Fall 2021 Menu Trends to Watch

Aug 25, 2021

Nation’s Restaurant News reports that “better, leaner, more efficient menus are in our (near) future as restaurant operators, forced to cut costs and streamline operations in the face of changes wrought by the pandemic….” The rapid decline of customer traffic and the need to streamline operations forced many chains to shrink their menus.


Jack Li of Datassential agrees, reporting that “60% of menus have gotten smaller.” As we move into the Fall months, we’re taking an in-depth look at where we’ve been and where the industry is headed.

Mapo tofu gained popularity

Datassential Research: Menu Hits and Misses

  • The appetizer part of the menu took the biggest hit, shrinking 14.3% on menus.
  • Octopus, also known as Tako, is gaining in popularity, up 34% on menus.
  • Desserts and adult beverages declined on menus (despite to-go offerings). White Claw and non-alcoholic beer thrived during the pandemic.
  • Breakfast menus faced a steep decline and, in many cases, were eliminated. With commuter traffic coming to a grinding halt during mandatory lockdowns, it may be some time for it to recover fully.
  • Beverages like lemonade, iced tea, and soda also declined. With the rise in off-premise dining, many consumers didn’t find a need to order these beverages.
  • “Dine-in-centric” food suffered. Most consumers don’t want a steak delivered.
  • Entrees grew 1.3% on menus – with noodles doing especially well.
  • Jalapeno’s popularity grew 53% in entrée menu items like jalapeno popper burgers.
  • Cauliflower crust remained strong during the pandemic.
  • Wellness forward menu descriptor that gained popularity: Ketogenic
  • Consumer appetite for plant-based items keeps growing. Jackfruit is gaining popularity, originally used as a substitute for pulled pork, now is filling in for seafood.
  • The spicy Nashville hot chicken sandwich craze continues. Crossing over to other menu items like tacos, pizzas. and mac-n-cheese.
  • Tajin, a chili powder with a hint of lime, is growing quickly, up 40% on menus, ahead of all other spices and condiments.
  • Furikake, a Japanese seaweed seasoning, is growing in popularity.
  • Mango-habanero flavors, a sweet and spicy combo, a menu trend preparing to explode.
  • Wellness and functionality with consumers looking for the healing properties of turmeric
  • Hot honey popularity is heating up, literally and in menu mentions.
  • Gochujang, a fermented Korean red chili paste, continues to grow as seen on menu offerings.
  • Mapo Tofu, a spicy, saucy Chinese dish, is up 88%.


Additional Menu Trends to Watch

Increase in comfort food offerings: 57% of consumers are interested in seeing more creative comfort food. What constitutes comfort food varies by age, with older customers thinking of mac-n-cheese or meatloaf, while younger guests often think of guacamole, ramen, or grain bowls.


ramen bowl
Ramen: a comfort food


Low-Waste Foods: 46% of consumers (and 63% of Millennials) are interested in a zero-waste restaurant. Food waste is a bigger concern (72%) than single-use plastic waste (68%)

Extreme Burgers & Sandwiches: create outrageous crave-ability. 67% of consumers said the ability to customize their burger is important. 64% say high-quality French fries are important.  56% of millennial consumers find avocado extremely or very appealing on a burger. (Datassential, 2021) Fastest growing ingredients paired with a burger: peas, nuts, baked potato, crab cakes, meatballs, bell peppers, Havarti cheese, Russian dressing, zucchini, potato wedge, baked beans, crab (Technomic, Inc., Ignite, 2021)

TikTok-able Dishes: with over 100 million active users in the U.S., dishes should be over-the-top in terms of ingredients and presentation.


With rising costs, supply chain issues, and an extreme staffing shortage, many chains and independent restaurant operators plan to keep their menus streamlined into 2022. To stay competitive in this ever-changing industry, operators need to be innovative, committed and resilient. Need help as you think ahead to 2022? Reach out to Synergy today.