When you think of fast food, what comes to mind? Sure, you might envision whipping your car through a drive-thru and picking up a greasy sack of burgers. But these days, the whole concept of "fast food" is being turned upside down. More than ever, consumers are demanding not just the convenience of food that's ready quickly—but food that's nutritious and delicious as well.
In recent years, we've seen this trend reflected in more diverse menu offerings from popular fast food chains, such as McDonald's and Wendy's. These chains have introduced more salads, fruits, and even plant-based food options to their menus—whereas chains like Chik-fil-A have even committed to only using antibiotic-free chicken.
With all these drivers of change in fast food industry, consumers and restaurant owners alike will need to rethink the whole concept of fast food in the coming years. In the end, this will be for the best. In fact, in an August 2022 Special Report by QSR, experts predicted that the fast food industry is approaching a new "golden era."1
So, what exactly might this new era of fast food look like—and what might it mean for restaurant owners who are looking to stay relevant and capitalize on up-and-coming fast food trends?
Expanded Ordering and Delivery Options
A decade ago, food delivery options were rather limited. If you wanted your food brought to you, you had to call a local restaurant that offered delivery (and hope that they delivered to your address). Otherwise, you'd be stuck carrying out your meal.
Fast forward to 2022 and you can get food delivered from just about any restaurant imaginable, thanks to services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats. Even restaurants that once hired their own delivery drivers are now turning to these third-party services for the added convenience.
The COVID-19 pandemic also had a major impact on the demand for food delivery. In fact, according to one study by IMARC Group, the growth of online food delivery market reached a record $23.4 Billion in 2021 and is expected to continue growing an additional 82% by 2027.2
Many restaurants have also begun offering expanded ordering options for those dining in. Rather than waiting in a long line to order food at the counter, consumers may prefer to order from an app ahead of time and pickup from a dedicated cabinet (such as a heated holding cabinet, which can keep food at a safe temperature until pickup)once they arrive at the restaurant. Some restaurants have even implemented self-ordering kiosks inside their dining rooms, which allow for quick and easy ordering for today's tech savvy customers.
Vegetarian, Vegan, and Healthier Choices
Aside from the added convenience of online food ordering and third-party food delivery options, today's consumers are also continuing to demand higher quality ingredients and expanded menu offerings from sit-down and quick-service restaurants alike. This makes sense, especially when you consider that more people across the globe have adopted vegan, vegetarian, and other alternative diets in recent years.
Consider, for instance, that overall vegan food delivery orders increased by 17% in 2020 alone.3 Meanwhile, orders for plant-based burgers saw a 28% increase over the same period of time.4 Some examples of "traditional" fast food restaurants that have begun offering vegan and plant-based menu options include Burger King (with "The Impossible Burger"), Del Taco, and even KFC.
Meanwhile, many fast food restaurants are making some other healthy swaps throughout their menus. This can include everything from swapping out traditional butter for chickpea butter and cutting down on the use of palm oil. Likewise, offering alternative sweetener options (such as stevia) has also become a rising trend across the fast food industry.
Finally, many restaurants have begun catering more to those with food restrictions and other dietary preferences. The rise of the ketogenic diet, for instance, has led to an increased demand for low- and zero-carb menu options. Even pizza restaurants have jumped aboard the keto craze, offering cauliflower crust pizzas and similar low-carb alternatives.
Smarter Kitchen Equipment
Fast food restaurant equipment has also come a long way over the last several years. As covered in a CNBC article, robot cooking technology has even made its way into restaurant kitchens.5 Specifically, restaurants such as Chipotle, White Castle, and Wing Zone have begun investing in robotic equipment to automate everything from pizza-prepping to working fryers (such as Vulcan's popular PowerFry3 deep fryer with precise temperature control). Experts believe that this is only the beginning of an emerging trend that may very well become the "norm" in restaurant kitchens over the next several years.
At Vulcan, we carry a wide range of the smartest and most innovative kitchen equipment on the market to improve your food quality and optimize ticket speeds. With features like built-in filtration, programmable computer controls, and excellent energy-efficiency, our high-volume fryers are able to deliver consistently delicious results batch after batch.
Adapt to Industry Changes With Help From Vulcan
Consumer preferences toward fast food have certainly changed quite a bit in recent years. From the rise of food delivery/expanded ordering to the demand for more plant-based and vegan menu options, the future of fast food is looking brighter than ever. Meanwhile, innovative equipment used in fast food restaurants will help to improve the quality and consistency of food being served up across the board.
No matter what changes may be on the horizon for the fast food and restaurant industry, Vulcan is ready. With unsurpassed chain support nationwide and a straightforward buying process, our dedicated product specialists are here to help your restaurant succeed. Even if your restaurant is tight on space or limited to electric-only utilities, we have the depth and breadth of portfolio to cover any challenge. Get in touch today to learn more or request a quote!