The end of one year and the beginning of the next always has us considering what worked, what didn’t, and what’s coming next in our world. The effects of COVID-19, the increasing (and necessary!) urgency for which our society works toward being more sustainable, and the increasing ease of technology in our work and play will help guide this year’s trends and beyond.

We sat down with our team’s experts to discuss what’s around the corner in the food, retail, and admissions spaces. From increased menu diversity to self-serve technology options, here are our predictions for what’s to come in 2022.

Upcoming culinary trends

The future of food is inclusive, innovative, and fun. With 73 percent saying that restaurant technology improves their dining experience, we expect a touch-less, more environmentally-friendly model for restaurants is here to stay. Here are just a few dining trends we love:

  • Mobile ordering: Speaking of easier, tech-friendly options, it should be no surprise that mobile ordering continues to be on the rise. Digital ordering and delivery have grown 300% faster than dine-in traffic since 2014 and with the effects of COVID-19, that transformation grew even faster. For attraction restaurants specifically, offering a mobile option allows guests to continue with their experience, order their food, and have it prepared for them when they are ready to eat.
  • Ghost kitchens: By no means a new concept, but with flexibility and accessibility being a huge trend into 2022, cultural attractions have an opportunity to also jump on board the ghost kitchen trend train. This an opportunity to be creative on a local level by inviting local chefs to come into flexible spaces at an attraction to run their own kitchen/cafe concept for a limited period of time. This concept supports the local community while also offering guests new rotating dining options.
  • Embracing menu flexibility: We’ve already discussed menu diversity at length with our executive chefs (you can read it, here) but the bottom line is that the future of both online ordering and in-house dining, is one that not only accommodates a variety of diets and restrictions around eating but also makes the culinary experience fun for everyone. That means from zero-carbon diets to vegetarian-friendly options, menus aren’t just inclusive, but also creative and delicious.

Upcoming retail trends

For retail, the future is all about convenience, personalization, and the unique technology and brand partnerships that help usher in both these aspects in a customer’s experience. Here are three trends we think will take 2022 by storm in retail:

  • Creative partnerships: According to SSA Group’s Senior District Manager of Retail, Daron Fowler, it is partnerships — of all kinds — that will be the key to growth amid market tumult. “The turbulent 2020s started with a (pandemic) bang — and savvy retailers and brands are wisely partnering to up their business agility, continually reinvent themselves, and appeal to existing and new customers,” Fowler explained. This means established retailers partnering with direct-to-consumer brands that are eager to establish and expand their physical footprint — minus the store operations learning curve and cost of going it alone.
  • Convenient tech: Technology that supports a frictionless customer experience (such as SSA’s latest efforts in integrated food and retail marketplaces) will continue to be top of mind for brands wanting to improve upon their retail journey in 2022 and beyond. Similar to the future of dining out, this means a push around self-checkout and mobile cashiers (for example, gift shops that don’t have traditional cash wraps, and instead have roaming cashiers with mobile POS tablets).
  • An interactive shopping experience: It is both of these trends above that will impact a guest’s experience in your store. With 72 percent of U.S. retail sales still occurring in brick-and-mortar stores in 2024, businesses must focus on creating a design that makes a customer’s experience not only seamless and efficient but amuses them as well. At SSA, we’re working on implementing this in our gift shop design by implementing aspects like interactive walls and other AR elements to surprise and delight our guests during their visit.
Upcoming admissions industry trends

Admissions, like that of retail and food, is an industry that is quickly changing to meet customers’ needs around convenience and safety while using elements of technology and design to deliver both. Below are a few examples of how admissions is adapting in 2022 and beyond.

  • Autonomous tech: From chatbots to automated voice AI, the last few years (with the help of the pandemic) have accelerated consumers comfort around interacting with technology to find the answers they need without involving another human. This is particularly good news for admissions, because these types of services can give individuals quick answers to the information they need around payment, process, or other FAQS while reducing your overhead and giving your team opportunities to work on more complicated business needs.
  • Rethink your entryway: According to our Vice President of Admissions, Scott Lobaugh, the admissions industry is taking 2022 to reimagine the way guests enter an attraction. “It’s time to design a better guest experience with a focus on online ticketing and quick entry for members and online ticket purchasers. Designing an entry that can flex based on peak and non-peak times is also important for not only guest experience, but labor management on non-peak times,” Lobaugh said. This is a key consideration because it allows for upselling around all admissions products such as memberships, or packaged goods without needing to send the guest to another area.
  • Working smarter, not harder: From technology (like an updated POS with a CRM that fully integrates food, retail, membership, and more) to pre-selling food and retail with an admission ticket purchase, 2022 will be the year of doing more with the goods and services your attraction offers.

At SSA, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of the future of the food, retail, and admissions industries. If you’re curious about building a better guest experience, we can help you get started. Read more about how SSA is integrating the full guest commerce experience from every angle here.