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More Trends in Dining in 2021

February 2021

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

More trends in dining in 2021 will include an emphasis on practices to support the health and vitality of the restaurant industry, including an examination of overall price and tipping structures. Consumers will need to help promote sustainability in the industry. There will be more reliance on local sourcing of food and investing in the local economy. The food industry will be collaborating and promoting a greater understanding of culture and cooking. In the latter part of this year or next year, we hope to see restaurant dining indoors, bringing joy back into dining experience.

The pandemic brought the entire restaurant and food industry to a halt. The pandemic exposed so many cracks in the industry and our society. The changes continue to modify the “away from home” eating experience and the industry will not be able to continue operating as before. This year in 2021, we will see restaurants stepping up for their communities in big ways. Community outreach and charitable initiatives will be part of the new normal and part of the business model for restaurants. We will continue to see “kindness” as consumers volunteer to assist at food distribution sites and help their neighbors with food and other essentials. Concerned citizens are trying to help others survive hunger, financial needs, a business or just improved mental and social health.

Diversified businesses including those in the food industry are looking at new untraditional models of operation. Hosting zoom culinary classes that include cooking demos, business management practices and building meal kits/to-go specific to the chef or restaurant are in the mix. More owners in the restaurant industry are being more creative so their business can be profitable. Local and state COVID regulations now control an industry that has never had so many rules to follow.

Comfort food will always be popular including any food that reminds them of what it used to be like, or what their family consumes will be a hit. Classic pizzas (no pineapple), burgers without a bunch of crazy toppings, real tacos (not fancy wraps), old-fashioned barbecue, mac and cheese, country fried steak, fried catfish, biscuits and gravy are comfort foods you will see on restaurant menus. As long as it tastes good and someone else does the cooking, consumers will pay the price for the reduction in kitchen work.

Given these new ways of restaurant dining and food industry operations, we will see a return to cooking at home and meals that focus on all continents as people search for a variety of options. There will be a greater focus on stew and curry. Meal kits, virtual dinners and theater, and to-go tasting menus are all ways to reach a larger audience. New demands for meat substitutes will showcase dishes like Tofu Spaghetti or sweet, spicy, crunchy Korean tofu. Silken tofu will make people think about tofu in a whole new light. More fermenting, preserving, and canning as it supports our farms as foods are canned, preserved, pickled and fermented. All those herbs and veggies were grown in local gardens. Seed and seedling swaps with friends and family were also popular.

New models are evolving with a refocus on community and combating food access. Simplicity recentering on the food needs of the consumer is the goal. Elegant dining and the beautification of food is not going anywhere soon, the fuss of food is being updated for the common person. As we have seen throughout history, possibly the greatest innovations and evolution will happen now after these tragic and traumatic events come to an end.