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Top foodservice and hospitality operational innovations of 2020

Published: December 2020

Top foodservice and hospitality operational innovations of 2020 

December is a time of best-of lists: best new restaurants, best bars, best chefs. But in a year like no other for the foodservice and hospitality industries, it seems only fitting to highlight a different kind of superlative: the best industry-wide operational innovations of 2020. 

Beginning this spring, hotels, bars and restaurants across the country raced to adapt to a quickly changing dining and travel landscape, doing anything they could to stay afloat while supporting employees and connecting with their communities. 

Out of the chaos emerged creative, rule-breaking, outside-the-box ideas that allowed industry leaders to find new revenue streams and reinvent their brands. Some of the best innovations were quickly adopted by other businesses across the country.  

While a few of these concepts may be gone faster than you can say “pool noodle,” others are destined to become permanent fixtures in foodservice – a true testament to the passion and perseverance of chefs, bartenders, owners and operators.


There’s no doubt that takeout is the big winner of 2020 – and many restaurants went off-menu with fun and creative takes on the trend, like make-your-own cocktail kits, take-and-bake pizzas and virtual wine and beer tastings. And when so many celebrations usually enjoyed on the town – like Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and date nights – were relegated to the kitchen table, bars and restaurants packaged them to go – with bundled options that included everything from drinks to dessert and even flowers. 



While social distancing measures have largely come from government orders, some businesses still proved that sitting six feet apart can actually be fun. One Maryland bar gave each customer their own individual table on wheels, outfitted with a foam bumper to keep others away but allowing for free movement. And as the weather turned cool this fall, geodesic domes began popping up on patios, giving guests a private, romantic option for outdoor dining. 


This spring, saddled with an excess of fresh produce and dry goods – but fewer guests to use them up – chefs and restaurant owners added another job title to their resumes: grocer. Neighborhood restaurants converted into quasi-neighborhood markets, selling soon-to-expire produce, bulk ingredients, bottles of alcohol and even that coveted toilet paper through their online menus alongside regular offerings. They were twofold: cover expenses and payroll and honor commitments to farmers and other suppliers. 


With travel coming to a halt, hotels were quick to repurpose their spaces to serve a new set of customers. Hotels in New York City became a place to stay for healthcare workers and first responders who couldn’t risk spreading the virus at home. Others offered incentives to locals for booking a “staycation” visit or a work-from-home alternative. 


When life gives you alcohol … make hand sanitizer. In the early days of the pandemic, as we began washing our hands 10 times a day and alcohol-based sanitizer became a hot commodity, distilleries across the country shifted gears, converting their equipment so they could manufacture hand sanitizer for health organizations, frontline workers and the public. 



When typical food truck parking spots – busy office parks and city centers – emptied out in the spring, operators began to seek out spaces where their customers could now be found: residential neighborhoods. Through word of mouth and social media, food trucks served up lunch and dinner to families sick of stay-at-home cooking. Other formerly brick-and-mortar-only establishments adapted by converting their business to a food truck and hitting the road in search of hungry customers.  

Creativity and ingenuity have always been a staple of foodservice. But if there is anything 2020 has taught the men and women of this industry, it’s that when given a challenge, there is nothing they can’t overcome.

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