• The National Restaurant Association’s 2021 Top Restaurant Trends report is based on a survey of 6,000 restaurant operators and 6,000 adult consumers.
  • As the on-premise boom continues, streamlined menus will focus on items that travel well and can be made by a smaller staff, the report found.
  • In addition to ordering meal deals and meal kits, many consumers are making their own main dishes at home while purchasing sides, apps and desserts from their favorite restaurants.

Related: Biden’s economic plan gets mixed reviews from National Restaurant Association

Streamlined menus will continue to pay off for restaurants in the year to come while customers will look for more bundled meal deals, meal kits and meal subscriptions, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 Top Restaurant Trends report.

The new report, based on a survey of 6,000 operators and 1,000 adult consumers, looks at industry developments in 2020 and predicts little change for this year. Those trends “didn’t offset the industry’s devastation,” the report notes, as sales plummeted by nearly $240 billion last year and nearly 2.5 million restaurant employees remain out of work. “But they do show restaurateurs’ resiliency, innovation and commitment.”

Among the notable trends were:

1. Streamlined menus. Fullservice restaurant operators last year had to “get lean fast” while “developing menus they could make well with a smaller staff. These items had to travel well and be what customers craved,” the report notes. “Expect menus to stay trimmed in coming months.”

2. Off-premise takes off. Eighty percent of fullservice restaurant traffic was on-premise before the pandemic, but “in what’s likely the fastest pivot in industry history,” restaurateurs quickly shifted to a focus on off-premise, including delivery, carryout and curbside pickup. Demand for off-premise food will continue in 2021.

3. Blended meals. For meal occasions, customers are often making their own main dish at home but ordering appetizers, sides or desserts from restaurants. “Millennials are especially big fans of the blended meal,” the report states.

Related: How to develop a moneymaking bundled meal deal

4. Bundled meal deals. Offering bundled meals that include an entrée, appetizer and dessert, both in family packs and for individuals, give homebound customers a reason to keep patronizing your restaurant.

5. Meal kits. The report notes that “more than half of adults surveyed say they’d likely purchase a meal kit if it was offered by one of their favorite restaurants. That percentage rises to 75 percent for both millennials and Gen Z adults.”

6. Meal subscriptions. More than half of consumers surveyed said they would sign up if their favorite restaurant offered recurring meal subscriptions for pickup or delivery “at a discounted price.”

Other trends highlighted in the report: One-third of off-premise customers said they’ve ordered alcoholic beverages to go since the pandemic started and will continue to do so; one-third of fine-dining operators are adding more comfort food items (including pizza, burgers, pot pies, soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes) to their menus; and healthy or diet-specific menu options influence restaurant choices but “are less important right now.”

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