Top 10 Food Service Trends for 2021  

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The past twelve months have been topsy-turvy for all sorts of industries, but no businesses have had to adapt as quickly as restaurants. As expected, the most successful establishments have been those that were most capable of thinking quickly and keeping up with the latest trends.

Whatever surprises 2021 throws at us, some emerging food service trends are set to take off in the next year. From new technologies to clever marketing schemes, here are the top ten trends to look out for in the industry.

Pop-Up Restaurants

These “insta-establishments” are popular with patrons and restaurant owners alike. By “popping up” for a single day in an interesting location or alongside a major event, they attract the kind of attention that a stationary restaurant could only dream of. They aren’t self-sustaining themselves, but they serve as excellent extensions of a standard restaurant.

The occasional pop-up restaurant gives restaurateurs the chance to attract business to their permanent establishment. Menus are normally small in order to keep things simple, and higher prices are acceptable because of the venue’s chic feel.

Self-Service Kiosks

Recent decades have seen an increased focus on technology and convenience. Waiting in line isn’t something the modern consumer often has time for, so it’s imperative that restaurants do whatever they can to speed up the ordering process. Self-service kiosks, with the speed and efficiency they provide, seem almost certain to represent the future of takeout-oriented and fast food restaurants.

Customers love self-service because it maximizes convenience and minimizes the time wasted in line. Restaurants also love the kiosks because they’ve been proven to maximize profits. Customers tend to spend more when using them, while the efficiency increases the sales per hour of labor.

Fully Seasonal Menus

As consumers become more food-conscious, the demand for fresh and natural ingredients increases. Nowadays, people are often aware of which fruits and vegetables are in season, and they appreciate menu items that take freshness and seasonality into account.

Restaurants have long included seasonal options, but next year expect more establishments to offer fully seasonal menus. Allowing customers to choose from a set of exclusively fresh dishes is a great way for restaurants to stand out in a crowded and increasingly competitive market.

Grab and Go

Convenience is a key concern in many subsets of the dining industry, so it should come as no surprise that “grab and go” options are more popular every year. From IHOP to 7/11, major chains have realized that ready-made options keep lines moving and are a hit among customers. The covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend as many consumers look to cut down on interpersonal contact.

Grab and go also pairs well with increased automation. With self-service kiosks and a spread of pre-packaged options, restaurants can offer a completely contact-free experience. This is a great way to cut back on labor while improving customer experience.

Pick-up Lockers

Also in the spirit of contactless sales, these compartments provide customers with a quick and easy way to pick-up their pre-ordered food. The lockers or cabinets are heated, so the food stays as hot as when it came out of the oven.

Customers appreciate the easy and convenience of this method, while the contactless nature of the transaction means restaurants can focus on dine-in customers.

Varied Kids Menus

Today’s kids often have different tastes than the chicken-tender lovers of past generations. Many modern parents introduce their children to an eclectic diet, and successful restaurants are making sure to keep up with the times. A varied kids menu should offer plenty of traditionally “adult” options, but in kid-appropriate sizes.

With that being said, restaurants will continue to offer classic kids favorites, so don’t expect business like ice cream or chicken breading manufacturing to take a major hit for example. The key is to aim for variety and multidimensionality.

Boozeless Cocktails

Americans have been drinking less and less in recent years, but they still enjoy socializing and eating out with friends. Restaurants need to respond to this changing dynamic with clever menu items.

With alcohol-free cocktails, restaurants can maintain the fun vibes and unique feel of a traditional cocktail hour. “Mocktails” can help keep bartenders in a job and restaurants in business, even as Americans forego alcoholic beverages.

Breakfast All Day

Americans are realizing that hearty breakfast options are as delicious in the afternoon as they are in the morning, and restaurants are adjusting accordingly. Customers are now demanding to have their favorite breakfast dishes at all times of the day, and they’re increasingly likely to be frustrated when they’re told “breakfast is no longer being served.”

Like in any industry, restaurants succeed when they give consumers what they want. If people crave eggs and bacon for dinner, restaurants should oblige them.

More Vegan Options

People have been going vegan for years due to health or ethical concerns. The climate crisis has only increased this trend, as people seek to avoid red meat (which is linked to greenhouse gas emissions).

To keep this growing demographic coming back, restaurants will surely expand their vegan options in 2021. Failure to do so means falling hopelessly behind the times.

Delivery (Without Third-Party Services)

Delivery is more popular than ever, but the influence of third-party services seems to be on the wane. More and more restaurants are growing tired of the costly fees and poor customer experience.

Expect more restaurants to include in-house delivery services in 2021. The capital expended is ultimately repaid by the happy customers who appreciate the improved service.

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