What 2021 is bringing to our dinner tables

As cafes and restaurants recover from the past year and begin to steady themselves, members of the F&B fraternity weigh in on the dining trends which are expected to rise in 2021.

The New Year has brought with it a lot of hope as individuals and industries are starting to shake off the trauma of 2020. The food and beverages segment, one of the worst-hit by the pandemic, is pinning its hopes to people being able to jump back on the eating out wagon, especially with the promise of a vaccine around the corner. However, even as 2021 is likely to bring opportunities to make up for what diners missed out on in the past year, certain trends from 2020 are expected to continue.


One of the biggest trends that everyone sees gaining predominance in the post-Covid era is a greater consciousness about eating healthy and dining sustainably. With the pandemic causing everyone on the planet to fear for their lives, diners are now doubly conscious about the nutritional value of what they consume. Like many others, Sagar Bajaj, Culinary Head at First Fiddle Restaurants, predicts that immunity-boosting and nutritionally rich products and ingredients will be the rage. Head Chef at Molecule, Anas Qureshi, echoes this statement when he says, “A more proactive desire to influence health and wellness through foods and beverages will create new opportunities for nutrient-dense products with functional health benefits aimed at supporting the immune system, sustaining energy levels and enhancing mood.”

Nisha Agarwal, co-founder of Oishii Wok, explains, “Last year, menu trends embraced plant-based dishes, bioactive ingredients like mushrooms and probiotic-rich fermented foods. With the pandemic still present in our communities, we can expect a rise in such menus which focus on “food as wellness”.” According to her, whole grains, legumes, seeds, immunity-boosting ingredients high in vitamins C and E and zinc, and “superfoods” like broccoli, avocado and turmeric will continue to be in high demand.

Besides updating menus to stay “in tune with the immune”, brands and restaurants will have to put greater focus on transparency, especially regarding ethical and clean ingredient sourcing, says Chef Amit Singh of Ophelia. The trends of sustainable use of ingredients as well as waste-free cooking and proper disposal of bio-waste will also grow, as per Kampai’s Avantika Sinha Bahl, as diners pay more attention to the state of the planet along with their own health.


Besides what they eat, diners are also expected to be more conscious of how they eat in 2021. Bahl sees the habits of distanced dining and dining at home continuing until the threat of the highly contagious novel coronavirus subsides. “One cannot forget the new norm of reduced human interaction due to safety. Buffets and sharing platters may take a back seat, while pouring your own wine, serving your own food, maintaining distance between tables and so on will continue,” she says.

For those still apprehensive about stepping out, the home will continue to be the best place to enjoy fresh meals. Besides a surge in deliveries, 2020 also saw people warm up to cloud kitchens and DIY meal kits. “Customers now appreciate interesting experiences at home. Brands will need to restrategize and continue innovating in this area,” says Bahl. To provide customers with creative dining experiences at home, à la carte menus with great varieties and techniques will have to be crafted, according to Chef Qureshi. “Unique packaging trends will also emerge as pivotal players to break the monotony of ordering in food,” adds CEO and co-founder of Daryaganj, Amit Bagga. “Ultimately, a restaurant dine-in experience is a blend of what our five senses experience. Hence, an experience that creates the same at home will be the winner,” he says.


To cut through the banality of a work-from-home lifestyle and daily roti-sabzi meals, people are also turning to a more diverse mix of flavours and cuisines on their plates. While regional Indian cuisines have emerged stronger than ever thanks to specialised cloud kitchens and innovative restaurant menus, the trends of using international ingredients to create Indian dishes or Indian spices in international favourites have brought a new wave of “glocal” foods. “This trend, not just within the culinary boundaries of India, but overseas as well, is a result of diners becoming more adventurous. The newer generation is ready to experiment in order to find newer and finer flavours, and kitchens and bars are making some very innovative dishes,” says Zorawar Kalra whose enterprises like Farzi Café are known for fusion treats like Dal Chawal Arancini with Avocado Achaar. Sagar Bajaj also speaks along the same lines. “One can expect a lot of fusion foods from across countries, but with a blend of local ingredients and tastes,” he says.

Despite the pursuit of the global, ‘local’, ‘regional’ and ‘seasonal’ foods will continue to be buzzwords in dining and cooking this year. Kalra predicts that the farm-to-table concept will be on the rise, while Bajaj says that the current situation calls for more local produce which is healthier, cheaper and safer.

Retaining traditional elements even as palates grow to be more influenced by international trends is also what gives food its unique language, remarks Vikrant Batra, owner of Café Delhi Heights. “We are a country of strong regional preferences, despite a widening palate. Indians have historically valued pure, freshly cooked and homemade meals cooked from scratch, even if they are frequently experimenting,” says Batra.


While being stuck at home has called for greater innovation to make things interesting, the stress and anxieties brought by the world reeling under a pandemic has also led people back to the basics and take comfort in familiar flavours.

“Comfort food will have a major part to play in 2021. People will focus more on nostalgic flavours, not-so-complex recipes and heritage cooking,” says Chef Qureshi. Sagar Bajaj agrees with the sentiment when he says, “Our focus will return to comfort and simplicity. Home-style cooking which reflects our heritage and gives us a sense of normalcy will be looked forward to.”

Home-baking, which emerged as a very popular and productive activity during the 2020 lockdown, will also continue to bring people joy, although Chef Amit Kumar of L’Opera expects people to replace ingredients with lighter and sugar-free alternatives to stay on the right side of the scale without making compromises on taste.

However, the joys of tucking into some hot and sugary gulab jamuns on a cold day or a big greasy burger after a tiring week of work cannot be cancelled completely just yet. And the online streaming boom has only added to the experience of enjoying comfort food, as Harangad Singh, founder of the cloud kitchen Parat, indicates. “While people are expected to prioritise more quality ingredients, comfort food delivery will trend more than ever now as OTT platforms will bring you closer to it,” he says. And with the constant and added stress of eating right and fighting a deadly virus, is it too much to ask for an indulgent cheat day or two?