Grubhub's State of the Plate documents the top food trends of 2021

Food Trends 2021: What diners are ordering online this year

Plant-based takes on classics, spicy southern flavor, and thirst-quenching alcoholic beverages are big hits in 2021 based on Grubhub’s mid-year State of the Plate report. As restaurants continue to reopen and customers are returning to in-person dining, it’s more important than ever that restaurateurs capture these popular food trends in their menus.

Adding trendy foods to your menu will allow you to capture customers’ favorite flavors and position your restaurant as a frontrunner as the seasons change. The team at Grubhub looked at thousands of daily orders to see what exactly diners are ordering and how these ordering habits have increased since 2020.

What are the popular food trends of 2021?

Here’s a breakdown of the dishes that have shaped 2021 thus far and a look into what we can expect to see more of in the second half of the year:

Vegan and plant-based dishes are growing

Eating veggies doesn’t have to be grueling when chefs put a plant-based take on classics. More and more diners are looking for ways to incorporate healthy eating and prioritize meat-free diets with plant-based alternatives. 

Wondering how you can tap into this growing food trend? Consider adding a plant-based spin on your menu staples to reach vegan and health-conscious customers. 

The plant-based sausage wrap is the trendy food dish of 2021, growing in popularity by a staggering 549% since last year. Here are the top five plant-based dishes that are sprouting in 2021:

  1. Plant-based sausage wrap: (+549%)
  2. Barbecue cauliflower wing: (+302%)
  3. Mushroom & tofu broth ramen: (+299%)
  4. Sauteed string bean + garlic: (+264%)
  5. Grilled vegetable hummus bowl: (+242%)

Learn how one restaurant owner is finding success with his plant-based menu

Founder and Director Adam Weiss is on a bold mission to grow Honeybee Burger as the nation’s first plant-based fast-food burger chain.

Honeybee Burger takes a vegan twist on fast-food classics. Their burgers are crafted with Beyond or Impossible plant-based “meat” and topped with house-made onion jam, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. Honeybee Burger also serves a plant-based take on a chicken sandwich, breakfast sandwich, and a breakfast burrito that keeps customers drooling for more.

With these unique plant-based takes on fast-food classics, Honeybee Burger has established themselves as a neighborhood staple while showing diners a vegan menu can be irresistibly mouthwatering. Learn more about Honeybee Burger’s story and how they use Grubhub to maximize their business.

Nashville hot chicken sandwiches are all the rage

You don’t need to be located in the heart of Tennessee to throw this spicy fan favorite on your menu. The Nashville hot chicken sandwich saw a 327% increase in popularity this year.

Learn how one restaurateur is tapping into the Nashville hot chicken food trend with a virtual restaurant

Chef Hillary Sterling has brought the fire of Nashville hot chicken to New York City with her virtual restaurant Cayenne. 

Cayenne is known for its signature to take on the Nashville hot chicken sandwich and its staple southern sides. Their Chicken n’ Fixin plates and spicy cornbread and fries have fed the cravings of diners all across the city.

Chef Sterling saw a need for southern comfort up East but didn’t want to undertake to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead, she was able to craft a delivery-only restaurant and list it on Grubhub Marketplace to bring Nashville’s hot flavor directly to the homes of hungry diners.

Learn more about how Cayenne captured popular food trends in 2021 by opening a virtual restaurant.

Southern-inspired side dishes reign supreme

Diners are craving southern flavor in smaller dishes as well. Southern-inspired recipes have proven to be a fan favorite for side dishes this year. Here are the top five side dishes in 2021:

  1. Cajun fries: (+630%)
  2. Red beans and rice: (+612%)
  3. Corn chowder (+603%)
  4. Jalapeno bites: (+465%)
  5. Biscuits and gravy: (+368%)

Wondering how you can capture this trend in your delivery and takeout sales? Take a look at your side dish menu options and see if there are opportunities to add new side dishes relevant to your menu and cuisine type. Incorporating side dishes is a great way to increase your average order size.

