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2024 Restaurant Industry Trends: The State of Restaurants Report

A stack of the 2024 State of Restaurant Report hardcovers.

What's Inside the 2024 State of Restaurants Report:

  • ​​100+ data-driven industry insights for U.S. restaurants
  • First-hand accounts from real restaurant owners
  • An analysis of the top restaurant trends for 2024 based on the latest restaurant research
  • Actionable takeaways for smoother, more profitable operations
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Like many other industries, the restaurant sector has been facing considerable challenges lately, including lower profit margins, higher food costs, and shifting diner preferences.

In order to better understand the current state of the restaurant industry, anticipate the top restaurant trends for 2024, and get a sense of how these shifts are playing out across the country, we recently surveyed more than 600 full service restaurant owners, CEOs, general managers, and area managers from across the U.S. We then compared our restaurant research to the data collected for last year’s State of Restaurants Report to identify what changed, anticipate upcoming restaurant trends, and help operators find solutions for the challenges they’re facing.

We also took an even deeper dive at the state of full service restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, to see how the latest restaurant trends are playing out in some of the country’s largest urban areas.

Keep scrolling for a sneak peek at some of our key findings from our State of Restaurants Report and a preview of the top restaurant industry trends for 2024. For a complete picture of the changing restaurant landscape, download the restaurant industry report now.


Key Findings from Our 2024 Restaurant Industry Report 

The past few years have been incredibly challenging for restaurants and 2023 was no exception. While overall inflation rates finally began to slow, the rising cost of food and ongoing economic concerns continued to shrink profits. But even in the face of a financial squeeze, operators are tapping into new opportunities that are helping them stay afloat. 

Here’s what our 2024 restaurant industry report uncovered.

Profit Margins Take a Hit

Despite a small increase in 2022, profit margins fell again in 2023 to 9.3%. However, this figure alone doesn’t paint the full picture. Small venues with less than 20 seats appeared to fare relatively well in 2023, with an average profit margin of 10.3%. Venues with 81-120 seats and more than 120 seats also saw similar gains, with average profit margins of 10.4% and 10.7% respectively.

It turns out that the venues that took the biggest hit were those with just 21-40 and 41-80 seats, both of which had average profit margins of about 9%. In other words, it appears as though midsize restaurants are having the most trouble navigating current economic conditions and keeping profit margins healthy.

Open pages of the Financial Health chapter of the 2024 State of Restaurants Report.

Food Costs Remain a Top Concern

One of the main culprits behind lower profit margins is stubbornly high food prices. In fact, food costs appear to be an even bigger concern in 2023 than the year prior. A whopping, 58% of operators said that rising inventory costs was their number one source of financial strain, up from 54% who said the same last year. 

Moreover, 60% of operators reported that all or most of their suppliers have raised prices in the past year – up from 50% who said the same last year – and the average expenditure on food increased by a whopping 41% in the past year alone.

Staffing Challenges Ease

While restaurateurs didn’t get a lot of breaks when it came to inventory in 2023, the one bright spot was that staffing shortages finally began to ease. After years of navigating an unprecedented labor shortage, operating with a skeleton crew no longer seems to be the norm. In 2023, 18% of restaurateurs said that they were not short on any positions – a huge improvement considering only 3% of operators said the same in 2022.

However, that does mean that 82% of operators are short at least a few staff members. On average, operators were short about 4 positions in 2023, down from an average of 5 positions in 2022. This time around, the toughest positions to fill were dishwashers and chefs, which is also a change from last year when bartenders and line cooks were in the highest demand.

Restaurant Trends for 2024

While the restaurant industry continues to face significant challenges – especially in the midst of an increasingly unpredictable economy – there are several promising restaurant trends to keep an eye on in 2024.

Below is a sneak peek at some of the top restaurant industry trends identified in our report and a glimpse at what the future of restaurants might look like.

AI Takes Center Stage

While restaurants have been slowly embracing automation for several years now, 2023 seemed to mark a tipping point when it comes to the widespread adoption of the technology. The vast majority of operators reported automating everyday tasks like payroll, staff scheduling, and inventory. But, even more impressive, a whopping 89% said they were already using some form of AI in their business.

Whether operators like it or not, it’s clear that automation and other forms of restaurant tech are here to stay – Taco Bell is already using AI to predict how much product managers should order every week and DoorDash recently introduced an AI-powered voice ordering solution. With this inevitable reality in mind, operators who are still watching from the sidelines should take this moment to start exploring what these solutions can do for their businesses.

An open page from the Takeout & Delivery chapter of the 2024 State of Restaurants Report.

Off-Menu is Now On the Menu

While there are some vestiges of the pandemic era that operators have been quick to abandon, one thing that has remained is non-traditional restaurant menus. Though restaurants would have been an unlikely place to pick up pantry staples and prepared meals just a few years ago, consumers are readily grabbing these items from their favorite local venues. These non-traditional menu items not only add new revenue streams, but in some cases, they may also be cheaper and more efficient to produce. 

Many operators have been clever enough to keep these unorthodox items on the menu, with nearly half (45%) of operators currently selling prepared foods to go, 42% offering grocery items, and 39% selling merch. Other operators should take note of this key restaurant trend and not be afraid to expand beyond their core menu.

To explore further restaurant research, get more restaurant industry trends for 2024, and better understand the future of restaurants, download the full State of Restaurants Report.

 


This study of the 2024 restaurant trends was conducted by research firm Maru Matchbox on behalf of TouchBistro from June 15 to June 22, 2023.

More than 600 full service restaurant owners, presidents, and area/general managers were surveyed across all 50 states, with an added focus on six key cities: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, and Miami. The statistically significant survey results are accurate 19 times out of 20. The detailed findings on this research by Maru Public Opinion are available at: Maru Public Opinion US.


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