These days, the restaurant scene is constantly adapting to the ever-changing tides of technology, societal values, and consumer preferences. According to Grubhub’s Food Trends report, one trend stood out prominently on restaurant menus in 2023: the surge of vegan food alternatives. 

As consumers increasingly prioritize health, environmental impact, and palate satisfaction, restaurants are strategically incorporating plant-based options into their offerings. In fact, recent data indicates a substantial shift towards plant-based dining, with the United States vegan food market projected to experience a staggering 40-percent growth, reaching $21 billion by 2026. 

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This burgeoning interest extends beyond traditional vegan and vegetarian demographics, appealing to a broader audience with lactose sensitivities, allergies, and sustainability concerns. Surveys show that approximately 40 percent of consumers plan to indulge in plant-based meat substitutes.

Top plant-based restaurant food

Grubhub says restaurant operators can capitalize on this trend by introducing a variety of plant-based alternatives. From vegan burgers to realistic plant-based pork, beef, and chicken from renowned brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the vegan menu should be enticing. Plant-based cheese and dairy-free sorbets and ice creams further enrich the options, providing a diverse and inclusive dining experience.

Meatless meat has been a consistent top trend over the last few years. In 2021, the top order was Impossible cheeseburgers, and in 2020, the popularity of meat alternatives on Grubhub spiked by 463 percent.

Grubhub says sustainability also remains a focal point in the culinary world. With 38 percent of consumers expressing a preference for restaurants that source food locally and 70 percent of millennials willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, operators are embracing environmentally friendly practices. From cultivated meat to low-waste inventory methods, restaurants are integrating sustainable measures into their operations.

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As restaurants returned to pre-pandemic dining norms, 2023 brought a wave of immersive dining experiences. From meals served in unconventional locations such as underwater restaurants to pre-dinner cooking classes and farm-to-table experiences at actual farms, consumers are seeking not just a meal but a memorable encounter.

In response to rising inflation and a tense political climate, restaurants are also witnessing a demand for modernized comfort food to relieve the stress of today’s world. Restaurants are rising to the challenge by providing modern takes on classic comfort food like mac and cheese. This food trend isn’t going anywhere; 65 percent of restaurant operators expect it to continue.

Flavor tourism is on the rise, with diners eager to explore international cuisines without leaving their hometowns. From spicing up existing dishes with global flavors to incorporating trending world topics like the Olympic Games into special menu items, restaurants are broadening their culinary horizons.

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Additionally, digitalization continues to shape the restaurant landscape, with consumers seeking convenient, efficient digital experiences. Ninety percent of customers research a restaurant online before visiting, and 45 percent of diners have tried a restaurant because they saw it on social media. 

This means a robust online presence, current Google Business profiles, social media engagement, QR code menus, and online ordering platforms for takeout and delivery are becoming essential components for success.

Vegan eggs and milk are top trends

In the realm of ingredients, viral trends are shaping culinary creations. Vegan eggs are among the top ingredients capturing the attention of food lovers. Restaurants are embracing vegan eggs as part of the trend toward vegan alternatives. Using ingredients such as chia seeds, tofu, and vegan yogurt, these egg substitutes mimic the look, texture, and taste of conventional eggs. Grubhub says by incorporating this trend, restaurants are not only meeting customer expectations but also contributing to the local food movement.

The beverage landscape is also undergoing transformations, with zero-proof spirits gaining popularity. As consumers cut back on alcohol consumption, the demand for beautifully presented non-alcoholic drinks is on the rise. Tequila emerged as the beverage of choice in 2023, with premium varieties gaining traction.

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Alternative milk options, including oat, almond, coconut, soy, and cashew milk, are becoming staples in restaurants, catering to various dietary preferences. Botanical ingredients, such as fresh herbs, edible flowers, berries, and nut oils, are adding a fresh profile to both food and beverages.

As the culinary landscape evolves, restaurant owners embracing these trends are not just satisfying hunger; they are crafting experiences that align with the changing preferences and values of their diverse customer base. In this culinary journey of 2024, vegan options, sustainability, immersive experiences, and nostalgic comforts are expected to continue to take center stage.

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