These Top 10 restaurant trends are what’s hot in 2020

Wondering what customers are craving at restaurants this year? If you guessed these edgy updates along with plant-based proteins, healthy bowl meals and delivery-friendly menu options in eco-friendly packaging, you’re on trend for 2020.

“These trends reflect Americans’ desire to combine the tried-and-true with the new and different,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research. “This mix of comfort and edginess is a microcosm of the world we live in. Consumers want something different, but to keep what satisfies them at the same time. More than 1 million restaurants around the country stand ready to meet those wants and needs.”

The National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2020 culinary survey asked more than 600 professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation what they anticipate will be the big trends this year. Given a list of 133 items in 12 categories identified in partnership with Technomic Inc. the professionals were asked to rate how hot they thought each would be on a scale from sizzling hot to steaming, simmering and just room temperature. 

In addition to the overall ranking, the report drills down to identify the top trends by category, in new menu items, flavors, grain/pastas/substitutes, produce, protein, condiments, desserts/sweets, global/ethnic cuisines, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, culinary innovations, restaurant concepts, and off-premises dining.

Here are the Top 10 trends customers will crave:

Ecofriendly Packaging

1. Eco-friendly packaging

Protecting the environment is top of mind – in a big way. Chefs expect diners will look to restaurateurs to reduce use of packaging that can’t be recycled or composted, and use more environmentally responsible alternatives.


2. Plant-based proteins

Plant-based proteins are hot. American diners appear to be increasingly hungry for alternatives that taste great, mimic meats and fit a variety of diets. Fullservice, quickservice and fast-casual restaurants have begun serving plant-based options to a point where it’s getting hard for suppliers to keep up. The items continue to make inroads at fine-dining and onsite foodservice operations, too.

Food Delivery

3. Delivery-friendly items

Looking at takeout, delivery, drive-thru, curbside pickup and food truck vending, off-premises dining is projected to account for more than 60% of restaurant traffic this year. As time-pressed consumers spend more time on the road and at work, prepare to satisfy busy diners with easy-to-eat, on-the-go meals that maintain quality in transit.

Healthy Bowls

4. Healthy bowls

Bowl options for all dayparts may pop up on more menus in 2020. Combining lean proteins — including poultry, eggs and fish — with leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, root veggies and whole grains, for example, could result in a meal that is filling, skews healthful, and can command a good profit margin.


5. Scratchmade foods

Freshly made, not prepared or processed, is what chefs say consumers want. Guests are looking for more menu items that are hand-made, stirred, blended and chopped. If you are butchering meats in-house, baking fresh bread, making homemade pasta and cooking up your own reductions, sauces and gravies, you are on track.


6. Creativity with catering

Consumers are seeking great experiences and food in an imaginative way that reflects their personalities and lifestyles.


7. Revamped classic cocktails

Yep, rejiggered Manhattans are popular no matter what city you’re in, as are margaritas, whiskey sours, and martinis. In 2020, your bar can be “old-fashioned” in a good way. Other high-ranking beverages in the survey include alcoholic seltzers and mescal. Among nonalcoholic beverages, kombucha, agua frescas and oat milk were tops.


8. Foods promoting stress relief

Whole grains, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, avocados, nuts and bananas are among the foods customers will turn to to relieve stress, says Maggie S. Gentile, MS, RD, LD, vice president of food and nutrition policy for Food Directions LLC.

Specialty Burgers

9. Specialty burger blends

It could be a mix of beef and pork, a combination of short-rib and chuck, or mushrooms mixed with beef. Whatever the choice, customers are searching for new flavors and dietary profiles in innovative burger blends.


10. Unique beef and pork cuts

Unique cuts will add sizzle to menus. What are some options? Pork belly, pork skirt steak and pork rib roast are a few. On the beef side, specialty cuts such as hanger, Vegas strip, and oyster steaks are sizzling.

Find out What’s Hot in 2020. Download a copy of our report