Predicting Restaurant Trends for 2021: An Impossible Task?

It’s that time of year again when restaurant professionals and experts make their grand predictions for the next year’s trends to watch. But this year has been unique and the next twelve months have never been less certain. With so many tough to predict factors like COVID-19 numbers, government regulations, and public sentiment, one has to wonder if it’s even possible to accurately predict trends. But despite these complicating issues, there are still a few inevitable restaurant trends we’ll be keeping our eye on.

Cleanliness is King

Obviously, everybody is focused on sanitation during a pandemic. However, we very well may get a handle on COVID-19 this year, allowing restaurants to open as normal. But don’t put away the hand sanitizing stations and plexiglass just yet. Diners and employees will still be hyper-sensitive to restaurant cleanliness. So cleaning procedures will need to remain stringent and visible to ease any worries.

Take Out Is Here to Stay

We cannot talk about restaurant industry trends without talking about to-go orders. This past year, revenue from food delivery rose 20%. While diners will certainly flock back to restaurants when safety allows, they won’t soon forget the convenience of online ordering. Restaurants will continue to innovate delivery operations by fine-tuning operations and expanding on ideas like proprietary ordering platforms and ghost kitchens. Diners have been incredibly responsive to meal kits, meaning restaurants will continue to innovate their to-go menu options. Many have even bolstered an e-commerce presence by packaging and selling signature sauces, kits, and cocktails for retail.

Refocusing on Sustainability

2020 saw the convergence of two conflicting trends: take-out and sustainability. As the demand for to-go meals has risen, so has the use of single-use containers. Diners will expect that restaurants do more to offset the extra packaging waste by using greener materials. Restaurants will continue to demand sustainably manufactured, recyclable, and even compostable packaging options from their suppliers. Service changes will also reduce waste, with restaurants asking customers beforehand if they want utensils or napkins instead of automatically including them in orders.

Diners are also more appreciative of locally and sustainably sourced food. Restaurants featuring the farmers and artisans they source ingredients from will be more prevalent. We will also see more menu items featuring typically unused parts of ingredients, like granola made from the spent grains of a local brewery.

Plant-Based Comfort

In 2020, plant-based menu items continued to be popular for health and sustainability reasons, but the craving for typically less healthy comfort food was also strong. Food manufacturers and chefs continue to innovate menu items to bring plant alternatives out of their health-food-only corner. Items like fried Brussels sprouts, meatless chilis, cauliflower “mac and cheese”, and meat-alternative substitutions will continue to dominate menus next year.

Find trend-aware restaurant leaders

Restaurants need more than just an understanding of the most current trends. They need a leadership team who can successfully incorporate these trends into a restaurants’ strategy. The restaurant recruiters at Horizon Hospitality have relationships with thousands of restaurant professionals who can keep your business on-trend and relevant. Contact them today!



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