Meals made from fresh, organic foods that are in season. Extensive vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based options that speak to your health. GPS tracking of meal delivery to your front door. These trends are making their rounds, with more focus than ever before on increasing and improving food and drink options for consumers.
Trends come and go in all industries, but perhaps more so in the restaurant and bar industry than in any other. If you own or operate a bar or restaurant it’s imperative that you stay on top of these trends which are going to get customers in through the doors of your establishment.
Consumers are looking for dining and drinking experiences that fit into their lifestyle. They have high expectations when it comes to convenience combined with sustainability and food quality. And with so much competition, restaurants and bars need to give these consumers what they want – otherwise, they’ll go elsewhere.
Here’s an overview of the top restaurant industry trends in 2021 and beyond:
Table of Contents
- 1. Online Ordering
- 2. From Fast Food to Fast-Casual
- 3. Shift to Health and Wellness
- 4. Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based Dining
- 5. Unique and Global Flavors
- 6. Sustainable Dining
- 7. Hyper-Local Restaurants
- 8. Smaller Plating
- 9. Changing Wine Tastes
- 10. Embracing the Dining Experience
- 11. Bonus: The Top Food Trends Right Now
- Staying On Top of Trends
- Final Thoughts
1. Online Ordering
People are busy – they have less time to cook yet still want the ability to eat meals that are healthy and nutritious. Enter the world of online ordering which is making it possible for people to order directly from restaurants. Introduced a couple of years ago, online ordering continues to be at the top of consumer demands, with an estimation that by 2030 delivery sales of meals around the world will be over $300 billion. In order to stay competitive, restaurants need to jump on the bandwagon and make home delivery part of their service to customers.
And because everyone is using their smartphone today, restaurants also need to make sure their menu is online and accessible on any mobile device.
2. From Fast Food to Fast-Casual
The fast-casual restaurant trend is a concept that’s been around for a few years and that’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Restaurant industry statistics show that sales from fast casual dining reached $47 billion in 2016, with recent years proving to be even more profitable.
What is fast-casual? A fast-casual restaurant doesn’t provide full table service. What it does give consumers is the opportunity to order food that’s made with fewer processed and frozen ingredients, making it healthier than fast food. Whether they’re dining in or taking out, consumers are choosing fast-casual dining options when they want quality food that’s still affordable.
3. Shift to Health and Wellness
Health consciousness is on the rise, as consumers pay more attention to their health and wellness and what they’re eating. In fact, 61% of diners say they’re making healthier choices dining out than they were two years ago. The restaurant industry is seeing a rise in wholesome and clean menu choices that feature superfood ingredients that include gut-healthy foods such as kombucha and miso. Other healthy options that are currently in high demand from consumers include natural sweeteners such as stevia and non-dairy milk options such as almond or soy.
Restaurants can easily take advantage of this trend by modifying recipes and offering options to their customers.
4. Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based Dining
Another trend that’s at the forefront of the restaurant industry is plant-based menu choices. Consumers are recognizing the benefits of eating little or no animal protein, choosing instead to eat as vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians. This means restaurants need to have plant-based items available – and not just one option.
Adding plant-based foods to the menu means using ingredients that are high in protein, such as non-GMO organic tofu, quinoa, and Fonio, which is a gluten-free grain that’s a hybrid between quinoa and couscous.
5. Unique and Global Flavors
Consumers don’t want to eat familiar foods all the time – they want bold global flavors that making their dining experience one to remember. Diners want authentic dishes that accurately represent different cultures and traditions using herbs, spices, and high-quality global ingredients such as pomegranate molasses and tahini.
Some of the top ethnic dishes in 2021 are Asian, Latin, and Mediterranean. Giving consumers what they want when it comes to these global flavors is becoming a priority for many restaurants. It can be as simple as adding one or two menu items that highlight global cooking, such as sauces made with ingredients that are authentic to the cultural cuisine.
6. Sustainable Dining
Sustainability in dining is all about food and restaurant management, such as using energy-efficient lighting and reducing waste. Consumers are paying more attention to what’s happening on the planet – and they believe in backing up their support with their dollar. Statistics show that 20% of consumers are aware of the sustainable production of food, with 41% being interested in sustainable meat.
