Restaurant industry c. 2020? Deja vu.

The restaurant industry of your future may look and feel much like the restaurant industry of your past, according to new research from the National Restaurant Association, but familiarity isn’t likely to make the business any easier.

Last fall, the association asked a panel of industry savants to envision and describe what the restaurant business would be like in 2020, a research process known as the Delphi Method. The crystal ball gazers offered projections on a variety of areas, including menus, operations, technology, personnel demographics, and customer preferences.

The NRA analyzed the predictions to nail the 25 Most Likely Developments in 2020. Topping the list: No relief from the intense competition operators face today. Part of that battle will be a continuing encroachment of convenience stores and supermarkets into restaurants’ turf, according to the panel, which also foresaw more entrepreneurial ideas being hatched for restaurants.

Translation: Forget about a rest for the weary.

The Delphi panel also forecast that comfort foods would remain a popular menu choice regardless of nutrition issues. Yet it expects healthier options, particularly for children, ,to grow simultaneously in number.

International expansion would continue to be a growth-driver, as wood improved service and a higher quality of food.

But there are some surprises on the list. For instance, the prognosticators cited stepped-up food safety as a hallmark of the restaurant industry circa 2020. They predicted that product traceability will improve, and that governments would mandate food safety training for all restaurant employees.

They also foresee food security—the protection of the nation’s food supply from tampering by terrorists and other persons intending harm—as a topic that’ll likely get more attention.

There were also some very specific predictions. For instance, the panel believes to-go containers will become more sophisticated, though “sophisticated” wasn’t defined in the NRA study.

In the Delphi savants’ future, part-time employment will increase at the sake of full-time work, a possible adjustment to Obamacare and its requirements for workers clocking a certain number of hours per week.

There was also a contention that electronic pay-at-the-table systems would become commonplace. Similarly, POS systems will deliver more intelligence and less data.

As for menus, the Retaurant Industry 2020 study predicts that fresher foods would be the order of the day, and that “in the consumers’ mind, there isn’t much of a difference between fresh and sourcing locally.”

The study also forecasts that “ordering will continue to become more individualized,” and that “there will be greater demand for authentic items and flavor profiles.”

The NRA argues in the report that the Delphi Method is a proven way of anticipating the future, but acknowledges that the process is subjective by nature.

For perspective, the NRA cited 11 “sure things” from Delphi-based prediction that was released in 1998 for the year 2010. Among the forecasts that were bull’s eyes: Consumers would look for higher quality takeout, technology would provide profit and loss computations on a daily basis, POS systems would interface with ordering systems, and competition would be intense.

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