Five Changes You’ll See on Restaurant Menus in the Near Future

Looking to 2021 and beyond, there are a few predictions in the restaurant industry that almost everyone can agree on: people still want to eat healthier food and know where their food comes from. Let's look closer at how restaurant menus are expected to change in the coming years due to shifting consumer demands and a fastly evolving dining landscape.

1. More Plant-Based Options

The company Upserve predicts that "vegan-friendly menu items are on the rise with zero signs of slowing down."

Plant-based eaters are fortunate in that meat-free meals tend to cost less than their non-veggie counterparts (such as seafood, steaks, and roasts) — which is a good thing considering more people are dining out on a budget following the economic troubles of 2020.

Salads and veggie-based options were among the most popular types of meals sold in restaurants in 2020, due to interest in healthy eating and meat-alternatives. 

We can expect to see more of these vegetarian/vegan-friendly ingredients featured on menus in the future:

  • Jackfruit used as a meat alternative
  • Tempeh and tofu 
  • Ancient grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, teff, einkorn, amaranth, millet and spelt
  • A variety of legumes and beans, including those used to make veggie burgers and noodles
  • Dairy alternatives
  • Mushroom-based options

2. Unique Cocktails, Drinks and Herbal Infusions

Many people are still looking for a special, social experience when they dine out, and one way to do this is to order from a tasting menu or to share "flights" of specialty drinks. 

Cocktails, mocktails and sometimes meals that feature unique ingredients — such as CBD flower, microgreens and sea vegetables — are drawing interest due both to their novelty and health benefits. Stress-relieving and mood-boosting supplements are especially having a moment.

CBD (or cannabidiol, which is derived from the hemp plant) first started making an appearance in restaurants around 2019, and it's predicted to keep doing so considering it's now widely available and legal throughout the U.S. In the past few years CBD has been added to stress-reducing cocktails/CBD-infused beverages, baked goods and more,

This trend also appeals to people who choose to avoid alcohol or who are "sober curious," meaning they prefer interesting mocktails that help them chill out over standard alcoholic beverages. The appearance of mocktails on menus is expected to be higher in coming years, and this will require mixologists to come up with unique and appealing ways to add flavor to their offerings. 

Health-inspired ingredients found in mocktails, juices and other infusions will likely include those that support the body's "detoxification pathways", such as ginger, turmeric, apple cider, algaes, lemon juice, kale and carrot juice. 

3. Greatest Emphasis on Clean Healthy Food 

Recent findings presented by groups such as the International Food Information Council suggest that an increasing number of Americans rank healthful eating as one of their top three priorities when dining out (value and taste are the other two). 

Following the COVID19 crisis in 2020, it makes sense that a focus on health-supporting, immune-boosting eating will take center stage. Not only are people turning to vegetarian/vegan diets more often in order to increase their nutrient intake, but in general they are looking for more wholefoods-based meals and less processed ingredients, fried foods and sugary snacks. 

Another restaurant trend that doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon is the need to modify meals for those with allergies, or those who follow strict diets for health reasons. Gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free and vegan options will most likely continue to make an appearance on menus, considering it's now common place for many people to have one or more dietary restrictions.

In place of meals like heavy pasta dishes, steaks and burgers, we can expect restaurants to emphasize vegetable-forward meals, whole grains, salads and fish, especially those that are seasonal and locally harvested or caught. Restaurants sales of antibiotic-, additive-, and hormone-free animal products will also likely keep growing.

4. Focus on Locally Grown Ingredients

The farm-to-table movement has been on the rise the past decade and is expected to keep expanding. Consumers are more aware than ever how important it is to support local farmers and small, reputable producers that guarantee quality.  The need to decrease one's environmental impact by choosing to eat more sustainable foods is also a big concern, which means cruelty-free animal products and ingredients are also catching consumers' eyes.

A large body of research shows that consuming locally grown, seasonal produce usually leads to higher nutrient intake and also tends to make one's diet taste better overall, since seasonal/local foods are sold at the peak of ripeness and are often very fresh. 

This is good news for restaurants who can use local foods to add flavor, color and appeal to a variety of offerings, such as grain and noodle bowls, salads, side dishes, etc.

5. Quality Over Quantity (Fewer Offerings)

A simplified menu makes it easier for restaurants to retain the quality of their food, control prices and reduce waste, all while keeping up with takeout orders and online/mobile orders, both of which are significantly increasing in popularity.

Most likely, many restaurants will trim down their menus while at the same time improving the quality, nutrition-content and taste. Classic comfort foods — especially those with a healthier twist, such as cauliflower pizzas and spiralized vegetable pastas— are expected to become more popular items on menus. And as mentioned above, restaurants can keep their menus smaller by sticking to seasonal/local foods, rather than by sourcing ingredients from far and wide.