Top 10 Restaurant Trends for 2014

I told you I’d be talking a lot about trends.  It’s that time of year when all the predictions come out — and this time the 2014 trends list is from Technomic, a foodservice research and consulting firm based in my hometown of Chicago.  Technomic believes 2014 may be the year that carbs make a comeback, pork becomes the new protein star and grazing gets even bigger.  Here’s a look at their top 10 restaurant trends for 2014:

Convince me it’s real.

People want real, at home and when dining out.  Technomic predicts menus will be listing not only the ingredients but also where they came from and how they were prepared.  Authenticity will be increasingly important.  For instance,  if a restaurant promotes itself as authentically Italian, the ingredients must be sourced from Italy and dishes need to be prepared using authentic Italian methods. You’ll see even more local sourcing. But will the desire for local ingredients go as far as what’s depicted in this episode from Portlandia?

Pushing the parameters of proteins.


Pulled pork by andrewcbraithwaite on flickr

Look for pork to reign as the new protein star —appearing in regional barbecue items, in Hispanic and other ethnic fare, in charcuterie and as pulled-pork sandwiches.  Lamb and game meats, from duck to bison, will also be big. Beyond meat, Technomic expects more creative center-of-the-plate egg dishes as well as vegetarian alternatives, from mushrooms to beans to soy-based products, such as Gardein and Chipotle’s Sofritas.

Return of the carbs.


Chicken and Waffles by 3030vision on flickr

Starches are staging a comeback, says Technomic.  From ramen to buckwheat noodles to pasta made with unusual ingredients — you won’t find a shortage of carbs on restaurant menus.

Rice bowls (and jasmine rice, basmati rice, brown rice) will be big, in part because of continued fascination with Asian fare and in part because of an association with healthfulness. Look for more in the way of flatbreads, wraps and all kinds of artisan breads, including healthy whole-grain varieties. Waffles as a base or side make traditional savory items like chicken seem edgy.

Creamy, cheesy, high-fat goodness.


Denny’s Fried Cheese Melt Sandwich by chrislee! on flickr

Healthier restaurant fare may be popular, but you’ll also find more on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Comfort food will be big, Technomic predicts.   Look out for more cheese melts, pasta with creamy sauces, fried appetizers and sides, and oddities like doughnut-based sandwiches.

Pucker up.


 Kimchi Tacos by chipmunkgeek on flickr

Expect to see more pickled, fermented and sour foods on menus.  The rise of Korean, Scandinavian and other lesser-known ethic fare is driving this demand.

Korean kimchi as well as pickled onion, jalapeno, ginger, radish and more are showing up everywhere from ethnic eateries to burger joints. On the beverage menu, the trend is seen in sour cocktails as well as new flavor combinations with sour notes—a reaction to last year’s candy-sweet drinks.

Day for night.


Reinvented Breakfast Plate by Renee S. Suen on flickr

Fewer people eat according to a three-square-meals schedule.  Now they nosh, skip meals, eat breakfast for dinner and vice versa. Look for more restaurants to introducing innovative breakfast items—like chicken, turkey or steak breakfast sandwiches or super-spicy wraps with chipotle or Sriracha—often available all day.   While breakfast-and-lunch-only concepts are building a niche, other restaurants are promoting late-night breakfast menus, often in conjunction with 24-hour drive-thru service.

Every daypart is a snack daypart.


Soup trio by Design Marketo on flickr

Snacking has become the fourth meal of the day.  So restaurants are appealing to this snacking lifestyle.  Technomic predicts more snack-size handheld foods, car-friendly packaging and more grab-and-go or market-style offerings. Even full-service restaurants will be moving away from meat-and-potatoes meals, and introducing more snacking-and-sharing offerings from all parts of the menu — from soup trios to beer samplers to retro popsicle-flight desserts.

On tap.


Wine on tap by LS Lam on flickr

Technomic says tap technology is revolutionizing the beverage world.

Barrel-stored cold-brewed coffee that can be sent through repurposed beer taps, facilitating a new kind of coffee bar; soda-water taps that allow chefs to create their own fruity soft drinks; wine-on-tap tasting stations in high-end supermarkets; keg-wine bar concepts and retrofits; RFID-card-controlled self-serve beer-tap walls at high-tech pubs.

For fast service, bring your own device.

Foodservice operators in every segment are finding new ways to use technology for faster, more accurate ordering, says Technomic.

 iPad orders placed tableside will be a point of differentiation for a few tech leaders, but we’ll primarily see a bring-your-own-device system of advance and inside-the-restaurant ordering—as well as more customer feedback and interactive conversations. In the back of the house, increased use of iPad communication will make new menu items easier to roll out.

Everything is political.

Restaurants are getting into food politics like never before. Expressing views on Obamacare, “family values” or other hot topics have resulted in customer backlash for some, but others saw increased traffic, says Technomic.

Consumers are increasingly aware that the personal is political—that their choices and those of the restaurants they patronize regarding food, treatment of employees and suppliers, sustainability and the environment have real consequences. Consciously or unconsciously, they will gravitate to concepts that share their worldview, and some restaurants will promote this cultural identification.

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