Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some families are able to spend more time together and gather for daily meals. While people are cooking more during quarantine, they also often turn to takeout for a convenient, stress-free, and delicious way to feed their families. By catering to COVID-19 food trends, restaurants have been able to reach their guests while at home. 

The pandemic has not only transformed where consumers eat, but what they are craving. Below are eight COVID-19 dinner trends that every restaurant should pay attention to in 2021 and beyond.

1. Create meal kits to simplify at-home cooking

As parents continue to juggle remote work, kids’ virtual school, cooking fatigue, and the many other stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants can attract customers by simplifying meal-time decisions and food preparation with meal kits. 

Meal kits, which allow people to make restaurant-quality dishes at home, have become a popular addition to restaurant menus during the pandemic. This COVID-19 dinner trend helps to minimize time spent grocery shopping and tedious chopping for busy families and individuals. 

Meal kits are offered in a variety of formats — from a box of prepped ingredients and a recipe to follow, to frozen, pre-cooked dishes that guests heat up and serve at home, or perhaps a partially cooked dish (like a pre-assembled pizza) that customers can finish baking in their home ovens. 

Restaurants across the country are picking up on this COVID-19 dinner trend. In Philadelphia, Pizzeria Vetri ran a promotion with DIY pizza meal kits for families. In Los Angeles, The Brothers Sushi added DIY sushi kits to their menu — including an option for kids. San Francisco’s Che Fico now offers several Take & Bake options from ravioli to fruit pie.

2. Provide family-friendly bundles of menu items

Another way to offer convenience to customers at home is by bundling menu items. A recent study of COVID-19 dinner trends found that 42% of respondents said they’ve ordered a family meal bundle at least once during COVID-19. Bundles make it easy for people to place dinner orders for their families in one simple click. They also allow families to enjoy the same meal even when ordering takeout. Restaurant operators can create bundles featuring an entree or multiple entrees, while including sides and desserts to drive larger ticket sizes. 

Offer flexibility in your meal bundles so that customers can swap out sides and entrees to their preference. In the same COVID-19 dinner trends study, 40% of respondents said they hadn’t yet ordered a family meal bundle because they didn’t like all of the items included.

3. Offer healthy menu items that cater to COVID-19 food trends

Health and wellness has been a growing trend over the last decade. The International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food & Health Survey revealed that 54% of all consumers, and 63% of those 50+, care more about the healthfulness of their food and beverage choices in 2020 than they did in 2010. And in 2021, consumers who gained weight or were more sedentary during quarantine will want to reactivate a healthy lifestyle. 

Restaurants can take advantage of this COVID-19 food trend by updating menus to include healthy, nutritious ingredients — think ancient grains like quinoa and millet, leafy greens like kale and chard, fish with omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and mackerel, and antioxidant-rich berries like acai and blueberries. 

You can also offer smaller portions or adjust the cooking style of some of your less-than-healthy dishes — for example, instead of french fries, try offering a baked potato (not loaded!) as a side. Finally, consider catering to popular diets like paleo, keto, or Mediterranean diets, or options for dietary restrictions like gluten- or dairy-free. You can even create separate menu categories for these diets in your online delivery menu design to target health-conscious customers.

4. Highlight immunity-boosting ingredients

A recent study found that 57% of consumers report being more concerned about their immunity as a result of COVID-19. While it’s important to note that no vitamins or supplements have been proven to help prevent coronavirus, healthy diets full of certain nutrients including vitamin D, high-dose vitamin C, zinc and potassium, may help strengthen the immune system's ability to fight off viruses.

This has impacted COVID-19 food trends as consumers seek nutrient-rich dishes to boost their immunity. For example, vitamin C helps build up the immune system and is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections. Citrus fruits, kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables can add vitamin C to your menu. Spinach and broccoli both have vitamins and antioxidants that boost immune systems, especially when steamed or cooked as little as possible. Garlic, ginger, and turmeric not only add flavor but also have immune-boosting properties. Oysters are a unique delivery menu item that contain high amounts of zinc, which can strengthen immune systems. 

Gut health is also linked to a strong immune system. Probiotics have been known to balance the “good bacteria” in digestive systems and are found in yogurt as well as fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.

