Industry Trends

10 Hottest Food Trends in 2021

By Dana Krook

Smartphone photographing a beautifully plated dish of food

Wondering what food trends to capitalize on this year?

We’ve got you covered.

As this year draws to a close, it’s only fitting to highlight some of the hottest food trends. These include everything from trendy foods to cooking practices, and reflect changing attitudes toward health and the world we live in.

By taking advantage of these trends, you can position your restaurant as newsworthy, make sure you remain relevant among rising competition, and become even more profitable.

And hey, if you’re really strategic (and a little lucky), you could even become Insta-famous.

But, also keep in mind: just because something is trendy and dominating food news doesn’t mean it’s right for your restaurant.

That’s why we’ll also walk through three essential questions you should ask to determine whether adding a current food trend is worth it for you. Plus, check out our bonus section of upcoming food trends to watch out for.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Couple taking pictures of the dishes they have been served

Should I Add a Food Trend to My Menu?

Not sure if a food trend is right for your restaurant?

Ask yourself these three questions to help you decide:

1) Who is my target market?

It’s important to fully understand your customers, so you can determine if this is a trend they’re likely to get on board with. Get to know your customers better by doing some demographic and psychographic research

2) What is the style of my restaurant?

Some trends won’t fit the style of your restaurant and, if added, could negatively impact your overall guest experience. This is about brand management – having a very clear identity and making sure all business decisions are in line with it. If, for example, you’re a meat-centric venue, offering a range of new vegan-friendly dishes isn’t going to help you. It would be off-brand and, frankly, confusing to guests.

3) Will adding a trend impact my food costs?

Another thing to keep in mind is that adding certain trendy foods may cause food costs to rise, making those dishes unprofitable. On the flip side, you may choose to add a dish that’s less profitable if it’s popular enough to drive a large volume of customers through your doors.

Tip: Refer to your marketing plan for further guidance. If you don’t have a marketing plan, our Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing can get you started

2 preview pages of the guide to restaurant marketing
The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing

Everything you need to know about social media, digital marketing, SEO, and more!

Download Now

10 Current “Hot” Restaurant Food Trends in 2021 

Capitalize on these trends in 2021 and beyond:

1. Plant-Based Diets Growing Like Weeds

What many thought was a fad is now mainstream. People are reducing meat consumption, embracing plant-based diets, and going vegan. In fact, those identifying themselves as “vegan” in the U.S. has increased by 600% in the last three years.

Driving this trend are Millennials who are acutely aware of the impact meat consumption is having on the environment and how animals are treated in the process.

The result? Restaurants are recognizing the need to cater to this growing market and are updating their menus to offer tasty vegan and vegetarian options.

Plant-based trends to try on your menu:

  • Meat-free burgers
  • Vegan ice creams
  • Cauliflower buffalo wings
Colourful burger being presented by a chef

2. Zero-Waste Cooking Takes Hold

As rapid population growth puts a strain on natural resources and food supplies, the days of wasting food are over. Nose-to-tail and leaf-to-root cooking are gaining momentum, and restaurants are now finding creative ways to make food go further.

Zero-waste trends to try on your menu:

  • Instead of discarding chicken bones, use them in broths and stocks.
  • Try putting cauliflower leaves into some of your dishes (pan-fried cauliflower leaves are a lot like tasty kale chips).
  • Use the whole fish – skin, bones, eyes, and flesh.
  • Transform carrot leaves into sumptuous pestos or garnishes.
Platter of fish and lemon slices

3. Food That’s Good for Your Gut

growing body of research is finding links between gut bacteria and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. A healthy gut is crucial for weight management and combating some diseases.

As awareness grows of the benefits of maintaining gut health, expect gut-friendly foods – pickling, fermenting, prebiotics, and probiotics – to become more and more popular with customers. 

Good for your gut trends to try on your menu:

  • Kimchi
  • Salads with raw onions, garlic, or jicama
  • Garnishes with dandelion greens
  • Sides of sauerkraut
Dish of kimchi

4. The Demand for Kombucha Set to Rise

Kombucha – fermented sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria – is becoming known for its health benefits. It contains antioxidants and beneficial probiotics and can rid your body of harmful bacteria.

While drinking kombucha is already trendy – with people buying kombucha kits online – this trend will only grow as more people become aware of the benefits and restaurants start offering this tasty drink.

Kombucha trends to try on your menu:

Kombucha in a mason jar style mug with slices of citrus

5. The Growth of Superfood Powders

Although the superfood trend dates back to the early 80s, it was only in the 2000s that it really exploded among the health conscious. This trend is ever-evolving, with new superfoods added every year.

The latest craze? Superfood powders, like maca root (the ancient South American superfood), cacao, ground turmeric, and mushroom powder.

Superfood powder trends you can try on your menu:

  • Breakfast power bowl with banana and cacao
  • Almond, cinnamon, and maca smoothie
  • Turmeric latte
  • Omelet with mushroom powder
Breakfast bowl with grains and sliced fruit

6. “Paleo” Foods Take Center Stage

With many embracing the paleo diet, food products that identify as “paleo” are gaining prominence. But what exactly is the paleo diet? 

