%
  • "Mocktails" or other non-alcoholic drinks 20% 20%

Organic and natural wine may seem like the same thing, but not all natural wine is organic. The term “natural wine” has no official definition, but essentially, it means any wine produced using traditional wine-growing processes with no added yeast, sulfites, or preservatives, typically done by a small-scale, independent wine producer.

The term “organic” is more highly regulated depending on the country, but it also doesn’t have one clear definition. Generally, it can mean organically grown grapes or similar to natural wine, no added preservatives or sulfites. Here’s a great breakdown from Wine Folly on the differences between organic wines in Europe and the United States.

For beverages, the “sober-curious” movement — driven by Millennials and Gen-Z customers who aren’t that interested in alcohol — hasn’t seemed to make a dent in restaurant menus just yet, with 20% of respondents saying they had introduced mocktails or other non-alcoholic drinks and only 9% looking to implement it in the future.

Marketing Trends: All-In on Digital Marketing

The majority of restaurant owners invested in digital marketing in 2019 (60%), far and away the most used channel. After that, owners focused mostly on online review collection (38%), and social media-friendly food or decor (34%), tied with online reputation management (34%).

Marketing Trends Restaurant Owners are Currently Implementing

%

Digital marketing

%

Online review collection

%

Social media-friendly decor or food

%

Online reputation management

In 2020, restaurant owners are looking to invest in more loyalty programs (20%), working with guest or celebrity chefs (17%), and better online reputation management (14%).

Across the board, it’s clear that restaurants are adapting to a social media world, focusing on online channels as a way to grow their business. Diners primarily go out to eat to connect with one another over a meal, but they don’t limit that to in-person connections. 74% of diners we surveyed last year told us that they share some aspect of their experience on social media.

An enticing social media strategy adds an experiential layer to your restaurant, as current customers can share their experience online and you can engage more with your customers. But it also offers free marketing for your business, since social media postings, including online reviews, is the most trusted channel for diners to choose a new restaurant besides recommendations from friends.

Trusted Channels for Advice on Hotels, Restaurants and Experiences

Friends' recommendations

Review sites

Guide books

Bloggers and influencers

Restaurant owners are most interested in implementing programs to increase repeat customers and build a stronger sense of hospitality, looking into loyalty programs (20%), working with other chefs (17%), email marketing (15%), and reputation management (14%).

Marketing Trends Restaurant Owners Want to Implement in 2020, But Haven't Yet

%

Loyalty programs

%

Guest chef appearances

%

Email marketing

%

Online reputation management

...But Restaurant Owners Wish They Could Do More

Marketing remains a key challenge for restaurant owners in 2020, with over half agreeing with the statement, “I wish I had more help marketing my business.”

How much do you agree/disagree with the following statement: "I wish I had more help marketing my business?"

  • Strongly disagree 6% 6%
  • Somewhat disagree 6% 6%
  • Neither agree nor disagree 32% 32%
  • Somewhat agree 30% 30%
  • Strongly agree 25% 25%

That matches with what we’ve seen in several markets, with 71% of respondents in a 2017 survey saying they believe they should be doing more to promote their business.

Percentage of Restaurant Owners Who Want to Do More Marketing By Market

%

%

%

%

%

Restaurant owners don’t open a restaurant to be marketers — it came in second-to-last when discussing their passions (see above) — and it’s becoming an increasingly important skill in today’s competitive landscape.

It’s no secret that restaurant owners have a lot on their plates, and marketing can be tough to fit in. But attracting new customers to your business doesn’t have to be time-consuming or challenging. It comes down to three key actions:

  1. Understanding your customers. Why do they come to your restaurant? Where did they hear about you? Have your servers or hostess ask your customers each time they come in over a period of a few weeks to give you a baseline of where to prioritize.
  2. Manage your online presence. Make sure your listing information, especially your menu and address, is correct across the web. Read how to do that on Tripadvisor here.
  3. Respond to reviews. You don’t have to respond to every single review that comes in — it’s best to prioritize your most negative reviews first, then your most positive reviews, and then if you have time, sprinkling a few responses in between. Read more of our best practices here.

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Who Did We Talk To?

We spoke to restaurateurs across the globe, from the U.S., U.K., Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and Brazil.

The majority of our respondents identified as the Owner (65%), followed by General Manager (16%), and Chef (8%). The general consensus from our write-in comments were that respondents did “a little bit of everything,” or “all of the above!”

What is your primary role at the restaurant?

%

Owner

%

General Manager

%

Chef

%

Marketing Manager

%

Agency

Most of our respondents (60%) owned casual sit-down places where the average check size was moderate ($$, 66%). About 20% owned a self-described fine dining establishment, which tracked with our second average check size ($$$, 18%). Fast casual and quick service came in tied at 9%.

What is the average check size at your restaurant?

%

$

%

$$

%

$$$

%

$$$$

Tenure of the restaurant split at extremes, with owners running restaurants that were either 1-3 years old (30%) or institutions of 11+ years (30%) and variety in between.

How many years has your restaurant been in business?

  • Just Opened (Less Than One Year) 11% 11%
  • 1-3 Years 30% 30%
  • 4-6 Years 17% 17%
  • 7-10 Years 11% 11%
  • 11+ Years 30% 30%

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*Methodology: The 2020 Trends Survey project surveyed 6,652 Tripadvisor users across 9 markets (United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Netherlands, Brazil, Germany) in October 2019. The survey targeted users who had visited the site in the last 12 months. The sample is made up of Tripadvisor users who had opted into emails from Tripadvisor and were invited to participate in the research via an email link directing them to an online survey platform.

© 2020 TripAdvisor LLC All rights reserved.

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