Dining Trends 1950s – Today [Timeline]

Dining Trends 1950s – Today [Timeline]

As the Specialty Food Association marks its 65th anniversary, we look at some of the dining trends that helped shape specialty foods through the decade.

Consumers’ ideas of a dining experience have evolved from five-star French restaurants to fast-casual food halls. Here are some highlights of the trends and movements that have shaped popular cuisine.

50s: Affordable fast-food restaurants take off with Americans loving the speed and consistency they offer. Also, restaurant carry-out, promoted to help capture the dollars of families staying home to watch TV, become popular. 

60s: French food goes mainstream with Julia Child helping cement its appeal and accessibility with her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” published in 1961. Hawaii becomes the 50th state in 1959, leading to a curiosity about Polynesian food that grows through the 60s. American counter culture draws attention to health and ethnic foods that will expand in the coming decades.

70s: Demand for Chinese food explodes across the country, inspired in part by President Nixon’s 1972 visit to the country. Also, vegetarian cuisine becomes trendy with Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Restaurant and cookbook helping lead the way. Alice Waters opens the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, planting the seeds for the advent of California cuisine, with a focus on freshly prepared, local ingredients and fusion cooking styles and ingredients.

80s: Nouvelle Cuisine was all the rage. The focus on fresh ingredients, lighter preparations, and creative presentations dovetailed with the country’s “let’s get physical” fitness craze. Tex-Mex foods also gained traction not only around the U.S. but around the world. Young urban professionals and double-income households lead to a growing phenomenon—prepared foods for in-home dining.

90s: Its’s the decade of the celebrity chef. Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and Jamie Oliver become household names. Fusion cuisine, made popular by chef Wolfgang Puck, grows even more prevalent. More healthful foods come into focus as consumers seek products that are natural, organic, and produced in socially and environmentally conscious ways. 

2000s: Gourmet burgers were in vogue with Daniel Boulud making news with his dB burger—a sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, black truffle on a parmesan bun. Also, foams, made famous by chef Ferran Adria, had their moment on stage. By the decade’s end, food trucks begin serving up everything from cupcakes to Korean barbecue.

2010s: Farm-to-table restaurants with an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients rolled out across the country. With the rise of gourmet fast-casual, food halls emerged and shifted the model for how consumers experience meals. Younger consumers, in particular, are drifting from long, pricey, multi-course feasts to casual, less-expensive meals in communal settings with exciting global menus offering bites from around the world from Bolivian saltenas to sushi burritos.

Read more: The Consumer: Then and NowCelebrating 65: Boomerang Trends; Convenience Foods: Then and Now