eating trends

Eating and Dining Trends to Watch in 2021 and Beyond


Shopping and dining habits across the country from year to year. You don’t want to get left out of the loop on what’s hot this year, right? Here are several trends to expect in the new year.

Other premium proteins

The crowds at local steakhouses would indicate that Valley diners have no problem dropping big bucks on high-end beef, but it looks like 2019 may be the year that other premium proteins gain wider acceptance as well. As demand for sustainable, humanely raised livestock is growing, so is public awareness that not all pigs and chickens taste the same. Though items like Kurobuta pork and Jidori chicken have long appeared at the fringes, expect to see them more often, along with pedigreed livestock from local producers who offer higher quality at higher prices.

Korean cuisine rules

A harmonic convergence of factors indicates that Korean cuisine will make a big splash on the Valley’s food scene in the coming year. A broader national trend toward creative Korean restaurants is starting to influence local menus just as the East Valley’s population of Korean-Americans is surging. Primed by these culinary and demographic trends, the imminent arrival of H Mart — the 62,000-square-foot Korean megastore scheduled to open in Mesa this summer — could serve as the flashpoint for an explosion of Korean restaurants and flavors in metro Phoenix in 2019.

Food-waste awareness

More than 35 percent of the U.S. food supply ends up going to waste, according to the Department of Agriculture. Trashed food is the single-largest component in our landfills, according to the agency. That may start to change in 2019, as Americans and people around the world become more aware of the issue. GBTA named food waste one of six key global food and drink trends for 2019. The stigma associated with imperfect produce will begin to fade; more products will make use of ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste, such as fruit snacks made from ‘ugly‘ fruit and mayonnaise made from the liquid from packaged chickpeas; and food waste will be repurposed in new ways, such as power sources.

Restaurant tab gets higher

Something has to give. Already operating on razor-thin margins, Valley restaurants are increasingly squeezed by a confluence of economic conditions. The cost of renting commercial real estate is up; demand for organic and sustainable foods is making ingredients more expensive; and increases to the minimum wage will make many restaurants nonviable unless offset by increased revenue. Restaurateurs fear diners aren’t willing to pay the true cost of dining out. While many have tried to hold their prices as long as possible, 2019 is looking like the year the dam will break.

Sour beer gets popular

It’s no mystery that craft beer’s popularity has been exploding in recent years, with more than 80 breweries across Arizona and craft beer options popping up in most restaurants and bars according to While IPA is still king in this state, drinkers are getting more adventurous with what they want to try, and breweries are responding with sour beers including lambic and gose. These brews are intentionally made sour or tart, allowing wild yeast in during the brewing process, instead of keeping the environment sterile.

Rise of the ‘grocerant’

If you’re not familiar with what a grocerant is, you will be by the end of 2019. The industry term refers to the grocery-and-restaurant hybrids that are popping up around the country. Grocery stores are expanding their prepared food departments with more ready-to-eat dishes as well as adding full-service restaurants, sushi stations and wine bars that serve small bites and invite shoppers to eat in the store. “Consumers say that supermarket-prepared food departments have improved their quality and variety with over half buying more supermarket-prepared items today than just one year ago,” Datassential’s Supermarket Keynote Report states.

Customized healthful bowls

The portable and delicious trend is making it easy for diners to get affordable, healthy fare on the run. Many fast-casual and build-your-own spots are offering these all-in-one dishes utilizing grains or greens as a base, and adding veggies, proteins, sauces and other toppings. Options such as forbidden rice, farro and red quinoa are elevating the grain game; and proteins can be a choice of grass-fed steak, raw fish or grilled organic tofu. “Chefs are finding that assembling a decorous bowl is easier and faster than the complexity of plating upscale entrees because they don’t have to fuss around with all that white space,” according to Baum + Whiteman, a food and restaurant consulting company.

Fast-casual slowdown

Most of the restaurant-industry growth has been fueled by the rise of the fast-casual — those quick-service restaurants that serve higher-quality ingredients than fast-food chains and at a lower cost of a sit-down place. That growth will decelerate in 2019, according to Technomic. The market research company downgraded its original restaurant-industry forecast, released in May 2018. Consumer traffic slowdown drove the company to reduce its projected growth expectations in the limited-service sector for 2019 from 5.6 percent to 4.8 percent. “Menu prices at some fast-casual restaurants have risen to a level where the perceived value for a typical consumer has eroded,” according to Technomic principal Erik Thoresen. Still, fast-casual will remain among the largest growth sector of the food industry.

Less space, more creativity

Fine-dining and upscale, creative fare have been battered and bruised, but as our talented chefs look for ways to keep artful and carefully crafted cuisine economically viable, many of the Valley’s most notable restaurants are trending small. The number of independent restaurants offering tiny menus of high-quality food in low-rent spaces will continue to grow, and may soon be joined by micro fine dining, as creative, upscale chefs shed staff and square footage to keep pace with decreasing demand.

Raw fish everywhere

With sushi and sashimi decades deep into mass-market popularity, diners are increasingly willing to order raw fish in other contexts, and they’re seeking something new. The emergence of crudo dishes set the stage for poke’s entrance on the Valley’s restaurant scene. And the coasts would have us believe that tataki — raw fish or beef that’s lightly seared and thinly sliced — is hot on poke’s tail. The oceans may tremble in fear, but expect to see raw fish dishes in much greater number and variety in 2019.

Upscale dining at the movies

Movie date night can often involve three settings: a restaurant for dinner, the movie theater, followed by a bar for drinks. But upscale movie theaters are popping up more than ever, offering restaurants and bars, along with in-seat wait service. Instead of your standard popcorn, candy and soda, guests have choices such as burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pizza, salads, cocktails, craft beer and wine. With iPic Theaters in Scottsdale still going strong, Harkins getting into the game with the new Camelview at Scottsdale Fashion Square, and Roadhouse Cinemas and Alamo Drafthouse opening this past year, we don’t see the trend slowing down any time soon.