As we begin the new year, the pandemic still has a tight grip on Europe’s restaurant industry. Significant and varied restrictions for restaurants, bars, cafés, and many other channels dictate when and how ready-prepared food and beverages can be offered to consumers.

Collectively, the unprecedented event has helped disrupt, boost, and trigger new ways for restaurant operators to ensure they survive and stay relevant, and that people still buy from them.

Here at NPD, we have compiled our observations about foodservice during the short term but also considering the time when COVID-19 is behind us, and both hospitality and people getting together are no longer restricted. That is when the market will begin to look different. But how different will foodservice look, and what key trends are likely to influence it?

Here are the five most important trends we expect to see in the European out-of-home (OOH) market in 2021:

1. Contactless meets convenience

Consumers have been searching for maximum safety and security during the COVID-19 period. Therefore, anything that made a purchase of ready-prepared food and drink as contactless as possible resulted in consumers feeling more comfortable and less at risk. Combined with the ever-growing, and evolving need for more convenience, these two factors helped fuel significant growth in transactions during 2020 in which consumers pre-order and then pick up their order.

The increased use of contactless payments during COVID-19, with a clear link to hygiene, further boosted the use of click-and-collect in 2020. This trend is certain to continue into 2021 and beyond because consumers value so much more than just the security aspect. Ordering at their own speed, getting the payment process out of the way and receiving rewards will stick after the pandemic. And restaurant operators keep their customers data and safe aggregator fees. Beneficial for both operators and customers.

2. Ensure you feed consumers at home

Staying home is not a new trend, but it is a key factor that has been changing the face of the OOH industry for many years even prior to COVID-19. The pandemic has turbocharged this trend. Post-pandemic, it’s likely that working from home will remain a more significant and accepted way of working.

In 2019, ready-prepared food and beverages consumed at home grew by 5% [year 2019 vs. year 2018]; during the pandemic [year-to-date September 2020 vs. 2019], growth has accelerated significantly and reached 21% across the big six European markets.

This tendency toward homing has helped fuel the strong growth of delivery players throughout the world this year, and it will continue to do so post-pandemic.

3. Profitability and flexibility

Pandemic-related restrictions are placing a high burden on restaurant operators that have been forced to limit the use of eat-in areas and adapt to different service types and opening hours. In addition, consumers have been finding themselves less often in visit situations where they require restaurants to feed them.

As a result, it is essential to manage a business as flexibly as possible. This could include reducing the menu to just the key bestsellers, which might be supported by flexible delivery from suppliers. Then there is the need for menu items to offer easy “portionability”, a long hold time and shelf life.

Closing a site that may have been underperforming even before the pandemic is also not seen as something negative anymore; instead, “cutting the tail” is likely to be viewed as a pragmatic decision that could help a business survive.

4. Socialising rebound

People will want to go back to socialising in 2021. They may even choose to socialise more than they did in their lives before COVID-19. Of course, it is depending on eat-in areas are allowed to reopen and consumers feeling safe. But then, these socialising experiences may become even more important and in demand. People’s working patterns will forever be altered and spending a large proportion of the time working from home will remain more normal. This could result in less social contact with peers at work and more of a need to go out and socialise during other occasions.

5. The foods we love

This year, many have found that spending a lot of time at home can be tough, so ordering those tasty meals that come from restaurants is a treat and reward. At the same time, if it is very easy and fast to prepare a dish at home without any special ingredients or appliances, is unlikely that consumers will make an additional purchase and buy the meal from a restaurant or delivery service.

It is those things that we cannot easily create ourselves, like the special dishes from our favorite restaurants, that we crave. Therefore, what we call comfort food has been ordered more frequently these days than other dishes.

Also important is that any food we buy travels well. Whether pre-ordered and picked up by the consumer from the restaurant or delivered, foods that keep the consistency and heat better than others have a better chance to be ordered.