This means that when eating out, diners are choosing restaurants that aren’t just serving tasty food. They’re also basing their choice on restaurants that are focused on sustainability.
Here’s what restaurant owners can do to promote sustainability practices in their establishment:
- Cook foods that are in season
- Source local fruits and vegetables
- Source local and sustainable meat and seafood
- Serve local and organic wines and beer
- Donate surplus food to community groups.
- Manage waste by recycling and return packaging to suppliers, which can save money and reduce restaurant and bar costs.
7. Hyper-Local Restaurants
Fitting right in with sustainability is the trend for hyper-local restaurants, which takes the concept one step further. Diners are looking for restaurants that grow produce in their own backyard…or rooftop. Growing agriculture is all dependent on space, but it can be as simple as growing herbs to use in cocktails or as expansive as growing tomatoes for fresh salads.
For restaurant owners the benefit of being hyper-local is two-fold – not only are they following an industry trend, they also have less waste and save money on produce.
8. Smaller Plating
Consumers are just as interested in small plates and snacks as they are in full meals. A recent study shows that small plates account for 11% of restaurant sales, with the majority of these sales being made by younger diners between the ages of 18 to 24. Why are small plates trending with consumers?
This trend is driven by the fact that more people are eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Younger generations, in particular, are eating more meals away from home, opting to grab one or more plates of different menu items to share with friends.
The trend for smaller plates and meals is easy to incorporate into any menu by providing quick and easy to order snacks with a focus on global flavors and local food sources.
9. Changing Wine Tastes
Wine is perhaps one of the most popular drinks that diners order with a meal. A past trend has been for shorter wine lists, known as “micro” lists, that offer consumers quality over quantity. Now that restaurants have that trend in hand, wine in 2021 is just as trendy.
Although difficult to predict, here are wine trends to be aware of and implement in your restaurant and bar:
- Affordable wines that let consumers experiment with new tastes
- Low-alcohol content wines
- Sparkling wines
- Lighter and fruiter red wines
- Varietal wines from lesser known regions
- Vegan and organic local wines
- Cannabis infused-wines.
10. Embracing the Dining Experience
Consumers this year are looking for a great place to eat more than they have in other years. Diners not only want great food and fantastic cocktails – they’re also looking for atmosphere and an unconventional dining experience.
Restaurants can cater to this trend by enhancing the dining experience and making it a meaningful adventure for consumers. They need to make their brand stand out from the competition by creating a concept that’s different and distinctive to them. A good example is Starbucks, who recently opened a 23,000 square-food roastery in New York. Eclectic and unique, customers not only come for the coffee, they come for the atmosphere.
11. Bonus: The Top Food Trends Right Now
There’s no doubt that each year, the interest of consumers turns towards something new. Craft beers, breakfast served all day, and avocado toast are all trends we’ve seen in the past. According to the National Restaurant Association, here are some of the top food trends of 2021:
- Cannabis-infused foods and drinks
- Zero waste and head-to-tail cooking
- Globally inspired breakfasts
- Global flavors for kids
- New cuts of meat, such as the Vegas Strip
- Produce as the star of the dish
- Locally produced artisan spirits
Staying On Top of Trends
As a restaurant or bar manager, it’s important to look out for new industry developments so you can react in the best possible way. Below are some good ways to keep up with the latest trends:
Listen to what consumers are saying
Get customer feedback whenever you can. Consumers love leaving reviews of their dining and drinking experiences. What they’re saying can tell you a lot about what they want. Don’t just read your own reviews. Follow social media and competitor websites to spot patterns in what makes consumers happy – and what doesn’t.
Read industry blogs
You can find out what’s trending by reading blogs and articles about restaurant and bar management. You’ll be able to find information that helps you stay on top of dining trends, discover what wines consumers are demanding, and what menu items are taking the food culture by storm. Here are some of our favorite ones:
Network with others in the industry
Meeting regularly with colleagues in the restaurant and bar industry will provide you with valuable information that you can put to use in your own establishment. Stay in touch with those who have as much at stake as you do when it comes to meeting customer needs.
Staying on top of restaurant and food trends is what’s going to give you the upper edge over your competition. Whether it’s highlighting global flavors, focusing on healthy ingredients, or implementing sustainability practices in your restaurant, the bottom line is all about giving consumers what they want.