What Restaurant Dining Looks Like In 2024

The state of the restaurant menu, as explained by the New York Times.

We don't need The New York Times to tell us what "Girl Dinner" is, or whether you can determine someone's political party by the contents of their fridge. But sometimes the paper of record puts its resources toward something innovative and beautiful, such as its recent showcase of 121 restaurant menus and what those say about the current state of dining in America.


Priya Krishna, Tanya Sichynsky, and Umi Syam of the NYT explain that over the span of a year, they compiled these dozens of menus after visiting each restaurant, analyzing them not only as reflections of current dining trends, but also as artifacts in themselves. Font sizes, it seems, are trendily tiny these days, and mascots or other hand-drawn characters often adorn the cover of the menu. Overall, the menus also seem to be aiming for a more approachable vibe, with "cheesy fonts, wonky formatting, basic printer paper, [and] a slightly messier look."

So, how is that informality translated to the table?

There are a few overarching menu trends, but it's not as simple as saying that "all restaurants are catering to nostalgia right now" or "everyone has a chicken sandwich." Instead, there's a smattering of consistent themes and dishes, each of which tells a different type of post-pandemic story and caters to a different type of customer. Here are some highlights, as outlined by the NYT.

  • Caesar salad: Once relegated to steakhouses, restaurants of all stripes and cuisines are adapting the caesar salad to their own menus, starting with its creamy, flavorful fundamentals and adding unique flourishes and substitutions as they see fit. It's a great example of a longtime dish being revitalized by some fresh vision—because when you think about it, every element of a caesar, from its croutons to its proteins to its greens, can be tweaked and still maintain the characteristic caesar-ness of the salad.
  • Caviar: While some people might be craving simple comfort food in the wake of COVID-19 dining room closures, others now "crave maximalism and opulence," per the NYT. Thus, many restaurants are now serving caviar, not just the most elite reservations in town. It's also served a lot of different ways, such as quesadillas and eclairs. This might be a trend bolstered by the practice of pairing potato chips with caviar, which has picked up steam in recent years.
  • Fried Chicken: Yep, fried chicken is still everywhere, and not just at fast food joints. It's still relatively inexpensive to order as an entree, plus it's always been somewhat irresistible. There's been so much demand for fried chicken that each restaurant can serve wildly varying iterations of it: double fried, paired with prawn paste, you name it. When there's innovation in the poultry space, we all benefit.
  • Panna Cotta: Interestingly, the proliferation of panna cotta seems to have arisen from the practical needs of restaurants, rather than being driven by diners' tastes. As the NYT explains, it's broadly appealing while also remaining inexpensive—a crucial attribute for restaurants looking to lower their food costs. Additionally, many restaurants that had staffed pastry chefs pre-pandemic have eliminated those positions, leaving a gap in the menu that can easily be filled by panna cotta—a dish that can be made without the technical expertise of a patissier.
  • The whole menu investigation is worth a read. What are you hoping more restaurants bring to the table in 2024?