Top Dining and Restaurant Trends for 2010

"Little Gem Salad" with pig ears at the Publican.  Flickr, JoeM500

"Little Gem Salad" with pig ears at the Publican. Flickr, JoeM500

I’m back again with more trends.  I warned you I’d be hitting the topic hard for the rest of the year!

I previously reviewed restaurant trends identified by Mintel.  This time the trend predictions are from the restaurant consultants Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co. Inc.  The Brooklyn-based firm just released their annual list of 12 restaurant and hotel food and dining trends.   This list is followed by 20 menu trends from Restaurants & Institutions.


Here are the predictions from Baum & Whiteman:

1. New priorities for beaten-up consumers: People today are expressing entirely new — and more complex — sets of concerns.  Now they’re focusing inward.  Their concerns are personal, emotional and ethical.  The economy has people scared and they’re looking for a “safe harbor.”  The consultants advise hotels and restaurants to lure these hunkered down consumers from their psychological storm cellars by replicating the “campfire experience” — building emotional ties and connecting to communities.  They need to audit their businesses based on next year’s hot buttons:  economic survival, reassurance, intimacy and friendship, feeding my knowledge, feeding my emotions, artisan/hand-made, neighborhood/local, authentic/real, comfort and safety.

2. Putting focus on the left side of the menu: That’s where the emotional resonance is.  Look for more creative snacky things, more small plates, more portion options…things sized for one, for two, for a crowd.  This isn’t just a small plates phenomenon, because it isn’t about the size of the plate.  Sharing is the key, sharing responds to consumers’ needs for comfort and safety, for intimacy and friendship.

3. Upscaling the downscale: Consumers are trading down in order to trade up.  That’s what’s behind the explosion of “gourmet” hamburgers smothered in the likes of manchego cheese and Iberian ham, or artisan hot dogs and Kobe dogs served with goat cheese and guacamole or home-made relishes, or french fries revved up with parmesan cheese and truffle oil.

4. Fresh = local = hand-made = safer = better: Baum & Whiteman believe the words “organic” and “natural” are diluted (polluted, actually) by big-brand food companies, so they’re being replaced in consumers’ minds by “fresh” and “local” and “hand-made.”  People are looking for edibles they can trust, and for food communities that stand personally behind their products.  Restaurants and hotels are spotlighting house-made or locally-made bread, artisan-cured salami, chef-pickled vegetables, locally-butchered beef, honey made from nearby hives, foods purchased from regional farms — all these theoretically reflecting sustainability and helping local farmers and being better for the environment.

5. Fried chicken is the new pork belly: The new trend is fried chicken — crisped in all sorts of inventive ways by lowly diner cooks and exalted chefs alike.  Ahead of the curve:  Korean fried chicken, invisibly coated, amazingly flavorful and fried twice for ultra-crunch, moving out of traditional Korean-towns into mainstream neighborhoods.

Duck fat fried chicken thighs, Flickr chotda.

Duck fat fried chicken thighs, Flickr chotda.

6. Putting in “good” additives instead of taking out nasty ones: The trend of fortifying foods to make you healthier and more beautiful is being transferred to the restaurant scene.  Watch for bartenders (err, mixologists) to get into the act by concocting good-for-you cocktails with “enhanced” beverages — on the theory that you can drink yourself into good health and become beautiful while getting sloshed. Beverage buzzwords include guanara, acai, goji, green tea, hibiscus and acerola.

7. They laughed when we said “tongue”: Baum & Whiteman said some bloggers thought  they’d gone bonkers by predicting that tongue (beef and veal) would be hot last year.  Well, here’s the Offal Truth:  For 2010, it’ll be tongue (including lamb) and oxtail along with beef and pork cheeks, chicken gizzards, tripe and other innards.  Savvy chefs are using these odd parts to offset downsized portions of expensive steaks and chops.

8. Losing control over language: With the loss of old experts (such as Gourmet magazine), authority is dispersed among the instant opinion makers:  bloggers, texters, twitterers, facebookers, yelpers — who broadcast “buzz” and bad news to a million people in the blink of an eye.  Baum & Whiteman calls this a swap from good gastro-journalism to dubious opionating.  Next year’s marketing and PR mavens will be experts at getting restaurants closers to their customers using all sorts of social networks and bypassing the former journalistic gatekeepers.

9. Sweet to bitter to tart: A decade or so back, American palates made a profound shift from sweet to bitter — which explains the rise of strong coffee, dark chocolate, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts and other bitter food.  There’s been another, quieter shift, from sweet-sweet to tart-sweet.  That’s why chefs are now pickling their own vegetables to serve with newly trendy rich and fatty meats. You’ll see more pickled shallots, leeks or ramps atop steak instead of fatty onion rings.  You’ll get it in the sour-salty flavor profiles of increasingly trendy Southeast Asian cuisine.