Alcoholic beverage orders are on the rise

The pandemic has allowed more restaurants across the country to deliver alcoholic beverages to customers. Diners have jumped on board with this concept, selecting top orders ranging from light beer, tropical cocktails, and a brunch favorite. Here are the top ten trending alcohol orders:

  1. Dutch lager 
  2. Hot sake 
  3. Japanese beer 
  4. Hibiscus margarita 
  5. Blood orange margarita 
  6. Aperol spritz 
  7. Hard seltzer 
  8. Peach Paloma 
  9. Pina colada 
  10. Mimosa

Did you know you can sell alcoholic beverages on Grubhub?

Restaurants who join Grubhub in select markets can add alcohol to their delivery and takeout menu. Listing alcohol options on your menu can increase the average order value by $14-$15, and restaurants that have these options can see 8% of orders containing an alcohol menu item.

Alcohol delivery is only available in certain markets so you should speak with a Grubhub representative first to learn if this opportunity is available to you!

Hungry diners are ordering breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks

There’s no quiet ordering time for hungry diners, which means there are endless opportunities to capture new sales. Here are the top five dishes diners are ordering throughout the day:

Breakfast drinks are on the rise:

  1. Mocha iced coffee: (+351%) 
  2. Chorizo breakfast burrito: (+318%) 
  3. Acai bowl: (+297%) 
  4. Mango pineapple smoothie: (+207%) 
  5. Shrimp & grits: (+178%)

Lunch diners are craving chicken:

  1. Thai chicken salad: (+324%) 
  2. Chicken pot pie soup: (+278%) 
  3. Chicken pesto sandwich: (+261%) 
  4. Strawberry poppyseed salad and chicken: (+202%) 
  5. Caribbean jerk chicken wrap: (+198%)

Dinner customers are choosing Indian-inspired dishes:

  1. Vegetable samosa: (+260%) 
  2. Hawaiian teriyaki chicken skewers: (+247%) 
  3. Eel avocado roll: (+244%) 
  4. Tandoori chicken: (+220%) 
  5. Seaweed salad: (+215%)

Late-night diners are looking for a comfort food fix:

  1. Pizza puff: (+294%) 
  2. Strawberry cheesecake: (+269%) 
  3. Buffalo chicken pizza: (+244%) 
  4. Buffalo wings: (+234%) 
  5. Hot fudge sundae: (+209%)

Capturing customers’ cravings throughout the day takes strategy. 

Look into your menu to see if there is an opportunity to cross-utilize ingredients and offer delivery and takeout options that target different meal times. 

If you are looking for a way to balance the flow of customer demand, consider opening a virtual restaurant that is specifically designed for popular meal times. Read more about the virtual restaurant possibilities and how you can incorporate this into your business.

What is the next food trend?

Getting ahead of the next food trends can help your restaurant predict customers’ ordering patterns and maximize potential revenue. The weather tends to affect diners’ eating habits, so looking into which orders rose the most this past winter and spring can give insight into what diners are looking for.

Here’s what Grubhub is expecting according to our recent State of the Plate report.

Top Food Trends: Winter

  1. Short rib rigatoni: (+270%) 
  2. Corned beef and cabbage: (+219%) 
  3. Butternut squash soup: (+154%) 
  4. Grilled chicken avocado sandwich: (+131%) 
  5. Chicken dum biryani: (+124%)

Top Food Trends: Spring

  1. Margherita pizza: (+283%) 
  2. Strawberry lemonade freeze: (+210%) 
  3. Peanut butter sundae: (+194%) 
  4. Spicy chicken sandwich: (+165%) 
  5. Chicken bacon ranch melt” (+154%)

Here are the dishes predicted to have high demand in the summer and fall:

Forecasts: Summer (in ranking order):

  1. Loaded chicken nachos 
  2. Barbecue pork quesadilla 
  3. Watermelon slushy 
  4. Strawberry shortcake sundae 
  5. Heirloom tomato salad

Fall Forecast (in ranking order):

  1. Vegan mapo tofu 
  2. Truffle mushroom swiss burger 
  3. Raspberry cheesecake 
  4. Cookie & cream milkshake 
  5. Pumpkin cupcake

Takeout and delivery is booming in 2021

Capitalizing on the biggest food trends in 2021 also means finding the right avenue to reach customers- and that’s where Grubhub comes in. Grubhub can help you reach new hungry customers eager to order from local restaurants (just like yours!).

Tap into takeout and delivery to bring these trends to diners by signing up with Grubhub for Restaurants.