Food Trends | Trend Feast

Serve Up a Side of Southern Comfort

Jul 31, 2020

Serve Up a Side of Southern Comfort

Southern comfort food is surging in popularity. During the time of the pandemic, with daily uncertainty and limits on what “we used to do," it’s satisfying to indulge in the pleasure of food that feels good to eat. And while we’re all spending more time at home, your customers want this kind of feel-good food experience, but they don’t want to cook it. They’re juggling childcare, Zoom calls, laundry...they’re worn out. They want food that tastes delicious; that elevates the meal experience to something that isn’t food as fuel, but food as comfort. In short, your customers want “home cooked” food that they don’t have to cook at home. 

There’s no question that “comfort food” actually comforts. When we think, “Southern comfort food” we might jump to fried chicken, grits, or pimento cheese; but dig a little deeper into the  roots of the cuisine, and it’s much more than that. It has a rich and diverse history. It is a compilation of cuisines of indigenous people, immigrants, and slaves. It’s why we have delicious melting pot dishes like jambalaya, with influences from West Africa, France, Spain, and indigenous tribes, and why etouffee and rémoulade bear their French names. 

The development of the food tradition was also greatly influenced by what was available when and from whom. Many southern comfort dishes are based on rice or corn (think cornbread and grits) grown widely in the South. Rice and corn could be preserved, and used to make inexpensive food. This craft of preservation was important. In much of the South, hunting, fishing, and farming yielded abundant food, but living off the land was not predictable. And while we love the flavors of smoked meats, preserves, and vinegary pickles, these foods were born out of necessity. They also just happen to be delicious. 

Southern cuisine is also regional. Take barbecue. As a food category, it’s smoked meat, but Texas barbecue is different from Memphis barbecue. Even within North Carolina, a state famous for its barbecue, there are regional differences. In the eastern half of the state, you’ll find whole hogs on the smoker, served up with a vinegary sauce. But go west, and you’ll find Lexington-style barbecue, where they smoke only the shoulder and serve it sandwich style, laced with a tomatoey sauce. 

And while there’s a great deal of respect for traditional Southern comfort food, the cuisine is evolving. With influences from other cultures, to changing diet trends, Southern comfort food is entering a new frontier. Food trend experts talk about the new “down home healthy” with a shift towards vegan diets - replacing smoked meat with other innovative flavors. Southern fusion food is also on the rise. Staples of Southern food, like crawfish, are getting fresh takes on flavors. The Vietnamese community in Houston brought to market the wildly popular fusion Viet-Cajun cuisine. Dishes like traditional Louisiana crawfish boil are being tweaked with seasonings of lemongrass, citrus, garlic, and peppers, and crawfish is showing up in egg rolls and pho.

With the rising popularity of Southern food, especially comfort food, now is the time for restaurants to get in on the trend. 

  • Research shows consumers report ordering comfort food over any other food by 46% at breakfast, 41 percent at lunch, and 35% for snacks.

  • Comfort food was second at dinner (35%) only behind ready-to-eat meals at 41 percent.1 And given the nature of Southern comfort food, it’s well suited for carryout and take-and-bake, a mealtime option in high demand. 

  • 73% of consumers report interest in take-and-bake comfort food from restaurants, but only 11% of operators report adding comfort food options to their menu.2 

Popular comfort food right now? Since 2019, sparerib entrees are up 10%. Barbecue beef and rice and bean entrees, and mac and cheese sides (which offer high profit margins) are up 5%.3

Simplot Foods Chef, Diane Fricke reflected “The South has a long tradition of comfort food cuisine. So it’s no surprise that this style of cooking is seeing a resurgence during the pandemic. People are hungry for those hearty, satisfying recipes that deliver emotional relief in times of uncertainty.” 

Right now, decision fatigue is everywhere, so make it easy and irresistible for your customers. Southern comfort food is delicious, accessible, and adaptable. Offer tried and true favorites, with a little twist:

Southern cuisine is a rich tradition to draw from as you ponder your menu during the pandemic. With so many good choices, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s just the pick-me-up your customers need right now.


1 Technomic Foodservice Impact Monitor, 3rd Edition
2 Datassential, 2020
3 Technomic, Inc., Ignite Menu Data, Q1 ’19 - Q1 ’20)