Menu & Food Service Trends: Q2 2021


Technomic Research Team: Lizzy Freier, Jenna Carroll, Elexis Ruiz
Technomic | March 2021

There was no aspect of restaurant industry left untouched by COVID. We’ll take a look the industry’s top menu strategies through Technomic’s menu research. The strategies that rose to the top are; menu simplification, segment blurring and a focus on classic comfort foods.

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Menu Simplification

Unsurprisingly, operators eliminated SKUs and doubled down on core products as the year wore on. The simpler menu format allowed them to be more flexible, agile and efficient, both in the front and back of house, as well as reduce waste and promote physical distancing. Further, streamlining is projected to be a long-term trend based on historical data and current affairs.

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Segment Blurring Leads to New Selling Measures

Instead of rolling out a plethora of new dishes that required purchasing new ingredients, operators focused on innovating the way they sold or bundled food and drink. Restaurants acted like retailers by selling grocery items, including eggs, wine bottles and milk cartons; meal kit companies by unveiling food, drink and cocktail kits paired with how-to-prep guides; and catering businesses by launching more family meal bundles.

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Comfort Food Classics

With so much uncertainty and change, operators gave consumers what they needed most—a sense of comfort. Fried chicken sandwiches continued their momentum throughout 2020. The chicken sandwich has toggled between a classic staple and a reimagined favorite with bolder sauces and crispier proteins. This year, with comfort being top of mind for consumers, crispy chicken sandwiches were found on more than 20 LSR operators’ menus.

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In line with the comfort theme, specialty doughnuts including a crispy doughnut with raspberry filling rolled into the shape of a rose, climbed to the fastest-growing dishes list accompanied by other unique takes on the classic doughnut. Four of the five fastest-growing dishes in Q2 over the past year were doughnut varietals; and among the most craveable items in Q2 and Q3 were a Korean Noodles Bowl, Bacon Mac and Cheese Burger and Impossible Cheese Steak.



Pandemic induced travel restrictions renewed interest in global flavors while simultaneously desiring comfort food classics. Without basic travel as a diversion consumers found excitement through trying new dishes and cuisines. Consumers traveled through their taste buds while staying safely at home.

Korean flavors grew on menus this year with gochujang and Korean barbecue sauces featured prominently on bowl entrees or as potential add-ons to entrees.

(Check out Kagome’s Korean BBQ!)

Base: 15,055 menu items across 227 operators with five-year historical menus in Q4 2019-Q4 2020
Source: Technomic Ignite menu data


First Watch Watermelon Wake-Up – Watermelon, pineapple, lime and mint

Purchase Intent

Fruity drinks and classic morning offerings were the most appealing breakfast options in 2020, while creamy indulgent dishes were likable desserts.


Operators generated buzz by adding dishes with diet-friendly ingredients, such as house-made vegan almond ricotta (Butternut Squash Pizza), gluten-free fare (Gluten Free Lemon Blueberry Souffle) or veggie “carbs” (cauliflower tortillas).


Seafood dishes had strong potential in 2020 to help operators gain incremental traffic, as exhibited by the above-average draw scores for these concepts. Pork dishes featuring unique barbecue sauces also provided an opportunity to help attract consumers.


Cheesy dishes in multiple applications (e.g., bowls, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, etc.) had strong potential to drive incremental sales. Consumers also deemed creamy coffee beverages as extremely craveable.


Edible oil prices have surged to an unprecedented levels. Kagome, along with the entire food industry continues to monitor the developments daily. Below are recent figures provided by

We will be updating our customers as we receive news of adjustments in the market.


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February restaurant sales continued to improve in spite of setbacks from winter storms that impacted sales in the early weeks of the month. Consumers and operators are hopeful as vaccines continue to roll out and business restrictions begin to relax. Since the beginning of the pandemic quick service has lead the industry due to the higher off-premise meals which became in high demand during COVID. Pizza from QSR brands with strong delivery services already in place were positioned to meet the growing consumer demand.

The chicken sandwich wars are heating up and helping to drive sales. According to the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot (RGSS) by Black Box Guest Intelligence guest affinity towards chicken and the popularity of chicken sandwiches came through clearly in on-line guest sentiment. Restaurants who have recently launched new or “improved” chicken sandwiches have enjoyed a surge in foot traffic following their recent entry into the chicken sandwich wars. These menu items were the second most-mentioned when guests rated positive food experiences at quick-service restaurants in the first two months of the year. Rounding off the top three in these restaurants we find fries, another staple of QSR menus. “Aside from any unforeseen events or severe weather in major parts of the country, we should see customer transaction declines improving in the months to come,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America in a press release. “The next several months will help us plot the course for the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery.” Many challenges are still ahead but operators are working to meet customer expectations. Consumers and operators are hopeful the industry has turned the corner and we can all move forward to rebuilding and recovery.

The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot (RGSS) is produced by data from Black Box Guest Intelligence™. Guest Intelligence is tracking over 190 brands to benchmark customer satisfaction and is the only on-line tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate the impact on financial performance. The data set focuses on six key attributes of the restaurant industry experience: food, service, ambiance, beverage, value and intent to return.


Adapt products to various day-parts, meal-parts, menu categories and ordering options (e.g., dine-in, takeout, delivery, etc.).

Menu streamlining will be a necessity for operators amid and after the pandemic as well as sticking around as a long-term trend. Multiple applications increase efficiency on several fronts, from labor to storage to spend.

Off-premise menu preparations need to be a consideration when formulating menu items.

Given the uptick in grab-and-go, takeout and delivery services, this will be a long-term trend that operators need to jump on board with.

Macro menu trends need to remain a consideration for your pipelines, as they continue to see growth, even through the pandemic.

Trends including plant-based preparations, innovative global flavors and unique comfort foods continue to grow on menus, proving that these macro trends will continue in 2021 and beyond.

Spotlight brand names in LTOs.

In the U.S. 37% of Best-in-Class LTOs had brand mentions, proving that consumers are especially likely to find brand names in menu item titles or descriptions very appealing.

Highlight quality of ingredients in concept descriptions.

Terms may include USDA-certified, fresh, real or organic, all of which are in Best-in-Class LTO descriptors in 2020.

Describe preparation styles that elicit mouthwatering reactions to garner above-average scores for concept descriptions.

Terms such as melted, perfectly chilled, hand-battered and hand-pulled appear in Best-in-Class item.

If you would like help translating these trends to your menu, schedule an appointment with our culinary experts today!


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