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July 21, 2021

Finish Strong in 2021: Restaurant Industry Trends to Watch

Finish Strong in 2021: Restaurant Industry Trends to Watch

As we settle into 2021, many of us are still recovering from our 2020 hangover. Closings, layoffs, and sanitation concerns have been replaced with reopening stresses, reduced staffing, and customer preference changes. It’s been a tumultuous year and a half, to say the least.

But as restaurants begin to establish their new processes, we’re going to take a look at what’s changed for 2021 and what establishments like yours need to consider to remain competitive in this ever-changing landscape. 

Destination Dining

Going out to eat became a luxury last year and that desire for a memorable dining out experience will continue. Customers are more thoughtful in choosing where and when they dine out, so ensuring their experience is special will be a lasting trend.

Destination dining is a want for more exclusivity, more space, and more time to enjoy a meal and the experience itself. Patrons may be more inclined to dress up and take a drive to a more secluded venue. It includes things like tasting menus, private dining, unique ingredients, and a safe, intimate space. Customers want to feel that you created something just for them, giving them a reason to get out of the house and celebrate.

Diversity & Ethnic Experiences

Pretentiousness and perfect plating take a back seat to authenticity in 2021. Customers want to know about the inspiration, history, and tradition of the dishes they are enjoying and the cultures they represent.

Black-rooted and African-inspired dishes should reflect the narrative of the dish’s origins, not just its ingredients. Vietnamese dishes will go far beyond pho to a more sincere embrace of the root culture.

Heritage recipes are exploding as well. People are interested in the tradition of their families’ food and how to showcase it properly whether Italian, Greek or Korean. Finding creative ways to incorporate this authenticity will appeal to many. Our client, Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, has always embraced authentic Italian cooking from scratch, and they continue to thrive as guests recognize and savor the real thing.

Comfort Food

The pandemic took a toll on us, and we’re still looking for comfort and normalcy when dining out. Classic pizzas, simplified burgers, real tacos, traditional barbecue, and Southern dishes like country fried steak, fried catfish, and biscuits and gravy are on everyone’s wish list. Consider ways to elevate these foods while staying true to the classic recipes. Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Winter Park draws on the historic appeal of fish camps with nostalgic dishes like Florida Shrimp & Cheesy Grits and Coconut Cake.

Outdoor Dining

Outdoor dining has been in high demand so far in 2021 and that trend will continue. Adding additional spacing, sun shades, fans/heating elements, fire pits, music, and overhead lighting are excellent ways to boost the ambiance of outdoor dining spaces.

White Wolf Cafe & Bar has mastered the outdoor experience, creating an inviting patio with well-spaced tables, lush plants, eclectic art, and cooling fans to maximize guest comfort.

Take Out & Delivery

Another trend that will continue in 2021 is finding new and interesting ways to bring the restaurant experience to at-home dining. Presentation, preserving temperature, and ensuring sauces, condiments and utensils are packaged appropriately are critical to thriving in this space. 

In addition to restaurant-style meals packaged for the family, ghost kitchens, delivery only and quick service concepts will continue trending.

Sustainability is another important component in this arena. Styrofoam is not going to cut it. Customers are looking for more environmentally-friendly paper, wood, and recycled items as well as efficiency in packing to reduce waste.

Healthy, Local & Conscious

Alternative diets are here to stay. Paleo, keto and plant-based top the list, and you should be prepared for these requests. Paleo diners want lean proteins like chicken and fish with grilled vegetables and gluten-free side dishes. Vegan offerings must go beyond “ask for this without” to a more thoughtful approach by incorporating legumes, nuts, plant-based cheeses and alternative proteins. If you’re looking to add some healthy-forward options for your menu, call upon DSR Hospitality Experts for help- we know what diners are looking for and can help you create some new menu items to welcome healthy diners.

In 2020, people watched some of their favorite local restaurants close their doors and realized what a cultural loss it is. Customers want to put money back into their communities.

Boosting your restaurant’s usage of local produce and vendors, sustainably caught fish and locally-sourced meats or cheeses are great ways to show your establishment is catering to these popular desires. Try showcasing a few local artisans’ works for sale to add to the locals-only vibe that so many patrons find attractive.

These are just a few of the 2021 trends that are on the move this year and we expect they will continue far into the future. What trend are you going to capitalize on?