A Roundup of Innovations in 2019

December 2019

As another year ends, it’s time to recap some of the most buzzworthy advances in foodservice. It’s helpful to review these milestones to see which successes may become long-term fixtures in the industry. From new delivery and drive-thru concepts to technology, food and marketing, foodservice gave rise to several cutting-edge ideas in 2019.


Now that delivery is an integral part of the industry, it’s sparked interest in how else customers can receive their food. In Houston, Domino’s is testing out driverless car delivery through a partnership with Nuro, a company that specializes in robotics. To boost convenience on premise, chains are experimenting with the drive-thru as a way to distribute mobile and online orders. Chipotle customers may soon be able to pick up their purchases through “Chipotlanes,” while patrons at one of Pizza Hut’s Los Angeles locations can retrieve their food from cubbies with digital screens.


To provide quick and attentive service at the table, many operators are implementing call buttons that alert servers. In San Diego, patrons at Del’s Hideout place their orders and receive a special bell. GPS technology in the button lets waitstaff know via smartwatches if diners need assistance.


Technology is also innovating the hiring process. As part of the Made at McDonald’s initiative, job candidates can use the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to access the application. With the help of Apply Thru, a voice program, potential employees simply say, “Alexa, help me get a job at McDonald’s” or “Ok Google, talk to McDonald’s Apply Thru.” The device then sends a text with the application link after users provide their name and location.


Innovation wasn’t just limited to technology this past year. Notable food and beverage trends emerged, one of which was unicorn-themed menu items. These recipes featured bright colors, sprinkles and edible glitter. Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappe made for Instagram-worthy snaps while chefs applied the trend to sushi, sandwiches and more.


Other culinary highlights include the growing popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine, fermented foods and functional foods and beverages. Patrons are craving unique flavors from less familiar parts of the world, which Middle Eastern restaurants across the US are serving through traditional dishes. Fermented foods, such as kimchi, are in demand as they deliver bold flavor in addition to probiotics that improve gut health. As patrons continue to seek ingredients that promote wellness, chefs are crafting functional beverages, too. They’re adding all kinds of antioxidants, including superfoods, collagen and vitamin C, to drinks in order to boost their health appeal.


With so many publicity stunts on social media, it’s crucial to find promotional strategies that cut through the noise. In partnership with McDonald’s, DoorDash sold one million Big Macs for only one penny each. Customers who ordered through the app could also enter a sweepstakes to win $1 million. Olive Garden offered its first never-ending pasta lifetime pass for $500. This is a step up from the pasta passes that give guests access to unlimited pasta for only nine weeks, a deal that costs $100 and typically sells out in seconds. Fast-food restaurants also took the spotlight with novel approaches. Burger King launched a line of meals with different moods to raise awareness during Mental Health Awareness Month. Taco Bell hosted a pop-up hotel to treat guests to a taco paradise. It certainly excited fans, as reservations for the four-night event sold out within two minutes.


Foodservice is constantly evolving, and there have been plenty of buzzworthy stories this past year. As change sweeps the landscape, perhaps your operation can integrate a few of these ideas.


What innovations caught your attention in 2019? Update us on Facebook or LinkedIn. To keep up with what’s happening in foodservice, explore our Resource Center.




50 Great Ideas, Restaurant Business Online, August 2019.


Barkas, Sherry. Taco Bell’s pop-up hotel reservations sell out in 2 minutes, USA Today, June 2019.


Functional Beverages Trend Insights, Get Flavor, January 2019.


Garcia, Tonya. Olive Garden offers a $500 lifetime pasta pass for the first time, Market Watch, August 2019.


Hess, Abigail. You can now apply for a job at McDonald’s using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, CNBC, September 2019.


Maze, Jonathan. Burger King introduces meal boxes for different moods, Restaurant Business Online, May 2019.


Maze, Jonathan. Domino’s is testing autonomous vehicle delivery in Houston, Restaurant Business Online, June 2019.


Maze, Jonathan. DoorDash unleashes its McDonald’s marketing, Restaurant Business Online, September 2019.


Maze, Jonathan. Pizza Hut tests a cubby-based pickup concept, Restaurant Business Online, July 2019.


Saxe, Lizzy. Fermented Foods Are Up 149%- As Long As They’re Unfamiliar, Forbes, February 2019.

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