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Consumer Trends

Grubhub and DoorDash reveal the top delivery trends of 2021

Data from the third-party companies provides a snapshot of what consumers ordered from restaurants in the last year—and what fell from favor.
Photo illustration by RB Staff

Restaurant delivery spiked during the pandemic, and despite the return of dine-in business, it continues to be strong. A midyear figure from NPD Crest, its foodservice market research arm, reported that online orders for delivery grew by 142% year over year and accounted for 38% of total restaurant digital orders.

After a year of COVID restrictions, that figure is not a big surprise to most industry folks. But what may be more surprising is what people actually order for delivery. It ranges from all kinds of french fries to chips and salsa, sundaes and chicken salad, according to year-end wrap-ups from third-party delivery companies Grubhub and DoorDash.    

Fries would not seem like a very travel-friendly food, but DoorDash data shows that orders of classic fries increased by 130% year over year and waffle fries by 178%.

But an edgier fry flavor profile—cilantro lime fries—topped the category, up a whopping 341%.

Grubhub orders included a lot of plant-based burgers, with the Impossible Cheeseburger leading the trend, coming in as the top order of 2021. But beefy bacon cheeseburgers hit it big too, with one customer ordering 200 of them, making it the largest single item order of the year.

Customization remained a priority, as consumers figured out how to have it their way even if they weren’t verbalizing an order to a barista or server. Salads, pizza and ice cream received the most personalized treatment through DoorDash’s digital delivery orders:

With states relaxing their rules around selling alcohol to go, delivery of cocktails, wine and beer surged on the third-party platforms.

Grubhub reports that margaritas were 240% more popular than last year. Washington, D.C. partied hard, ringing up the highest percentage of alcohol delivery orders. Perhaps customers were pairing booze with chicken nuggets, as those were the most-ordered food in the nation’s capital.

Yet Grubhub cites Rhode Island as “the wildest state” with the greatest number of late-night orders. Their delivery bags might have been filled with chips and salsa, as that anytime snack rose 205% in popularity this year.

Mexican-inspired dishes were favorites across the board, with a shredded pork taco coming in at No. 2 behind the Impossible Cheeseburger. Houston favored cheese enchiladas, while L.A. went for lobster tacos.

Rectangular, crispy-edged Detroit-style pizza is gaining traction across the country, landing in the No. 4 spot on Grubhub’s list, but consumers also started gravitating toward lighter items, with apple-pecan chicken salad earning the No. 3 spot.

DoorDash found a similar healthy-indulgent conflict among consumers. There was lots of action around “familiar favorites with a twist,” with french fries again topping the category for that trend. Also on the delivery company’s Top 20 list were avocado egg rolls (No. 7), mac and cheese (No. 8) and red velvet cheesecake (No. 9).

One of the more unusual “twists” showed up in brown sugar tater tots (No. 18.)

But on the healthier side, items including acai bowls (No. 6), build-your-own salad (No. 12) and poke bowls (No. 20) came on strong. Soup dumplings, a particular favorite among New Yorkers, were No. 19.

Some of the top-scoring items in Grubhub’s midyear “State of the Plate” report took a nosedive. The Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich, up 327% year over year in June, lost traction, as did birria tacos, formerly increasing 500%. And bubble tea, up 505% six months ago and ranked No. 2, didn’t make the cut this time around.

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