Restaurant trends we're rooting against in 2023

The metaverse, pumpkin spice and product shortages are a few of the items on our naughty list this year.
pumpkin summer
Art by Nico Heins via Shutterstock

The holidays are here again, and it wouldn’t be a proper celebration without a little airing of grievances, Frank Costanza-style.

Here are the things we at Restaurant Business found annoying, problematic or downright counterproductive in 2022. If we were in charge, we’d never hear from them again. 

The metaverse, NFTs and cryptocurrency

Approximately 3 million restaurant brands “entered the metaverse,” issued an NFT or courted cryptocurrency this year. We’re still not sure why.

Google search data shows interest in the metaverse has been trending down all year. Crypto values have also plummeted, dragging NFTs down with them. And we doubt the average consumer could explain what any of the above even are. 

Restaurants take pride in being innovative. We can’t blame them for trying things. But as the year wore on, metaverse-oriented marketing campaigns began to feel more cookie-cutter than cutting edge.

Until they make an edible NFT, the industry should pry itself away from speculative tech and join us here in the real world.

Pumpkin spice in August

Don’t get us wrong—we enjoy pumpkin spice as much as the next person. It’s the incessant creep of pumpkin products into our summer vacations that we’re tired of. Can you even harvest pumpkins before September? What’s even in this stuff??

The point of pumpkin spice is to evoke the crisp, cozy vibes of autumn. Launching a pumpkin item when it’s 85 degrees outside undermines its purpose. There’s a reason we don’t drink eggnog in June. 

Planned scarcity

The comings and goings of Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza this year were enough to give observers whiplash. The chain brought back the fan favorite in May after a two-year hiatus, then quickly ran out due to demand that was 7 times greater than it was expecting. But it assured customers the pizza would be back soon.

A similar story unfolded at Wingstop, where a new chicken sandwich flew off the shelves when it debuted in August only to be brought back in October with plenty to go around.

Were these honest forecasting mistakes, or calculated plans to create pent-up demand? Both chains insist it was the former. We’re not totally convinced. Either way, we hope restaurants have learned their lesson: When rolling out a potentially hot product, make sure you have enough. Customers and staff say thanks in advance.

Random shortages

Speaking of shortages, who do we have to talk to around here to get Sriracha, Romaine lettuce and some crab legs? 

Supply chain roulette was not restaurants’ biggest problem this year, but the relentless randomness of it made it arguably the most annoying—all the more so because there was seemingly nothing restaurants could do but wait.

May the chains of supply become less tangled in 2023.

Intra-industry bickering

As the possibility of a replenished Restaurant Revitalization Fund made its way through Congress this year, a divide within the industry’s own ranks did nothing to help get it done.

Two of the RRF’s biggest advocates—the National Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition—have been at odds this year about which group truly speaks for mom-and-pops.

Much of the sniping has come from the IRC, which says it’s the lone industry voice for small restaurants and has accused the larger Association of doing nothing for them during the pandemic. 

The Association says it represents the entire industry, small operations included. 

The groups need to settle their differences and present a united front on behalf of restaurants that need all the help they can get.

Other trends we’d 86:

QR code menus: There’s just something about the real thing.

Surcharges: Raise your wages or prices instead.

Dark, noisy dining rooms: Seeing and hearing our tablemates is nice.

Virtual wing concepts: Enough already!

Plastic utensils with takeout orders: Unnecessary and wasteful.

Extra fees for faster delivery: We’ve already given you our first-born child.

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