The Hospitality Trends That Defined 2021

From shorter menus to outdoor dining, here's what the hospitality industry looked like this year.

illustration of a restaurant closing up for the night
Photo: Oscar Bolton Green

Reservation Apps Began Checking Vaccinations

In August, OpenTable announced a verification tag for restaurants checking customers' proof of vaccination. As of press time, over 650 restaurants on the network were requiring proof of vaccination, while thousands were using OpenTable's new "Verified for Entry" tag to help streamline entry for repeat diners. Resy and American Express teamed up with Clear to provide Clear Health Pass to restaurants, allowing operators to track employees' vaccination and COVID-19 test results. Meanwhile, Yelp added a feature allowing businesses to share whether proof of vaccination is required for guests and if staff is fully vaccinated.

60% of American adults have changed their dining habits due to the delta variant.

Seated Dining Is down ...

OpenTable shared that the average percentage of seated diners in the U.S. is down roughly 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels. New York state saw the largest drop in the percentage of seated diners: The number dropped 51% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

... but Guests Stepped Up

According to an American Express survey, nearly half of consumers are willing to spend more on unique dining experiences now than they were before the pandemic. On average, guests are willing to pay an additional 30% of their total check to reserve a prime-time spot at a restaurant.

80% of surveyed guests said they want to support local independent restaurants.

Menus Got Shorter (and More Expensive) ...

A January 2021 study by the National Restaurant Association found that of the fine-dining restaurants surveyed, 63% now offer fewer menu options. A report in New York magazine noted that meal prices are also increasing—one tasting menu rose from $60 to $105 in the past three years—with some restaurants adding COVID-related surcharges to reflect rising food costs.

... and long-distance delivery took off

Over 400 new restaurants joined Goldbelly to offer bagels, cakes, burgers, pizza, and more to nearly 1 million new customers around the country.

63% of restaurants offer fewer menu options.

There Were Fewer Restaurants and Jobs ...

New data from the National Restaurant Association shows that more than 90,000 restaurants and bars have closed since the beginning of the pandemic. To put that into context, a study conducted by market research firm NPD Group found that about 11,000 independent restaurants closed in 2017. While early summer 2021 was defined by a burst of optimism, at the time this issue went to press, the number of restaurant jobs was still down 966,300 below its pre-pandemic levels.

... And Hospitality Workers Wanted More from those Jobs

One poll earlier this year found that half of hospitality workers had no plans to return to their old jobs. While some restaurants are offering higher wages or sign-on bonuses to entice folks to come back, many workers are skeptical that this is a lasting measure or a seismic enough change.

38% of hospitality workers who left the industry do not plan to return.

F&W Pro's Most-Read Pieces of 2021

"The Customer Is Not Always Right" By Khushbu Shah

"In its current iteration, hospitality feels like a one-way street, where customers are emboldened to make impossible demands and engage in behavior that can be disrespectful."

"My Restaurant, My Rules, and Yes, That Includes Proof of Vaccination" By Ari Miller

"Currently, our arsenal includes the vaccine, and as chefs and restaurateurs, we can also exercise our freedom to adhere to using this arsenal in order to keep our guests, our networks, and ourselves as safe as possible."

"The Real Reason There's a Restaurant Worker Shortage" By Jane Brendlinger

"It seems like two things are happening: Either employees aren't returning, or they're coming back with a greater sense of worth."

Updated by
Oset Babür-Winter

Title: Senior Drinks Editor, Food & Wine

Location: New York City

Experience: Oset Babür-Winter has completed the Wine and Spirits Education Trust's (WSET) Level 3 Award in wines and was previously the magazine's associate culture editor, where she edited Obsessions.

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