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5. Incorporate plant-based and vegan options

More and more people are choosing to reduce or eliminate meat and other animal products from their diet. As a result, plant-based protein has become mainstream, appearing in restaurants and grocery stores around the world. The same International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food & Health Survey found that 28% of Americans eat more proteins from plant sources vs. 2019. In addition, 24% eat more plant-based dairy, and 17% eat more plant-based meat alternatives.

The proliferation of alternative protein sources, from the major players like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, to new entrants like Down to Cook, give restaurant operators who want to keep up with COVID-19 food trends many options to creatively introduce plant-based proteins into their menus. Adapt your current meat-focused menu items or create new plant-based dishes featuring protein-rich foods like quinoa, tofu, seitan, tempeh, chickpeas and other beans, lentils, mushrooms, and nuts.

6. Offer comfort food with a healthy twist

During stressful, uncertain times, people turn to comfort food. A recent study revealed that two in three consumers are reverting to childhood food favorites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. That includes an uptick in such favorites as pizza, dumplings, hamburgers, ice cream, ramen, spaghetti and meatballs, and others.

But with today’s high foodie standards, COVID-19 food trends mean that not just any old casserole will do. Another COVID-19 dinner trends study found that people crave “top-notch” comfort food — think the best hamburger, the ultimate chips and salsa, or roast whole chicken that would make Julia Child proud. Restaurants can offer nostalgia while taking health-conscious habits into account by giving comfort foods a healthy twist — for example, swap out carbs for cauliflower in cauliflower mac and cheese and mashed cauliflower, replace spaghetti with zucchini noodles, or offer a vegetarian eggplant lasagna.

7. Ensure frictionless, safe ordering experiences

COVID-19 restaurant trends have accelerated the need for seamless and safe ordering experiences. Digitally savvy consumers expect website- and app-based options to place delivery and pickup orders from their favorite restaurants. Some restaurants today leverage QR codes for contactless ordering and bill paying. 

For pickup orders, restaurants should designate an area for customers to grab their pre-paid orders without having to wait in line or interact with staff. If possible, reserve a few parking spaces dedicated to curbside pickup so guests can quickly get in and out. Restaurants can get additional tips for curbside pickup and outdoor dining in our recent ebook. 

DoorDash’s powerful logistics technology will ensure a frictionless digital experience for all of your off-premise guests. Whether you want to offer delivery and pickup through DoorDash Marketplace, set up your own online ordering platform with Storefront, or use your own drivers to deliver DoorDash orders with Self-Delivery — DoorDash has the solution for you. 

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8. Drive restaurant sales with retail items that spice up home cooking

Selling retail products is a great way for restaurants to add a new revenue stream while building customer loyalty and brand awareness. Retail sales work for a wide range of budgets. Restaurant operators can start by simply adding pantry items or basic groceries like milk, eggs, and toilet paper to their menu. 

On the other end of the spectrum, operators are launching branded restaurant retail product lines as part of their COVID-19 restaurant trends. Got a secret sauce? Bottle it for guests to enjoy at home. You can also package spice rubs, pasta, baked goods, fancy cheeses, and salsas — allowing guests to stock their pantry and add tasty sophistication to their home cooking. 

You can add retail items to your online delivery menu, or consider selling them through a third-party to reach a wider audience. DoorDash recently launched DashMart, an online, on-demand convenience store that delivers household essentials and local restaurant retail items to consumers in select cities. 

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The best COVID-19 food trends advice? Listen to your customers 

These COVID-19 dinner trends will likely continue beyond the pandemic. While restaurant operators should not rush to overhaul their entire menus, being flexible and creative is key for these turbulent times. The most important thing for restaurants’ success today is to listen to customers, respond to their needs, and make it easy and convenient for them to enjoy your food at home. Get started with DoorDash Marketplace today to offer  your customers that convenience. 

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author-saradeforest
Sara DeForest
Copywriter

Sara DeForest is a Bay Area-based freelance copywriter. Previously, she was VP of Marketing at an early stage startup that was named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies. Prior to that, Sara was a content marketer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Though Silicon Valley is a roller coaster, Sara finds her real adrenaline rush doing standup comedy, and has performed at SF Sketchfest, 208 Comedy Fest, and (most often) seedy dive bars.