The foodservice industry is expected to generate $997 billion in sales and 500,000 new jobs by the end of 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association.

The forecast was unveiled as part of the NRA’s 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry report, an annual publication that combines national survey data from restaurant owners, operators, chefs and consumers to find the key trends and factors affecting the industry.

“The restaurant and foodservice industry is fueling the American economy,” said Michelle Korsmo, president and chief executive officer of the NRA. “Our hiring rate and wage increases are outpacing the overall private sector, and this year our industry will contribute nearly $1 trillion to the economy.”

While the foodservice sector added nearly 3 million jobs between December 2020 and December 2022, employment levels are still yet to reach pre-pandemic numbers. However, the NRA expects to see 150,000 jobs added to the industry annually through 2030, and 87% of restaurant operators said they are likely to hire qualified applicants in the next 6 to 12 months.

Most operators do expect employment recruitment and retention to continue to be challenging, though, and 58% expect to see more technology and automation used to fill the gaps in labor shortages.

Investments in technology marks one of the report’s key trends for 2023 as operators report their technology usage continues to be mainstream and lag behind cutting-edge advancements in other markets. For instance, food manufacturers like Nestle SA have invested in artificial intelligence for product development and R&D, paralleling rising consumer interest in computer-generated food concepts and recipes. More than 40% of operators are planning to invest in technology solutions this year as a result, particularly those that increase productivity across ordering and payment operations.

The NRA also predicts that 2023 is the year that operators fully settle into a post-pandemic environment, continuing some operational trends that arose over the past three years. Examples include the growth in outdoor dining locations, with 9 out of 10 operators saying they will continue outdoor services, and expanded delivery options for remote dining.

In the quick-service and fast-casual segments, 40% of operators expect drive-thrus will become common additions in 2023. Investments in drive-thru capabilities already have begun among some larger chains, including the launch of Jack in the Box Inc.’s off-premises restaurant prototype and Starbucks Corp.’s $450 million plan to improve pickup, delivery only and drive-thru only locations in the United States.

Many consumers will continue to seek out on-premises dining opportunities, and 84% said restaurant dining is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up at home. Owners and operators can capitalize on this demand by offering experiences not easily replicated at home or by operating as “third place” for socialization outside of work and home.

The NRA also predicts costs will continue to remain an issue, with 92% of operators citing costs as a significant issue. Some of these difficulties can be offset by streamlined menu offerings, creating new meal occasions using off-hours or slow day deals, and appealing to health and nutrition trends.

Restauranteurs also may pair the broad growth in consumer interest in the physical and mental health benefits of food with younger generations’ demand for sustainable foods, similar to Chick-fil-A’s recent test launch of its cauliflower sandwich.

“As the restaurant industry adapts to a new normal, operators’ ability to be flexible and diversify their operations is essential to thriving,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the NRA. “With profitability under pressure, operators are launching new business models within the industry, re-engineering current concepts, and allocating more space to off-premises business in order to satisfy customers in 2023.”