If the soothsayers have it licked, the British foodservice industry is on the cusp of a significant landscape shift.
Word has it that the out-of-home market has reached its ceiling and over the next two years visits to foodservice establishments will decline for the first time since anyone can remember.
As research house The NPD Group confirms: “The old habit of going shopping and finding a place to sit down is waning as more people shop online and opt for faster and more convenient ways of dining.”
The good news is that the industry is still on track to see growth, but the twin factors of technology and convenience will force operators to go about acquiring it in a different way.
Any “meaningful” gains are almost certainly going to come from ‘off-premise’ sales, with takeaway, grab-and-go and delivery — easily the most significant of them all — setting the pace.
The winds of change have been blowing through the market for some time now, with the proliferation of digital kiosks, touchscreen ordering and mobile apps providing the backdrop to this front-end revolution.
But there is a back-of-house impact, too.
A shift in the way food is procured and consumed will require operators to review their operational set-ups and ask questions of their kitchens.
More delivery and less table service will command changes in the way kitchens are structured; there are certainly implications for the way in which food is produced, held and delivered.
Demands on areas such as refrigeration and warewashing will need to be looked at, too. And operators will need to decide whether to create kitchens with sections equipped to focus on delivery-only, as many have done already, or even go down the route of establishing off-site kitchens.
If it’s the latter then factors such as the aesthetic design of equipment — a major trend underpinning the growth of theatre kitchens — play second fiddle to qualities such as durability and functionality.
The market is fast becoming fractured from an end-user perspective and operators need to ascertain if they really have the infrastructure to take advantage of it.