Projecting how people will eat and drink in 2021 isn’t quite the same as before. Given what’s happening in 2020, it’s absurd to focus on hot ingredients or trendy ways to eat when lives and jobs are on the line.
In its latest food and beverage trend forecast
, global food and restaurant consultancy Baum + Whiteman focuses on the industry’s macro changes. Here are the highlights:
Expect fewer restaurants
Let’s start with bad news: there will be fewer restaurants. Baum + Whiteman foresees the industry will take some time to bounce back — “2022 before fast food/drive-thru/delivery restaurants fully recover … and 2024 or later before sit-down restaurants prosper.”
Even celebrity chefs have to pivot. Along with the shutdown of thousands of restaurants (plus more to come), star chefs will resort to gigs — opening popups in spaces with better short-term rent deals, at friends’ restaurants or from their own kitchens. Food-wise, they will forego fancy dishes for top-notch comfort food. Think “the best possible barbecue, or the Platonic hamburger, or knock-your-socks-off salsa for their ultimate roast chicken.”
Eventually, fewer restaurants will lead to higher menu prices, but it isn’t all bad. Wages will increase in response to “calls for gender-racial-class equity.” And with fewer people dining out because of higher prices, expect the dining industry’s business model to go through much-needed rebalance.
Reduced human interaction
Unfortunately, eating out in 2021 probably won’t feel as warm and friendly as it used to be. Bye-bye buffets and sharing platters. Hello QR codes for touchless ordering and paying the bill. Whether it’s limiting the number of menus, separating groups with safety barriers, pouring your own wine, or seeing more delivery people rushing in and out of the restaurants “for off-premises revenue,” the result is reduced human interaction between “customers and servers, and even among table mates.”
Next year, restaurants will face two significant challenges: staying in business and creating a “warm, happy social experience” without neglecting health codes.
More at-home dining
Not surprisingly, you can expect tons of cooking and eating at home in 2021 — whether it’s because of restricted traveling, working and studying from home, or tighter wallets.
Beyond a spike in online recipe searches, meal kits, plus restaurant and food-app deliveries, snacking — as a mechanism for tackling boredom — and drinking are also on the rise.
For home cooks who are itching to travel, expect them to live vicariously through their spice cabinets. The dining consultancy expects people to “shop locally but eat globally,” looking for exotic flavors and ingredients.
With more productive home kitchens and less foot traffic to restaurants (especially because of) forced shutdowns, thousands of eateries have pivoted to offer pantry goods. Baum + Whiteman expects this trend to continue next year as operators create more of these brand extensions for extra revenue.
They will come in the form of “proprietary spice mixes, dumplings, noodles and pasta sauces, inventive breads and signature pastries, fancy cheeses and charcuterie, rendered duck fat, CSA boxes, fresh meat and fish … even professional cookware, meal kits and prepared dinners” plus “china and flatware” (in some cases) stamped with restaurants’ logos.
Battle against food waste
Cooking with leftovers has become more mainstream in recent years — thanks partly to chefs such as Massimo Bottura
and José Andrés
. Now that more families and individuals are cooking at home, many more are growing aware of wasting food's moral and financial implications. Restaurants and hotels join in this movement too — with hundreds of them sending excess to food banks during Coronavirus.
Baum + Whiteman foresees this fight against food waste will grow hotter in 2021 — with new apps linking “overstocked local restaurants directly to nearby hungry residents … offering meals for free or at steep discounts, sinking deeper roots into their communities.”