10. Menu churn: The tough economy and declining consumer traffic forces restaurants to poach customers by stealing competitors’ top menu items.  Fast food chains are adding up-priced gourmet burgers, pizza chains are selling pasta, and juice chains are adding pizzas and flatbreads. Everyone is adding snacks and signature beverages and energy drinks, hoping to capture between-meal business.

11. Meet you at the supermarket: Consumers are re-discovering their dining room tables.  Restaurant chains hope to replace lost in-store business by getting their brands onto those tables with supermarket products. Look for even more chains to move into the world of retail food as they seek new channels of distribution.

12. Catering to kids: Kids’ menus are popping up on more chain restaurants, and many are reformulating to create healthier options.  Look for more restaurants and hotels offering cooking classes for kids, more “adult” things on kids’ menus, and more kids-eat-free promotions.

BUZZWORDS for 2010:  Authentic Neapolitan pizza. Lamb riblets. Too many food trucks, not enough curb space. Latino street food. Farmed trout creeps up on farmed salmon. Curry and Indian-spiced fried chicken. Vietnamese sandwiches (bahn mi). Gelati. Global comfort food. Artisan hot dogs. Made-to-order ice cream. Chefs turned butchers. Casual comfort. Touch-screen kiosks and home delivery in fast food outlets. Wood oven cooking. More energy drinks and adulterated waters. Mood food. Backyard and rooftop bee hives. Stevia. Urban farms. Griddled burgers. Free food. House-made everything, especially sandwiches.

Here are R & I’s 20 menu trends for 2010:

1. Pot roast, brisket and stew. Homey favorites spotlighting affordable cuts for comfort-seeking and value-minded diners.

2. Asian + Latin.The Twitter-driven frenzy over Los Angeles’ Kogi truck and its signature Korean tacos gets some of the credit for this latest fusion craze.

3. Midday dining deals. With customers cutting back on dining out far more at dinner than at other dayparts, restaurants are turning to speed- and value-oriented lunch specials.

4. Beer. Beer’s star is still rising with operators sourcing craft and seasonal labels, promoting menu pairings and theme dinners, and opening beer-centric pubs and eateries.

5. Chains build better burgers. Premium burgers represent the ultimate marriage of value and indulgence, so it’s no wonder that restaurant chains are following the lead of high-end chefs and dedicated fast-casual concepts and nudging up America’s favorite sandwich a few notches.

Scotch Egg at The Gage, Flickr sassnasty

Scotch Egg at The Gage, Flickr sassnasty

6. Eggs are the new bacon. Eggs are everywhere on menus — draped over burgers and pizzas, tucked into sandwiches and showcased in dolled up renditions of classic deviled and Scotch eggs as bar snacks and appetizers.

7. Drugstore-counter desserts. The retro-dessert trend just won’t quit and this time, spiffed-up shakes and floats are taking the spotlight.

8. Big-name chefs take it down another notch.The drive toward downscale dining continues.  Witness Big Star, Chicago chef Paul Kahan’s just-opened dive bar/taco shack, Il Cane Rosso, the San Francisco sandwich shop from Daniel Patterson and Bar Symon, Michael Symon’s gastropub-style spot in suburban Cleveland.

9. Meatless meals. While Americans aren’t fully embracing vegetarianism, they’re eating meat less often in the interest of health and sustainability.

10. Deep-fried and fabulous. Bone-in fried chicken is the latest unlikely darling of upscale dining rooms.

11. Fast, casual fine-dining. Restaurants are rolling out special menus that cut the cost of multicourse meals and trim down dining time.

12. Low-carbon footprint dining. Green eating is going mainstream.

13. Morning meals shape up. Nearly 20% of consumers say they’d be more likely to eat out for breakfast on weekdays if options were more healthful, and operators are taking notice.

14. Liquor goes local. Whiskey, gin, vodka and other spirits sourced from nearby specialty and small-batch distillers are gaining popularity among operators with locavore leanings.

15. Coal fires up pizza. What gives coal-fired ovens a leg-up on those fueled by wood alone?  It’s all about the heat.

16. Thank you for smoking. From the subtle notes of fruitwoods to the more-assertive marks of mesquite and hickory, smoking lets chefs imbue layers of flavor into products without adding fat, sugar or salt.

17. Gluten-free gets its day. The estimated 3 million Americans with celiac are finding more menus tailored to their needs.

18. High-time for tea. The favorite of the Brits is finally getting its due on American menus, and tea is only part of the story.

19. Lamb goes off the rack. Restaurants are still turning out chops, but look for off-the-bone cuts of lamb to step into starring roles too.

20. Back to basics. The image of chefs industriously canning and pickling produce, curing their own salumi and butchering beef, lamb and pork from primal cuts seems plucked from a quainter past, yet a growing number are embracing these back-to-basics techniques.

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