The Top 5 Restaurant Menu Trends for 2021

Making predictions usually involves a bit of data analysis with a dollop of intuition, that sixth sense that Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs attributed their extraordinary success to. Considering our current unpredictable environment, it’s impressive that the top chefs and entrepreneurs in the culinary field came up with restaurant menu trends despite the challenges that many in the industry have faced. But that is the nature of restauranteurs, coursing ahead against a current that is tiring at best, and devastating at worst.

Here are our top 5 picks for the restaurant food trends of 2021:

  1. Maple Syrup

Yes, that’s right, maple, that sweet syrup that was first use by Aboriginal tribes and Native Americans is making a comeback. Of course, if you look at the names of various restaurants—Maple & Ash, Birch & Maple, Maple Landing—one realizes that maple is not really making a comeback but will expand its familiar presence in dining establishments across the country.

From maple macchiato, old fashioned made with maple whiskey, to spaghetti with maple Bolognese, this is one prediction forecast to be a winner.

  1. Comfort With a Twist

As long as the uncertainty of a virus gone out of control remains, people will look to the familiar for comfort. This search for a lifestyle once taken for granted includes the food and beverages of yesteryear. Instead of traditional comfort food, however, chefs suggest the daring and experience-deprived will search out food from different countries that represent the heart and soul of various regions.

Restauranteurs will continue to raise the comfort classics a notch by embracing global traditions and heritage cooking. One blessing born of the pandemic was the increasing number of pop-ups that displayed chef’s love of the food and dishes they grew up with. From Trinidadian-inspired chayote gazpacho to Colombian-influenced shrimp encocado, guests experienced food and flavors deeply rooted in the rich histories of chefs and countries.

We can expect this tradition to continue in restaurants around the country with chefs offering unique, regional dishes such as papa al pomodoro, a tomato soup of Tuscany, or gamopilafo, a lamb risotto and the ultimate comfort food of Crete.

Of course, the tried-and-true classics will remain. As Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, told FastCasual, “When it is a stressful time, extremes on the pallet are not desirable. That is why mac and cheese and meat loaf come back each recession.”

  1. Plant-Based Revised

The increasing demand for healthy products and food continues to gain traction, with 2021 being no exception. COVID-19 skyrocketed consumer’s demand for nutritional and healthy products looking to boost immune systems and increase overall health. The vitamin and supplement market, an estimated $108 billion in the U.S. in 2019, is projected to reach over $185 billion by 2027.

Consumers are also looking to food as medicine, also known as functional food, and increasing the demand for healthy options, including organic and vegetarian choices. Qdoba Mexican Grill recently expanded their new Mexican Cauliflower Mash to all U.S. locations after a successful test run in Indianapolis.

Miriam Aniel, Head of Content and Research at Tastewise, reported that discussions about food and beverage for medicinal and nutritional needs grew by 17 percent on Tastewise in 2020.

The healthy trend isn’t just limited to food. Consumers will undoubtedly embrace “healthy” cocktails, searching out hard kombucha and alcohol-free spirits.

  1. Tasting Menus With Wine Pairings

As the long-awaited in-house dining slowly returns and guests feel increasingly at ease, many anticipate spending time at their favorite restaurants relishing in the tastes, smells, atmosphere, and tradition. What better way to luxuriate in these missed senses than with multiple tastings paired with wine, beer, or select cocktails.

  1. For Grouchy People Only

While this concept goes against the grain of all optimistic “let’s create our own destiny and be happy” people, there’s something to be said for a place that caters to the pessimist. Tokyo is the first to take advantage of the growing doom-mongers and skeptics born of a relentless pandemic.

SoraNews24 reported on the Negative Café and Bar Mori Ouchi, the first hot spot for negative people only.

Surprisingly, the well-defined entranceway brings killjoys into a whimsical forest-like atmosphere, filled with private cabin-like rooms. The owner, who built each of the little retreats, seems to have a soft spot for the melancholy, telling the reporter, “I think a lot of negative people tend to be reserved in their attitude, which is a form of kindness, and I thought it would be nice for there to be a relaxing place for them.”

While this may be one prediction a little out in left field, I think it could be a big hit in the U.S.

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