Five Biggest Changes Coming to Restaurants in 2021

Yelp has culled through the over 21 million new reviews in 2020 and put together a trend forecast highlighting what’s shaping the restaurant industry.

Throughout 2020 and right into the New Year, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted people’s lives around the world. The pandemic has especially affected how and what people eat. Restaurants have especially felt the effects as social distancing policies has seen dine-in numbers dropping globally.

Popular app, Yelp, which offers user reviews and recommendations of restaurants, shopping, nightlife, food, entertainment, things to do, has culled through the over 21 million new reviews in 2020 and put together a trend forecast highlighting what’s shaping the restaurant industry.

According to Yelp: “Despite facing the pressure to stay open and operational, restaurants are going above and beyond the new normal by creatively rethinking operations including their seating arrangements and menu offerings,” writes Yelp, adding that, “In the year ahead, we expect that restaurants will continue to inspire us with their ability to adapt to the current environment without missing a beat.”

For the 2021 trend report, Yelp’s data science team used its review data to find words and phrases that were rising the most significantly between 2019 and 2020 in an effort to predict what Yelpers will be looking for and writing about in 2021.

Digital Dining and Restaurant Technology 

2020 saw restaurants embrace new technologies to serve customers safely and adapt to new customer expectations, said Yelp, noting that, “Digital dining is here to stay and we foresee new technologies enhancing the customer experience next year, like contactless pickup, to inform customers about COVID-19 health and safety measures. 


According to Yelp, “restaurants thought outside of the box this year in many ways, including adapting their pantries into mini-grocery stores. 

Yelp predicts this will continue to create unconventional takeout opportunities, letting customers “shop” for essentials like toilet paper and wine. 

Yelp said that mentions of ‘grocery stores’ in restaurant reviews rose 22%.

New Takes on Takeout 

With dine-in options being limited for much of the past year, consumers took #TakeoutTuesday to the next level and spiced things up with Indian and Thai food.

According to Yelp,  interest in Thai food was up 15%; and while overall interest in both delivery and takeout surged, takeout’s growth from a year earlier in search interest was 71% greater than delivery.

They added that “turmeric cocktails and drinks were a popular add-on for those looking to upgrade their takeout game.” 

Meal Kits and Catering To-Go 

Yelp said that the rate of review mentions of meal kits was up 60x last year.

With social distancing policies restricting traditional dining, restaurants “re-invented the takeout game and moved to offer meal kits and catering to-go for customers,” says Yelp, adding that meal kits, “whether they’re heat-and-eat or creative specials, offer a fun alternative to typical takeout fare while supporting favorite local businesses.”


Yelp research found that mentions of gratitude and thankfulness in reviews peaked in April as “many took a minute to express gratitude at the businesses that kept us fed amid this year of uncertainty.”

The rate of mention of words of gratitude within reviews was up 32%, and the average rating among Elite users rose to 4.12 stars this year said Yelp. 

In 2021, Yelp said it expects Yelpers to continue to show their appreciation for the restaurant industry.

You can read the entire Yelp 2021 Trend Forecast on their blog here.

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