As we enter this new year, news outlets, clients, and inquiries from industry forums consistently seek our insights into the upcoming trends in the foodservice sector. The resounding response is that 2024 is poised to resemble its predecessor closely—much like the continuum from 2023. The peculiar blip of 2020, marked by the pandemic, appears increasingly as an outlier on a graph depicting the industry’s resilient and consistent growth over the past century.


An enduring legacy of the pandemic is the ubiquitous presence of delivery services. The proliferation of cloud kitchens, a trend initiated before the onset of Covid-19, underscores the prevailing shift in labor dynamics for businesses. Schools, healthcare facilities, and colleges, regardless of their management structure, have grappled with labor-related challenges for an extended period. The emergence of cloud kitchens addresses this concern, providing a centralized production hub capable of meeting the dynamic demands of the market.


In our prognostications for 2021, we anticipated the permanence of certain pandemic-induced changes—such as markers in checkout lines, masks for food workers, and the routine sanitation of tables and chairs. While our foresight may have faltered on these specifics, the general public now enjoys expanded options for hand hygiene compared to the pre-2020 era. This enhanced focus on cleanliness and hygiene, even beyond vaccination timelines, serves to fortify overall food safety standards.


Devoting a few moments to share our expert opinions, though not rooted in specific data but rather in our extensive experience, here is a post-pandemic snapshot of the foodservice landscape segmented by specific sectors, as outlined in the table below:


Segment Change
Full-Service Restaurants
  • Cloud kitchen production
  • Smaller kitchen footprints
  • Emphasis on delivery
  • Small portion sizes/higher prices
  • Emphasis on non-alcoholic drinks for margins
Quick Service Restaurants
  • Delivery only stores
  • Curbside and pickup lanes
  • FSR-like pricing
  • Limited, if any, dining areas
K-12 Schools
  • Reduction in foodservice workers
  • Offsite production
  • Grab and go
College and University
  • Reduction in dining plans
  • Offsite campus dining/delivery will continue
  • More reliance of foodservice contract firms
  • AI and robotic delivery for broader food options
  • Unattended retail spaces (e.g., Micromarkets) will thrive
  • Employment and wage growth will bolster the segment
  • Return-to-work mandates will increase breakfast and lunch traffic across other segments
  • In-house kitchen staff will become more important and round-the-clock meals will remain critical.
  • Room service will become the norm outside of communal dining
  • Foodservice meals produced by central kitchens will increase.
  • Retailers will rely less on self-serve food and more on crew serve
  • C-Stores will see increased usage because of increased levels of sanitation
  • High inflation will continue to be absorbed by operators, passed on to consumers.
  • Supply chain optimization gains (logistical cost savings) since 2020 will not be returned to the value chain.
  • Low unemployment, reduced inflation but higher revolving credit and housing prices will flatten growth.


As we gaze into the future of the foodservice industry in 2024, it becomes evident that the transformative effects of the pandemic are here to stay. The rise of cloud kitchens, sparked by the necessity of adapting to a contactless world, has now become a permanent and integral part of the industry landscape.


Full-service restaurants are embracing smaller kitchen footprints, prioritizing delivery, and adjusting portion sizes to navigate the evolving dining preferences. Quick-service restaurants are redefining convenience with delivery-only stores and dedicated pickup lanes. Educational institutions are witnessing a shift towards offsite production and grab-and-go models, adapting to the changing dynamics of student life. The healthcare sector is recognizing the lasting importance of in-house kitchen staff and round-the-clock meal services.


In this ever-evolving culinary landscape, the fusion of technology, reduced dining spaces, and emphasis on sanitation is shaping the future of foodservice segments in ways that resonate with the lessons learned during the pandemic. As we move forward, the industry must continue to embrace innovation, resilience, and adaptability to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Tim Powell is a Principal with Foodservice IP, a professional services firm aimed at delivering ideas for managers to guide informed business decisions.

To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.

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