2021 Predictions for Food Service

Despite, or perhaps because of, Covid-19, QSRs continue to thrive. McDonald’s 2020 Q3 financial results were among the brand’s best ever. Massachusetts-based coffee shop Dunkin Brands was purchased by private equity-backed Inspire Brands largely due to its pandemic-proof earnings.

Dunkin quote

Pizza, sandwich, coffee and other QSR brands were well prepared for the pandemic. With their emphasis on takeout, delivery and drive-through service, most were able to pivot quickly from dining room service to 100 percent takeout service. 

QSRs are uniquely qualified to continue to serve their guests in the face of a worldwide public health crisis. But these businesses are still looking for ways to improve the dining experience they offer to guests and are adopting innovations such as contactless service and food safety technology. Here are some of the top food safety trends for QSRs in the year to come.

Consistency of brand experience — For brands with multiple locations and franchisees, it’s important to maintain a consistent customer experience across all locations. This includes signage, sanitation and shift management. In the year to come, more brands will move from paper logs to digital checklists in order to ensure a consistent experience across all locations. As promotions like limited time offers become more popular in the COVID era, digital checklists can ensure consistency across a brand’s promotional campaigns — from limited time offers (LTOs) to buy-one get-one-free (BOGOs) — by standardizing each step of the promotion, from rollout to redemption. 

AI and AutomationDigitized food safety checklists provide up-to-the-minute completion rates, personalized dashboards with text and email alerts to provide a real-time pulse on the activity and compliance in each store. Automated tools and processes like these allow employees to complete tasks while decreasing  the need to come into close contact with  individual items within the store and other workers. 

remote temperature monitoring

To better battle the pandemic, brands will install remote temperature monitoring to help make temperature logging processes touchless. And integrated video surveillance tools will help management stay up to the minute on both staff and guest cleanliness and store performance without needing to be there in person. 

Updated Formats — As Covid continues to be a threat, restaurants will rethink their formats to optimize staff and guest safety with built-in social distancing parameters. With more takeout and less eating in, dining rooms will be smaller with fewer seats; takeout infrastructure will expand to accommodate more staff at the front desk and even more designated parking spaces for curbside pickup. Both restaurant staff and guests will continue to embrace self-ordering technology, which eliminates the need to deal face-to-face with an employee.

delivery, pick-up, and mobile apps

As brands everywhere expand their use of delivery, pick-up and mobile apps, they’ll also adopt:

  • New material with food packaging to ensure safe delivery (i.e. inspection stickers or stickers to show seal is not broken)
  • Mobile apps will facilitate greater flexibility as operators and employees comply with fast-changing regulation changes on things like indoor dining closing/opening, change in social distancing guidelines, occupancy guidelines, etc.
  • All brands will rely more on social media and social media advertising to attract and retain guests

Staff Safety — As essential workers who engage with customers in our current pandemic environment, employees are key to any brand’s success. Brands need to double down on employee engagement and use completion rates and task accuracy to recognize employees who are high-performing. The addition of thermal temperature scanners and daily employee check-ins help ensure that employees are physically healthy before they report for work.

customer quote

“All of our employees have been great,” said Mark McBee, owner of 12 McDonald’s restaurants in eastern Massachusetts. “They take pride in being essential workers and in coming to work every day. We’ve done everything we could to provide all 600 employees with PPE and anything else they need to stay safe. The Squadle Digital Checklist keeps both our employees and guests safe.”

Change to Grocery & Convenience Stores — Like restaurants, grocery and c-store brands are also seeing a higher adoption of ready-to-eat food. As a result, they will need to adopt practices for brand standards and food safety similar to those that QSRs have already embraced. Grocery will see more emphasis on store cleanliness and shift management tasks as well.