As Australians (and the rest of the world) are beginning to make the shift into an endemic mindset. With restrictions hopefully relegated to the rear view mirror, a new chapter unfolds for the hospitality sector.

After two years of unpredictable lockdowns — causing a ripple effect of labour shortages, supply chain issues and general uncertainty — it has been nearly impossible for the sector to plan ahead. 

With the evolving and welcome opportunity to look forward, what can the industry, restaurateurs and even Australian diners themselves reflect on as serving us well, and what are the emerging trends and appetites to double down on?

What Australians Diners Are Hungry For

OpenTable asked over 1,000 Australians* how their dining habits have changed, and what they wanted to see more of as they return to eating out more regularly. 

  • Special Occasions: Eager to make up for lost time, 40% of Australians say they are more inclined to celebrate special occasions, and are looking for venues that can create an enjoyable and memorable ‘special occasion dining’ experience, such as three (or more!) course menus or pairings. 
  • Shared Meals: Australians are keen to enjoy interactive experiences with their friends and family, and shared-style menus remain a popular way to dine. 
  • Adventurous Dining: Nearly one in two (46%) say they plan to be more adventurous when it comes to dining out and ordering different meals, and 16% would be happy to pay more for exclusive or limited edition dishes.
  • Locally-Sourced: Two-thirds of diners want to see more locally sourced produce featured on restaurant menus in 2022 and 30% of diners want to see more socially conscious ingredients used in dishes.
  • House and Handmade: Hello butter, bread, condiments and more; 58% say they want to see more handmade and housemade ingredients in the mix – and they’re happy to pay more for these items, too.  

Navigating a New Era of Hospitality 

While many Australians are eager to get back to a ‘normal’ dining experience, there have been pivotal changes and new technology adoptions – from booking to the bill – that are here to stay. And with some people still looking to minimise human contact, it’s important to cater to any kind of diner. 

In tandem, the global hospitality industry is experiencing a democratisation of foodie hubs, with many people still looking to dine out within their own neighbourhoods and cities and ‘support local’. So, how can restaurants navigate the delicate balance of technology and human touch into this next chapter? Even with technology automating certain areas, human-centred touchpoints can create connection, which in turn creates loyalty.

Here are some of the insights straight from OpenTable diners** 

Take reservations online: 85% of Australians think it is important to be able to change a reservation online without having to call the restaurants. This takes the admin off staff, and means employees can focus on providing exceptional experiences for guests, so they’re not dealing with phone calls during busy shifts.

Manage waits with Digital Waitlist and Dining Areas: A digital waitlist keeps guests up to date with real-time information about where they are in line, giving them a more accurate sense of how long they’ll be waiting. It also sets them free to roam the neighbourhood until their table is ready. Diners are hungry for choice, too, as 92% of Australians said having the ability to select which dining area they sit in is important.

Online ordering and payment is here to stay: With the sector facing a staff  shortage, digital systems help streamline ordering for both the diner and the restaurant. Almost three-quarters (73%) stated they want restaurants to continue with contactless technology.  57% of diners said being able to order quickly, and without the need for a server, is important too. 

Relationships matter: 86% of diners will likely return to restaurants if they feel like a regular. Remembering names, drink orders or small tidbits about your customers will go a long way. In fact, 82% of Australians will return to restaurants where staff remember their name.

Additionally, ongoing, human-centric communication is key to establishing relationships – 75% of diners said being able to directly communicate with the restaurant before they dined was important to them, so establishing tools such as direct messaging (available on OpenTable) means you can help guests with questions and build rapport before they arrive.

OpenTable powers hospitality technology at more than 50,000 restaurants, bars, wineries and other venues, helping them to better serve guests, improve operations and maximise revenue. The company’s software seats more than 1 billion diners per year. Learn more about OpenTable.

*OpenTable surveyed n=1,006 Australians who dine out at least once a quarter between 10th-14th December 2021.

*OpenTable surveyed 927 diners in Australia on the OpenTable network between 10 January, 2022 and 18 January, 2022.