Top Trends for The Restaurant Industry in 2021
While no one could have predicted the worldwide pandemic, bathroom tissue and paper towel shortage, and mini pancake cereal craze that appeared in 2020, these 2021 trends are sure to start popping up on plates in the first quarter of 2021 and throughout the year.
Healthier Cocktails: Consumers are reaching for more alcohol-free spirits, low-calorie alcoholic beverages, and boozy versions of popular healthy beverages. Hard kombucha is up over 300% in searches across the marketplace and searches for the hard seltzer category were up over 500% from last year.
A Return to Comfort: Instead of chefs and restaurateurs struggling to find an exciting new ingredient or outlandish new promotion, this year will focus on getting back a sense of balance. People just want to gather and socialize while feeling safe. Restaurants will move forward by providing guests with feel-good food and genuine friendly hospitality, filling the need for comfort and warmth during these extraordinary times.
Virtual Cooking Classes That Explore Food Origins and Global Cuisine: The Zoom Cooking Class will certainly continue. Chefs are going to get even more creative with their content, focusing on food origins. Focusing on ingredients from these cultures would be a breath of fresh air beyond what we already see and do over and over again.
Greater Effort to Go Waste-Free: Proteins have seen the biggest fluctuation in availability and price since COVID-19, specifically heavy fabricated products, as in ground beef, portioned steaks, and poultry. I think there will be a larger, ‘no waste’ approach to protein selections and use, especially in restaurants.
Nutrition Hacking and Immune Health Over Everything:
Increased interest in and access to nutritional information has created a generation of health ‘armchair expert’ consumers in the U.S. The pandemic only escalated consumer interest in functional foods, and the focus on specific nutritional benefits of food and beverage is here to stay.
Terroir Transcends Wine: In 2021, I believe we will be seeking roots. I think the questions will be, ‘Where did this come from? Why is it here?’ Most of us understand the flavors and spirits we offer behind bars and in restaurants, but there is a layer behind these classic ingredient profiles that is begging to be explored. When we examine these spirits, we see that all of them take on the terroir of where they’re produced, making them individuals in a world of carbon copies. We can taste the heart and soul of the spirit, and it shows us where it came from.
Spicing Up the Pantry: 2021 is shaping up to be a flavorful year. Consumers are looking for quick and easy ways to spice up the meals they’ve been making at home, and we’re seeing a lot of interest in handcrafted shelf-stable sauces and spice blends on the marketplace. In fact, more than 1 in 5 Americans we polled say they have been more adventurous with home cooking by introducing exotic spices and flavors into their cooking this year.
Ghost Kitchens and Touchless Service: Expect to see more ghost kitchens or ghost food halls operated out of commissaries in 2021. These include multiple brands, each selling their own products, under one roof.
Nostalgia Is King: People are craving anything that connects them to life before lockdowns. We’re already seeing this in the flavors that our customers are purchasing. Red Velvet and Hazel’s Pumpkin Pie flavors are trending up this year over last, which is a reflection of the comfort and nostalgia most people attach to the iconic flavors of their childhood.
Hemp Is Going to be Everywhere: Hemp is a great soy alternative, vegan alternative, and plant-based alternative. More people are wanting to eat plant-based days during the week and now they easily can. Hemp is a healthy plant-protein that is great for people who are Keto, Paleo, and vegan.
Sanitization Is Suddenly Sexy: Health and safety should always be a top priority for an effective operation, and has always been inherent for all successful restaurateurs. Communicating this as a vital brand message will ultimately become the differentiating factor in coming months. Sanitization is suddenly sexy! As we shift from ‘crisis mode’ into long-term strategy and more methodically adapt to the new normal, there is also tremendous opportunity to see health and safety measures meet unique branding needs with face masks, gloves, equipment and hand sanitizer, as well as signage, digital marketing, and website design.
Bring on the Year of the Magnum: I’m getting more and more requests for large formats. I think 2021 will be the year of the Magnum!
More Mindful Nutrition: 2021 will bring an increased focus on ditching fad diets and embracing mindful eating. It’s important to start listening to what your body is telling you! Whole grain carbohydrates, like brown rice and quinoa, provide essential nutrients and a slow-burning form of energy.
Social Media (Especially TikTok) Will Bring Us Even Closer to Our Food Community: You will see restaurants create a lot more videos and behind-the-scenes coverage. It’s important to establish a connection with a business, its owners, and its team, especially during these tough times. Consumers want to support small and local businesses to keep their communities intact, as those businesses are the hardest hit during COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions. Getting to know the faces behind the scenes is extremely important.
Accountability, Fair Treatment of Team Members, and Equitability in Food Production, Dining, and Media: I think that a ‘trend’ for the future is everyday consumers becoming more cognizant of the actual actions of the people behind their favorite restaurants and brands. Given what the very public stories of what can happen in both the restaurant and media industries this year have shown us, consumers can—and will—hold the organizations they support accountable for treating their teams fairly and representing food equitably!
Shipping Containers Used for Outdoor Dining: A cool trend that seems to getting play, prior to outdoor dining being shut down in Los Angeles, is shipping containers converted into outdoor dining set-ups (with cut out sides so there is fresh air). These containers have structure, can be transported around and can provide a ‘pop up’ dining opportunity. Also in 2021, chefs will continue to alter their fine dining style to simplified comfort food that is easily transported for takeout and delivery diners.
An Increased Focus on Regional Foods & More Snacking:
I think we will continue to see growth in region-specific global flavors. You’ll notice dishes being named Szechuan, Cantonese, or Hunan style versus “Chinese”, for example—a great thing. Healthy snacking will also become even bigger in 2021. It has been a trend for the past few years, and plant-based eating continues to thrive. Given so many of us are working from home recently, we’re snacking a lot more than we used to.
Mezcal Is the New Tequila: The smoky flavors and beautiful stories behind mezcal will entice consumers, while recently developed brands with more reasonable price points will ensure that more restaurants will incorporate this spirit into specialty cocktails.
Vegan Indulgences and a Functional Food Boom: In my view, ‘comfort’ and ‘health’ will dominate the trends in 2021. In particular, ‘healthy’ sweets, comfort food and plant-based or plant-forward items. Vegan meat alternatives and snacks will continue to grow in 2021 with more brands responding and developing products to fit this category. Plant-based also covers non-dairy beverage trends, like oat milk. Another trend that will continue is healthier low- or non-alcoholic beverages. I expect to see some growth in 2021 in ‘functional foods’ that promote things like relaxation, concentration, and so on.
Bring on the Tacos: We are all cooking at home more often and expanding what we can wrap in a tortilla. It’s not just ground beef, cheddar cheese, and lettuce anymore—it’s cauliflower, it’s mushrooms, it’s hot chicken. You can pack plenty of healthy foods into tacos—they’re also delicious, filling, and lean, and can be plant-based, keto, wrapped in lettuce, and so on.
Plant-Based And Packaged Foods, Hybrid Restaurant Models, and Canned Cocktails: I think we’ll continue to see a surge in plant-based foods, not only when dining out, but on the grocery stores shelves. This will include a lot of high-quality substitutes for everything from butter, seafood, and alternate grain options. Lentils, grains, and other pantry staples will be supporting this trend. Also, expect to see hybrid restaurant models offering takeout, pantry essentials, and meal kits. Finally, the no-alcohol, low-alcohol, and high-end cocktails readily available in aluminum cans will keep coming.