Often referred to as the “hunter-gatherer” diet, paleo typically includes foods you can acquire through — yes, you guessed it— hunting and gathering. These include lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

The diet stems from the idea that modern human bodies haven’t adequately adjusted to processed, farmed foods. While this diet is promoted as a way to improve health and lose and manage weight, others would argue it’s restrictive and even extreme, pointing to the dangers of following it strictly.

Regardless of your opinions on the full diet, you should be aware that paleo foods are on the rise. As a restaurant owner, adding these foods to your menu could boost your traffic and sales.

Paleo trends to try on your menu:

  • Bone marrow broth
  • Charcuterie of nuts, fruits, and raw veggies
  • Cauliflower gnocchi with coconut creamed spinach
Bowls of nuts seeds and fruit

7. Cold Brew Coffee Set to Explode

According to Statista, cold brew coffee sales rose to $38.1 million in 2017, a whopping 370% increase from the $8.1 million sales in 2015.

The popularity has already captured the attention of giants like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts who now heavily promote their cold brew drinks.

But how is cold brew different than iced coffee?

While iced coffee is brewed hot and then poured over ice, cold brew uses time instead of heat, letting the drink steep for about half a day at room temperature.

Cold brew trends to try on your menu:

  • Cold brew old fashioned
  • Cold brew smoothie
  • Cold brew ice cream
Server pouring a drink over ice

8. Non-Alcoholic Beers: A New, Exciting Drink?

Drinking habits are changing.

As Generation Z and late Millennials begin to better understand the health risks of over-indulging in booze, many are choosing to put down the bottle. Believe it or not, alcohol-free drinks are a new trend that’s about to explode.

Restaurants are already starting to cater to this demand, especially within the non-alcoholic beer category. In fact, according to a report by Research and Research, “The global non-alcoholic beer market is expected to provide sustainable growth opportunities during the forecast period from 2017 to 2025.”

Non-alcoholic beer hasn’t been as popular in the U.S. as it has Europe. But that’s mostly due to limited options and flavor profiles which, quite frankly, haven’t been that appealing. This is changing.

Breweries are experimenting and producing more alcohol-free beers in response to growing demand. It’s only a matter of time before you find a non-alcoholic beer you want to drink!

Non-alcoholic (NA) drink trends to try on your menu:

  • Non-alcoholic IPA like Brewdog Nanny State
  • Mikkeller Drink’in the Snow non-alcoholic wheat beer
  • Fancy mocktails
Friends raising their glasses

9. Alternative Coffee Brewing Is In

Modern coffee is evolving.

Across the board, people want amazing experiences, have more discerning tastes, and are looking to build their knowledge – especially in the world of coffee.

To satisfy this evolution, coffee shops, roasteries, and restaurants are focusing on craftsmanship and alternative coffee brewing methods. They’re also drawing customers fully into the coffee world by showing them how to make these carefully crafted brews.

Alternative coffee brewing trends to try on your menu:

  • Pour over coffee
  • Batch brew
  • Syphon
  • Aeropress
  • Chemex
  • French Press
  • V60 Dripper
Drink brewing in a coffee press

10. Understanding a Food’s Origin

Customers increasingly care about sustainability and how animals are treated in the production of food. They want to know what’s in their food, how it was made, and where it’s from.

As a result, we’re seeing restaurants become more discerning about the vendors they work with. They want to partner with suppliers who support sustainability, care about the environment, and share the same values.

We also see more restaurants updating their menus to reflect this, with menu descriptions that include “grass-fed” and “free range.” This growing awareness of means restaurants need to make these changes or possibly face a backlash from customers who won’t frequent their establishments.

Food origin trends you can try on your menu:

  • Vendors’ stories, so people know where the ingredients come from
  • Local maps that highlight your main food sources
Person harvesting leafy greens and lettuces

Upcoming Food Trends

Because there are always new trends popping up that you could potentially benefit from, here are five predictions we think are going to be big.

  1. Plastic-free restaurants. Restaurants will give a hard pass to plastic, saying“no” to plastic straws and offering compostable coffee cups. 
  2. Mushrooms everywhere.The umami flavors of the versatile mushroom will become prominent in more dishes. Expect experimentation with shiitake, enoki, and portobello, as well as the lesser known maitake and eryngii.
  3. Unhealthy dishes, re-invented. With sugar, dairy, and gluten replacements everywhere, expect more unhealthy dishes to be re-invented. Examples include cauliflower base pizzas instead of wheat and dates as a replacement for sugar in ice cream, cakes, and other tasty treats.
  4. Sparkling cold brew. This one’s currently popular in Istanbul and certain parts of the U.S., but we see it becoming mainstream real soon.
  5. More alternative milks. People are already drinking less milk and opting for alternatives like soy and almond milk. This evolution will continue, but with an expansion of new milks, like those made from oats and macadamia nuts.

There you have it – 10 of the hottest trends you can benefit from right now and five upcoming ones to look into.

But remember, just because something is trendy doesn’t mean you should add it to your menu. Make sure you ask yourself those three questions we highlighted at the beginning to ensure you actually cash in from the trend.

What trends will you add to your menu this year?

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

Get hot restaurant tips. Delivered.

Orange Takeout Box

Top Challenges Facing Restaurants Now